While working on post-production for his monotonous punk flick Blank Generation starring punk icon Richard Hell, Ulli Lommel was approached by his passive collaborator Andy Warhol to meet a young millionaire named Tom Sullivan at Studio 54 who was keen on making an inherently narcissistic, self-glorifying movie focusing on his unknown band and rebellious angel dust-slinging lifestyle as a scantly charismatic cocaine cowboy. Needless to say, Lommel obliged and instead of creating anything resembling a script, the German filmmaker used his dubious reputation as a profound European 'artiste' and assembled a hurried, brief story on a tape recorder for what would be Cocaine Cowboys, which started shooting a mere week later. Unbeknownst to Lommel, Sullivan made his millions, including the funding for the film, by smuggling cocaine on the international black market. While in the middle of the shooting for Cocaine Cowboys, Warhol’s estate was raided by FBI and DEA agents because they thought the film was a front for a major cocaine operation, which – judging by the film's made-over-a-weekend quintessence and lack of coherence – may have been true, but, naturally, Lommel wholeheartedly denies it. Not one to hold a grudge, Lommel offered the officers roles in the playing their con-catching selves, which they happily obliged. In Cocaine Cowboys, it is the always quietly conspiring Andy Warhol of all people who uncovers the operation by mere chance while passively taking a series of Polaroids in what is probably his greatest, if stereotypically lackluster, screen performance. In the film, Destn (Tom Sullivan) and his manager Raphael (Jack Palance) – the frontman of an up-and-coming rock band and a major drug trafficker – wishes to get him and his bands out of the cocaine business, but they must do one more big deal before they can permanently sever ties with the Italian mob. When the band loses $2 million dollars worth of coke in a totally nonsensical way (the film has more than one plot hole), they must scramble to find the drugs as angry Cosa Nostra henchmen encircle Warhol’s plush waterfront pad. Throughout Cocaine Cowboys, the band members roam the beach on their horses as degenerate contemporary cowboys. Instead of being Easy Rider (1969) with its promise of sly and cool cocktail of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Cocaine Cowboys is ultimately a post-hippie abortion of the ceaselessly aimless kind, but then again, for such a soulless era of vacant cock rock, masturbatory guitar solos, unimpassioned sex, unruly drug abuse, and birdbrained haircuts, the film – whether intentional or not – is a reflection of that particularly repugnant zeitgeist, thus making it an innately lackadaisical, bromidic, and superficially stylized cinematic artifact from a thankfully bygone but still influential era.
Ulli Lommel and Andy Warhol on the set of Cocaine Cowboys (1979)