Andy's Gang If You Loved Trash...
FLESH, at Mather House Friday and Saturday, 8 and 10 p.m.
...YOU'LL probably like Flesh. It's a supermarketful of genitalia, mostly male, which makes it a peculiar supermarket indeed. Who can resist Joe D'Alasandro, his phallus wrapped up in a St. Laurent scarf like an obscene Christmas present for Isadora Duncan? Who can pass up Candy Darling, a transvestite with rubykeeler red lips and a feather boa, reading '40's Hollywood pulp sags aloud to prove she couldn't care less about Joe's ongoing blow job? Who could miss a Warhol lampoon of Blow-Up, with Joe cast as Verushka? Huh?
I could. I would like to say that I always thought it would be interesting to see all those naked men, but actually it was rather boring. (This is not meant to give the impression that real live naked men make me yawn; it's just that Joe taking his clothes off twenty-four times a technicolor second gets monotonous the fifth time around. And anyway, I've seen him before.)
Watching Flesh is not unlike riding the Long Island Railroad from Lynbrook to Babylon: there are a couple of interesting shopping centers along the way, but in the end, one Citgo station is pretty much like another.
TRASH is hilarious because Holly Woodlawn is a camic genius, a kind of funky Will Rogers in drag. She and Jane Forth are sorely missed in Flesh. and the verbal gags that remain to embroider the acres of skin rarely reach the preposterous level of charm that Flesh's successor maintains. Trash can have a streetchick drawl, "You got any LSD? You know, Lucy in the Sky, with Diamonds?" The boffs in Flesh, though, are much more sincere, and when the Warhol/ Morrissey Factory is sincere, it's pathetic. For instance, Joe says at one point with heart-rending earnestness to a hustler-colleague, "It's not a question of straight or not straight-you just do what you got to do."
IS Flesh sexist? Near the beginning of the movie, Joe says to his wife, "Do you want to make me happy?" When she says yes, Joe continues, "Then do my laundry." In a way, there's enough self-parody here to wipe out the chauvinism. And even if there weren't. Joe isn't so much sexist as bored. The scene takes place in bed, Joe sprawled naked next to his wife. Joe is as much a sex object as his partner. Everyone in the movie, in fact, is in some sense an object, and most of the objects are men. But the point here is that people seem finally to be more interested in sleeping than in screwing. A character says. "Body worship is the idea behind all music, all art-the whole thing." In a world where that is true, in the world of Flesh, sex must resemble wallpaper, even if the pattern is purple Elsie the Cows. Flesh exploits women far less than your standard Nixon-Paramount Western; it exploits everybody, but that's life.
THERE'S a really moving moment in Flesh, a silent stretch of film invested with a stunning measure of poetry. Joe, nude, feeds little pieces of cupcake to a baby; both of them are highlighted against a splendid Oriental rug. Warhol people have done more to explore the aesthetics of the naked body than any other film troupe, even if their efforts are occasionally in disastrously bad taste.
MOST people, us included, would rather watch lesbians romp across the screen than homosexuals. (That is, if forced to the choice.) That should point toward a number of features in the fabric of the collective American sexual unconscious. Is there less potential for exploiting men's bodies than women's bodies? Are female bodies aesthetically more interesting (arresting, arousing, subtle) than male bodies, or has male dominion fixed that as a conditioned response? Is Warhol putting us on, or-in some insane, frenetic, and stupendous way-is he really on to something basic about the ways in which we look at ourselves? Huh?
ANDY WARHOL recapitulates our America. Our world, Andy's world, is a thing place; Andy's art is about an environment so choked with objects that the distinctions between me and not-me have become blurred. The nature-culture axis is connected to the crazy thermostat of popular notions, and even structures-social structures, like museums; intellectual structures, like aesthetics; subconscious structures, like the idea of the comic-are the proper subjects of large-scale pop art. Andy was the first person to point out that doing one thing a large number of times is both artistically interesting and perverse; his soup cans have changed our eyesight.
AND of course, it's silly to treat Andy Warhol seriously. Flesh is lewd, boring, perverse, fitfully amusing, spastically imaginative, and definitely kicky. So is Andy. And so, in our better moments, are most of us.