- 1 hr 45 min
Flesh is a 1968 avant-garde film directed by Paul Morrissey and produced by Andy Warhol. It follows the life of Joe, a male prostitute played by Joe Dallesandro, who wanders the streets of New York City in search of clients. The movie is a gritty portrayal of the intersecting worlds of underground sex work, drug addiction, and queer culture in the late 1960s. The film is shot in black and white, giving it a raw, documentary-like feel. The camera follows Joe as he goes about his daily routine, which consists of hustling for money, scoring drugs, and interacting with a motley crew of characters who inhabit the seedy underbelly of New York City. Through Joe's encounters, we are introduced to a diverse range of clients, including a gay couple who enjoy watching him have sex with their female friend, an uptight businessman who is curious about homosexual experiences, and a group of middle-aged women who want to experience a threesome. Joe's interactions with these clients are raw and explicit, and the film does not shy away from depicting the sex acts in graphic detail. However, the explicitness of these scenes is undercut by Morrissey's detached, almost clinical approach to filming them. The camera remains static, and the actors move around the frame in a series of long takes, creating a sense of detachment and objectivity rather than titillation. Despite the explicit nature of the film's content, Flesh is not a simple exploitation movie. Morrissey and Warhol use the film as a way of exploring themes of identity, sexuality, and power. Joe is not just a passive object being used by his clientsâhe is also a shrewd businessman who knows how to negotiate his prices and boundaries. His experiences as a prostitute have given him a keen understanding of the dynamics of power and how to use it to his advantage. The film's portrayal of queer culture is also nuanced and multi-layered. Joe is himself bisexual and has several encounters with men throughout the film. However, the film does not present a simplistic or idealized view of same-sex relationships. Instead, it shows the range of emotions and motivations that can drive people, regardless of their sexual orientation. One of the most striking aspects of Flesh is its depiction of drug culture. Many of the film's characters are addicted to heroin, and we see them shooting up on camera. This was a bold move for a film made in the late 1960s, and it adds to the film's sense of authenticity and realism. Morrissey does not glamorize drug addiction, but he also does not judge those who are struggling with it. Instead, he presents it as just another part of the complex web of human experience. The performances in Flesh are uniformly excellent, with Joe Dallesandro standing out as the film's compelling and charismatic lead. Despite the fact that he is playing a prostitute, Dallesandro brings a sense of dignity and self-possession to his role, making Joe a sympathetic and even heroic figure. Geraldine Smith and Patti D'Arbanville are also excellent in their supporting roles, bringing a sense of vulnerability and complexity to their characters. Overall, Flesh is a daring and influential film that explores taboo subjects in a way that was groundbreaking for its time. Its frank depictions of sex, drugs, and queer culture paved the way for later films that would further explore these themes, and its emphasis on authenticity and realism gave it a lasting impact. While it may not be for everyone, it remains an important and powerful work of cinema that deserves to be seen by anyone interested in the history of underground film.