Oct 12, 2012

Forty Deuce


Before even knowing his name while I was still a wee lad, I had a visceral, irrational, and unwavering hatred for popular Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon, but I must admit that he must be doing something right as far as acting talents are considered. As the man I love to hate, boyish Bacon makes for an especially effective villain, so naturally I was intrigued when I discovered that the relatively successful actor played an exceedingly slimy and suicidal Sicilian-American gigolo in arthouse-trash auteur Paul Morrissey’s first urban NYC youth work Forty Deuce (1982). Based on a play of the same name penned by controversial off-Broadway playwright Alan Bowne (Beirut, Sharon and Billy) who died of AIDS related illnesses at the premature age of 44, Forty Deuce is a work whose author is ironically symbiotic of the sort of sometimes lethal ‘free loving’ libertinage that Paul Morrissey thoroughly despised and routinely ridiculed in his films. Forty Deuce centers around two bisexual male prostitutes who are not nearly as handsome as "Paul Morrissey Trilogy" star Joe Dallesandro thereupon making them more desperate in their struggle to earn cash via cock and coke; or as the apathetic anti-hero of the film states: “I sell dick, I sell dope, I come, I go.” In Forty Deuce, absurdist gutter-level hilarity ensues when the two putrid protagonists of the film discover that the virginal boy they hoped to sell has accidentally overdosed on heroin, henceforth they attempt to frame a bourgeois john for the belated boy’s terribly tragic death. A vivid and – some would say – vicious depiction of 42nd street trash, Forty Deuce, like most of Morrissey’s work, portrays the liberal inspired dead-end road of self-satisfying sex and drugs in a uniquely unsentimental and decidedly dispiriting manner. Totally withdrawn from circulation by its distributor, which I am sure now-high-profile actor Kevin Bacon is thoroughly pleased about, Forty Deuce – not unlike most of Morrissey’s post-Warhol factory works – is nearly impossible to find. 

  As an audacious and ambitious auteur known for single-handedly taking on every aspect of the filmmaking process with his gritty, gutter trash pictures, Alan Bowne’s play was nothing short of impressive to Morrissey, stating of the work: “I had never encountered any play or film that could even remotely be considered as anti-sex, and here was this astonishing indictment of the liberal horror.” As a work of ‘toilet tautology’ – which Morrissey described as, “an equation of sex to the toilet,” Forty Deuce would make for an equally gritty and curiously scatological film adaptation where sex is no more glorious of a bodily function than defecation and urination. Spending most of his free time shooting up heroin on the toilet and shooting his load into human toilets, homo-for-heroin prostitute Ricky (Kevin Bacon) is indubitably a fine fellow with his high priorities, trading his soul and sucking poles for temporary mind-altering pleasure of the highly lethal kind. Featuring some of the most disgustingly depraved and damned despicable proletarian ‘street capitalists’ ever captured on sickly-looking celluloid, Forty Deuce is a candid testament to the sordid storm of human filth that consumed 42nd street Manhattan only three decades ago. The most apt and fitting description of all the characters featured in the film is given by a hysterical hustling Negress who states: “We all niggas, nigga.” Indeed, if anyone needs evidence that the United States has its own Third World, one only needs to view Forty Deuce. The only exception is a bourgeois John named Mr. Roper – who is ironically yet strangely fittingly played by recently deceased conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart’s father-in-law Orson Bean (Anatomy of a Murder, Being John Malkovich) – a snide and significantly arrogant businessman who may look at the teenage boys he blows as trash, but he has no problem fondling their flesh, even admitting, “I derive the most intense pleasure from knowing that your body is being purchased in the same way as toothpaste or a pair of shoes. It’s tit for tat, kids. Our tyranny as opposed to yours,” so it is only all the more hilarious when the two lead male prostitutes trick the hotshot queen into committing accidental necrophilia and attempt to frame him for the death of a young boy. 

 Interestingly, most of the second half of Forty Deuce utilizes a split-screen that was first employed by Paul Morrissey’s in the Warhol collaboration Chelsea Girls (1966). The spilt-screen is especially effective in that it underscores the bodacious bamboozling of the two hustlers and the pretentious claptrap of cryto-degenerate client Mr. Roper. Needless to say, Forty Deuce is a much starker and less jocular work than most of Morrissey’s other realist campy comedies. Indeed, Kevin Bacon may have played a sadistic sodomite of the pederast persuasion in Sleepers (1996) directed by Barry Levinson, a phantasmagorical rapist in Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man (2000), and a cunning child molester in Nichole Kassell’s The Woodsman (2004), but none of these roles compare to all-encompassing filthiness of his cock-chomping, con-artist character in Forty Deuce.  But then again, Orson Bean steals the show in the film as the posh and polished pervert character of Mr. Roper who not only lies to his bought boy toys about his reasoning for frequenting Manhattan ghettos, but ultimately lies to himself, until the moment he is carefully caressing an adolescent cadaver.  That being said, I would not be surprised if Mr. Roper was designed as Paul Morrissey's filmic alter-ego because as an articulate, professionally-dressed, cultured, and conservative fellow, he is certainly the character most closest to his physical and mental likeliness out any film he as ever made.  With a befitting score by Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango and a racially diverse cast of drug-dealing derelicts including a Puerto Rican that speaks Yiddish and racist blacks that make drug deals with white fags, Forty Deuce is an engulfing exposition of the multicultural sewer that is archetypically liberal New York City.

-Ty E

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