Jul 2, 2008

The Anti-Aesthetic Approach of Paul Morrissey

The average moviegoer usually expects to be sensationalized and wowed when going to see the latest product pumped out by the showman in Hollywood. They judge a films quality a lot of the time by how innovative the special effects are and how much money is put in the film. The reason for this is that when looking at a film from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have an educational background in film studies, the most obvious aspect of the film is it’s visual power. The undeniable revolutionary success of James Cameron’s The Titanic and Michael Bay’s Armageddon are a testament to that.

Cult auteur Paul Morrissey never had it in his mind to create the most visually stunning of films. I don’t think he even had it in his mind to even learn the basics of cinematic technique and editing. His Flesh trilogy is more of an artistic attack on the “peace and love” generation than a display of his cinematic sense. Paul Morrissey’s aesthetic is one of crudely exhibiting hedonistic nihilism and despair. The unconventional director merely placed his camera in a spot and captured a lost generation. A group of individuals that have given up the security of a Bourgeoisie life for the promise of a drug “mind expanding” and “free love” society. Paul Morrissey’s “Flesh” trilogy is an assault on those that fell prey to the promise of “liberation” from the fascism of Western Civilization and Christianity.
Auteur Paul Morrissey refused to work with any individuals using drugs when producing films for the legendary pop art icon Andy Warhol (Yacowar 1). Morrissey may be the most hated artist that Warhol “discovered.” Surviving member of Warhol’s entourage Stephen Koch stated of Paul Morrissey, “A very typical young man in a hurry. That was not really the Factory style: pushiness was out (Yacowar 2).” Paul Morrissey’s decidedly reserved and rather traditionally conservative manner was in complete opposition to what you expect in Andy Warhol’s army of artists. Paul Morrissey introduced a stripped down version of America cinema that emphasized the emptiness and absurdness of the love generation, and turned it into a revolutionary art.

Paul Morrissey was mainly interested in exposing the failure and de-evolution of the late 1960’s love movement. He was also obsessed with body worship and the sexual appeal of drug addict little Joe Dallesandro. Morrissey made an exception to his “no drug addicts allowed” rule when casting real drug addicts to portray the pathetic habits of addicts. Joe Dallesandro’s sexual appeal and charisma worked to capture audience members that might be put off by Paul Morrissey’s obvious assault on the love generation. One could say that Paul Morrissey’s Flesh trilogy films are anti-drug porn flicks disguised as a Cinéma-vérité document. No matter what way you look at it, Paul Morrissey captures an almost depressingly realist world that is so bizarre and disconnected that it borders on the surreal.
Novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand brought up in her book The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, a collection of criticism of the late 1960’s peace generation and her famous anti-Kantian philosophies, the fact that the average college student was more interested in going to Woodstock and getting high off various drugs than the Apollo 11 moon landing (Rand 75). Not only did the average American college student show little interest in the moon landing, but they also dismissed it as “mere technology (Rand 75).” This example that Rand emphasized goes perfect with the criticisms that Paul Morrissey displays in his Flesh trilogy. The love generation is more interested in having fun than taking responsibility for themselves and the progression of mankind.

The same individuals criticized in Paul Morrissey’s Flesh trilogy and Ayn Rand’s philosophies often refer to themselves as humanitarians and altruists working towards “progression.” The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth (especially when in context with the flesh trilogy). The first thing to look at is that the love generation was commonly enslaved to their hedonistic tendencies and vices. Little Joe in the Flesh trilogy can barely get off his couch and is many times naked. He doesn’t mind being a slave to his own addiction. His actions parallel that of his naked baby featured in Paul Morrissey’s first film in the flesh trilogy Flesh. Like his baby (who appears to be not much older than one year), he crawls around naked and his only real focus is food (for Joe it’s mainly drugs). Little Joe is essentially an adult age baby. If this is a sign of progression, than the world may really be heading towards an apocalypse.
Ayn Rand said that the “New Left” also portrays their admittance of not wanting to live in reality as they choose to be drug addicts. Furthermore, Rand emphasizes that hippies that call themselves “individuals” but are in reality pathetically docile conformists. She goes on to say, “unable to generate a thought of their own, they have accepted the philosophical of their elders as unchallenged dogma-as, in earlier generations, the weakest among the young confirmed to the fundamentalist view of the bible (Rand 77).” Little Joe in Paul Morrissey’s second film Trash (a word used to emphasize the drug addicts in the film) has conformed to the worthless and reality disconnected world of a full blown heroin addict. His only ambition is to obtain money in order to buy drugs.

Many of the individuals of the hippie generation were inspired by the anti-reason philosophies of German Immanuel Kant. Ayn Rand even went as far as calling Kant the first hippie (Rand 65). Kant’s anti-reason philosophies would go on to inspire Karl Marx and Marx’s theories would go on to cause the largest amount of deaths in humanity history (especially in the Soviet Union and China). Kant’s collectivist theories would also go on to inspire fascism and national socialism (Nazism). Whether it be hippies, Nazis, or communists, Immanuel Kant’s anti-reason and anti-individualistic theories have only caused destruction.
I doubt little Joe is a fan of philosophy, but he is no doubt a product of it. The environment Joe lives in is one of desperation and neglect. I think it would be safe to say that Paul Morrissey had to do very little in the way of set design (of course this working to the films advantage). Little Joe lives in a one room apartment in Flesh and he can’t even seem to keep it maintained. He has a child with a girlfriend who needs to borrow money for her friend’s abortion. The idea of abortion seems like a necessity when taking in consideration the lifestyle that these two “parents” have taken up. Two individuals that can’t even function together (or on their own) have no right bringing up a child.

A topless female friend of little Joe even states, “the more you learn, the less you will be happy.” With this scene, Paul Morrissey makes it clear that “the love generation” prefers ignorance and hedonistic escapes over reality. The young woman also goes on to talk about how she wants silicone breast implants. For this scene (and the majority of other scenes in the Flesh trilogy), Paul Morrissey merely lets the camera roll as a virtual voyeur to capture the de-evolutionary nihilism of the peace movement.

Heat, the final film in Paul Morrissey’s Flesh trilogy, examines a washed up child actor (played by little Joe) and his relationship with a washed up star. The film is essentially a loose remake of Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece Sunset Boulevard. The washed up star (who can be assumed to be around 50 years old) also has a daughter who has decided she hates men and has turned into a lesbian. The daughter now has a girlfriend and a child. Paul Morrissey attacks the woman’s liberation movement and free love with this character. Like Joe, the girl is sexually free (even performing a sexual act on a mentally retarded young man she just met) and has no control of her life. All characters in Heat are a mess as they can’t even control their most archaic of sexual instincts.
In Heat, little Joe uses sex as a way to get what he wants (as he does in the rest of the flesh trilogy). He has sexual encounters with both his unflatteringly overweight landlord and the aging star. Little Joe obviously has no type of self respect or integrity. He is only interested in obtaining what he needs by doing as little as work as possible (usually with sexual acts). Heat is Paul Morrissey’s most aesthetically daring film (at least in his flesh trilogy). The film actually features a somewhat memorable soundtrack and is filmed in more than just a few rooms. An old mansion is even used similar to the one found in Sunset Boulevard. Paul Morrissey attacks Hollywood and the way they treat their stars once they are no longer of any type of monetary value.

Paul Morrissey’s flesh trilogy is both an attack on the cultural subversion of the late 1960’s and the film industry that supported it. Morrissey portrays flower children as irrational and ignorant existentialists always looking to satisfy their hedonistic pleasures. The characters featured in the flesh trilogy are presented as so pathetic that it’s absurd such individuals would be allowed to have any type of ideological view (let alone tell anyone else how to live). Paul Morrissey’s anti-aesthetic parallels the hollowness and desperation that the characters in the flesh trilogy exhibit. I seriously doubt that Mr. Morrissey had any type of respect for the late 1960’s hippies and the Hollywood films (Easy Rider, Woodstock documentary, etc.) that promoted them.

-Ty E

1 comment:

Jon Aes-Nihil said...

Brilliant discourse on the Morrisey Aesthetic. The first interview I did for Seconds magazine was with Paul who was incredible to interview in that he is rabidly opinionated and will go into great detail, providing one does not state something he disproves of.