Andy Warhol’s ‘Trash’ Arrives: Heroin Addict’s Life Is Theme of Film Techniques of 30’s on View at Cinema II
The opening credits (“Andy Warhol Presents Trash…” ) appear as words spelled out in little light bulbs of the sort still used on old theater marquees. On the soundtrack can be heard some breathless, tinny movie music taken from Josef von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel.” Even if you don’t get the point immediately, you will soon after “Trash” begins. This second film by Paul Morrissey (his first was “Flesh,” described as a tribute to John Ford) is a relentless send-up of attitudes and gestures shanghaied from Hollywood’s glamorous nineteen-thirties and forties.
The joys of “Trash,” which opened yesterday at the Cinema II, are not inexhaustible, but compared to things like the pretensions of “Cover Me, Babe” and the calculating heart of “Sunflower,” “Trash” is true-blue movie-making, almost epic, funny and vivid, though a bit rotten at the core. I’m writing this on Monday and I’ll say, quite simply, that it’s the best American film made in New York that I’ve seen all day.
Like “Flesh,” to which it is a kind of moralizing sequel, “Trash” is a circular odyssey, only this time Joe (Joe Dallessandro), the male hustler of “Flesh,” is a heroin addict. In spite of pimples on his rump and face, his physique is still so magnificently shaped that men as well as women become disconnected at the sight of him, all of which does no one any good, since Joe is impotent.
“Trash” is the story of Joe and his lover-protector Holly (Holly Woodlawn) who, in real life, is a female impersonator, though in the film the matter of Holly’s sex is ambiguous. Joe and Holly try to make a go of things in their lower East Side basement, from which Holly goes forth from time to time to cruise the Filmore East and to scavenge garbage cans, while Joe’s journeys are in search of real junk. The film takes its shape principally from his encounters, which have the style (and the substance) of grotesque grass fantasies.
There is a sweet, absolutely round-breasted go-go dancer (Geri Miller) whose philosophy sounds as if it could have been learned at Judge Hardy’s knee: “If you’re sexy, you can be sexy doing anything. Sex is from the inside.” There’s a soft-headed girl from Grosse Pointe (Jane Forth), whose apartment Joe intends to rob. Instead, he gets propositioned for a rape.
“I’m only a rich newlywed with no furniture,” she says by way of introduction. Later, while the camera is in a tight close-up on Joe’s arm as he gives himself a fix, Jane whines at her husband:
“Oh, Bruce, we don’t have fun any more. Do you know how long it is since I slept with another man?”
All feelings, all values are turned upside down and played for laughs, with the result that it’s difficult for me to take “Trash” more seriously than it takes itself. In spite of the grubbiness of the scene and the ineffectuality of the various disguises and escapes employed by Joe and Holly and the rest, there is no sense of despair. At heart, the film is a kind of exuberant exhibition of total apathy.
Mr. Morrissey is, I think, a talented moviemaker, even though much of the effect of “Trash” depends on outrageous shock or on rather curious plays on pathos. I assume that the performers have been handled with skill, in spite of the fact that it’s not always possible to tell—in this sort of movie—just what the performers themselves have brought to their roles.
Holly Woodlawn, especially, is something to behold, a comic book Mother Courage who fancies herself as Marlene Dietrich but sounds more often like Phil Silvers. I shall also remember for some time the very funny performance by Michael Sklar as a welfare investigator who comes to call on Holly and becomes enchanted by her silver shoes, which, he thinks, would make a marvelous lamp.
“Trash” is alive, but like the people in it, it continually parodies itself, and thus it represents a kind of dead end in filmmaking.
Vincent Canby, NY Times, October 6, 1970
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