Reviewed by Bryan Poyser, Fri., Sept. 1, 2000
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HeatD: Paul Morrissey (1972); with Joe Dallesandro, Sylvia Miles, Andrea Feldman, Pat Ast, Ray Vestal.
Movies aren't supposed to work like this. Paul Morrissey plonks down a camera in one corner of a motel room, has a couple of nonprofessional actors ad-lib their lines, pans raggedly between the two of them, and moves on to another scene. There's no such thing as "coverage"; Morrissey doesn't bother with other angles. It's filmmaking as trashy, desperate, and sloppy as the characters we're watching. And that has to be the reason why this movie is such a gut-punch to conventional cinematic language, conventional sexuality, and good taste, done with gleeful humor and profound, well-hidden sadness. You can almost hear Morrissey cackling in the editing room as he constructs this ugly, hilarious satire of exploitation among Hollywood has-beens and never-will-bes. It's fitting that Heat came out in '72, the same year as John Waters' Pink Flamingos, another all-out assault on propriety. But whereas Waters really wanted you to laugh and/or puke at the outrageous gross-out set-pieces he deliberately wrote into his script, Morrissey was more interested in getting his actors to shock each other first, then us. The camera was just there to catch it when it happened. Heat works hard to earn its unrated status. The early Seventies was a time when movies and hard-core sex were getting acquainted. They had to, because there was only one place for porno and "regular" movies to be profitable: the movie theater. This was before VCRs, and efficient, private masturbation wasn't yet the main function of movies with explicit sex. Though Heat offers no close-up anatomy lessons, sweaty and naked lust is certainly what we're dealing with. Joe Dallesandro, as a former child actor stumbling toward a comeback, is the object of that lust, and his impossible body is public property. Men and women, both gay and straight, look at it, touch it, and talk about it as if it were a hands-on erotic art exhibit and not attached to a real person. Joe is more than willing to use that, of course; he's the only one in the film whose ambition goes beyond humping. However, his skills as a seducer pretty much end when he opens his mouth. In a meeting with a TV producer set up by the once-powerful Sally Todd (Miles), his current sugar-mama, he is awkward, self-conscious, and wholly uninteresting. Everyone in the movie is pretty much an ineffectual mess, so intent on getting it on with someone, anyone, that their pride and self-respect are thrown aside like wrapping paper. Andrea Feldman as Sally Todd's emotionally troubled lesbian daughter is hopelessly damaged in a way that makes her funny and scary at the same time and for the same reasons. In the middle of the scene where she gets around to seducing Joe, she breaks out into braying laughter that goes on long enough to get disturbing, and then falls on the floor, where she rubs herself with the sole of Joe's boot. It's funny, uncomfortable, and shocking, but mostly sad. Why does she debase herself like this? It's not love or even affection that she wants from Joe, but a release from boredom and loneliness, kind of like turning on the TV so it'll sound like someone else is in the room. In this tawdry world, sex is a stimulant, a substitute for real experience, a drug, basically. Much has been made of the contrast between Paul Morrissey's right-wing, conservative politics and his movies (like Trash, Flesh, and Andy Warhol's Dracula), in which drug addicts frequently get top billing. His methodology and notoriety were born in Andy Warhol's Factory, where the only people in suits and ties were reporters, emissaries from a baffled America. But, like any good conservative (as I heard some senator say at this year's Republican National Convention), Paul hates waste most of all. In his eyes, Hollywood is the world's trash dump, where dreams of fame, fortune, and happiness rot among the bloated egos.