Oct 15, 2012

Lonesome Cowboys

On top of predating John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Whity (1971), Paul Bartel’s Lust in the Dust (1985), and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) as a curious and campy tale of cock-sucking cowboys on the boy-buggering range, the X-rated cinematic work Lonesome Cowboys (1968) co-directed by Paul Morrissey (Madame Wang's, Beethoven's Nephew)  and Andy Warhol is quite possibly the first and only cinematic adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragic play Romeo and Juliet set in a vaguely Western setting (it was actually filmed in an Old Tucson cowboy village that John Wayne was purportedly the co-owner of) minus the intoxicated Injun menace. It is also probably the most unconventional and incoherently assembled of the played out Shakespeare play. Of course, Lonesome Cowboys is not your typical cowboys flick because, aside from featuring five flaming wang-wranglers, the film also features as passive, cross-dressing sheriff who would rather wear a dress than brandish a gun and an ostensibly loose cowgirl who will fuck anything with a swinging dick, even if they may have a venereal disease from riding more cowboys than horses. Starring weirdo Warhol superstars Viva (Bike Boy, Blue Movie), Joe Dallesandro (Blood for Dracula, Je t'aime moi non plus), Eric Emerson (San Diego Surf, Heat), and Taylor Mead (Tarzan and Jane Regained... Sort, Taylor Mead’s Ass), among some relative unknowns (Frankie Francine, Tom Hompertz, etc.), Lonesome Cowboys is probably the best film Warhol worked on at that point in his filmmaking career, but it owes most of its enduring entertainment value and sociopolitical/cultural consciousness to Paul Morrissey. Warhol worked on the film during what was undoubtedly a rough patch in his life, at least during the post-production as he was recovering from serious injuries he received after would-be assassin Valerie Solanas (who appeared in Warhol's 1967 film I, a Man) of lesbo S.C.U.M. infamy. Paul Morrissey – apparently the real ‘director’ of Lonesome Cowboys – described the process of the downright bush-league direction of the film as follows: “We don’t move the camera in, and we don’t zoom in, in the shot. We stop the camera, zoom into the close-up, maybe pan to the second actor, turn the camera off, zoom back, to a two-shot, then start the camera again.” Indeed, Lonesome Cowboys is an audacious yet absolutely amateurishly directed work that is composed of a couple overly long shots that were poorly chosen, thus the film is more of interest to Warhol Factory and/or Paul Morrissey fans as an historical artifact than a serious work of merit in itself.

With its long and incessantly long improvised takes that were typical of such works as Sleep (1963), Blow Job (1964), and Vinyl (1964), Warhol's scopophiliac sideliner ‘auteur’ presence in Lonesome Cowboys is undeniable, yet it seems that the film’s greatest moments and sociopolitical subtext are owed to Morrissey’s more thoughtful and provocative direction. In fact, Warhol’s voyeuristic mindlessness was so detrimental to the film that art critic David Bourdon noted that the pop-icon missed some of the most interesting improvised moments of Lonesome Cowboys, stating: “Viva was nearly urinated upon by her antagonist’s horse and then, losing her footing in the mud and falling against the hind legs of her horse, nearly trampled upon. Warhol missed both events because he was zooming in on a storefront sign across the street.” Undoubtedly, Viva as Ramona D'Alvarez (or “Romeo” in this gender-bending adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic story) is one of the most, if not the most interesting character of Lonesome Cowboys. After being raped and humiliated in a seemingly never-ending scene in the film, Ramona goes on to subsequently have sex and attempt a suicide pact with a dandy drifter while babbling on needlessly about how she can reach the ocean and eventually the cosmos with sexual intercourse, hence her proud-slut posturing throughout the film. The real-life daughter of well-to-do conservative religious parents who once dreamed of being a nun during her less debauched years, Viva looks especially degenerate and emotionally vacant as she allows her sandy snatch to be exposed in the desert for extended scenes while she nonchalantly recites a bunch of hippie jibberish. Assuredly, Morrissey’s conservative Roman-Catholic subtext about the dead end delinquent road of hedonistic hippie liberalism is especially prominent during these scenes and it is especially effective that he was able to utilize Viva – a lapsed member of the same faith – for these scenes. Like the director’s later "Paul Morrissey Trilogy" (Trash, Flesh, Heat), Lonesome Cowboys is an anti-erotic work disguised as a zany avant-garde sex comedy, as one would be hardpressed to find anything remotely arousing about these films, even with all the close-ups of trot out genitalia. As Viva states in Lonesome Cowboys, “What’s more important; my hymen or your money?” Judging by the relative monetary success of the film, grossing $35,000.00-$40,000.00 during its first week of being screened with only $9000.00 on advertising, Warhol’s money was discernibly more important than Viva’s cheaply brandished hymen (or lack thereof).

Although taking credit for directing (as well as acting as the producer, editor, and cinematographer) Lonesome Cowboys, Paul Morrissey does not think highly of the film, stating, “I feel it’s too silly. It was a real exception, the first film I thought would be a production of sorts…I had this idea of doing Romeo and Juliet with groups of cowboys and cowgirls. But no girls came because they had a quarrel with Viva. We made the film over a Friday morning, Saturday and Sunday morning.” And indeed, Lonesome Cowboys has the unmistakable feel of a film that was made over a weekend without any sort of serious preproduction planning. As Morrissey and David Bourdon noted, Warhol superstars Brigid Berlin and Ondine were also supposed to appear in Lonesome Cowboys but Viva’s trouncing egomania prevented that. In fact, despite her rather unremarkable appearance, Viva even manages to upstage Joe Dallesandro in Lonesome Cowboys, which is no small accomplishment considering Little Joe’s always commanding screen presence in virtually every other film he starred in. Featuring outlaw ballet that “builds up the buns,” macho men in mascara, overextended homoerotic wrestling matches between Little Joe cowboy and the wild boyz, and probably one of the most banal and seemingly unending rape scenes ever filmed in cinema history, Lonesome Cowboys is a curiously camp spoof of American’s most beloved male genre. Despite being an absurd spoof of the Western film formula, Lonesome Cowboys is probably a truer expression of the real-life John Wayne – a draft-dodger who apparently enjoyed dressing in drag – than any of the classic Hollywood John Ford films he starred in.  During the film, a character pompously states, "Little Joe was an altar boy, and we all know what happens to altar boys when they grow up."  In Lonesome Cowboys, they ride gayly off into the the sunset with one another plagued to a lifetime of homoerotic aimlessness, leaving a bodacious bitch-in-heat cold as she dreams idiotically about the prospect of mutual martyrdom via suicide pact.  Needless to say, Lonesome Cowboys – a film where boys-will-do-boys and girls-want-to-be-boys – features none of the harrowing romanticism of Shakespeare.

-Ty E

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