The Teddy -- The Tribute Text (page 2)
|Pretty boys can certainly inspire, but they can also be replaced. You have to possess more than good looks to attain the longevity of a Dallesandro. What we discovered in the films he made for Andy Warhol, and most importantly, for Paul Morrissey, was a natural actor with extraordinary and unanticipated resources, a charismatic screen presence, a beguiling manner, and a countenance that transmitted his every thought. His flesh in advertisements for Flesh (1968)—which carried the tag line “Can A Boy Be Too Attractive?”—might have been the lure, but it was the boy himself who captivated us, a sometimes sweet, even shy, often temperamental young man forcing himself to hustle through another day’s life in the big city.|
Morrissey placed an enormous burden on his neophyte star. Joe is not only in every scene of Flesh, but the camera is nearly transfixed by his visage, often lingering on his face while others speak. It’s an astonishing pledge of confidence to risk your film on an audience’s willingness to follow essentially one actor, on sustaining interest while watching his expressions and reading into other characters through his reactions.
If there was a hitch to Joe’s doing the role and handling all of the attention and fame—and eventual worship—to come, it was in having the character he played in Flesh, and then the impotent druggie he essayed in Trash, so closely melded in the viewer’s mind with his off-screen self. The intrinsic identification was key to the remarkable following the films developed and the equally remarkable emotional response they engendered. With the low budgets and improvisational nature of these movies, an array of curious personalities parading before the camera often calling each other by their real first names, as well as the Warhol brand and the growing mythology of his Factory, the line between what was acting and what was real had been blurred to the point of obliteration. Audiences could hardly be blamed for thinking that the Joe they saw up there on screen was the Joe they might meet on the street corner.
Asked whether he was aware of what he meant—as image, as icon—to audiences at the time, if he was at all clued in to their perception, Joe says, “I was quite aware of what I meant to an audience. Yeah, I knew that I was people’s fantasy. But it didn’t affect me. It didn’t make me feel like I was beautiful. I just felt great because people liked me...and I needed that love. I went through a childhood in which I was missing a lot of that love.”
This is the essence of the man, a kid from the streets truly thankful for the career that came to him out of nowhere and provided a wealth of opportunities, but also conflicted by that other Joe, the projected image. Morrissey’s films employed Joe as sex object to censure a manifest corruption of values in America, with its sex and drug obsessions. In many ways, though, Joe transcended that critical view while embodying it, eliciting compassion and demonstrating how audiences tend to take away from a film or an actor what it is they need.
Joe wasn’t required to say anything to his audience in order to speak to them, of course, but his reputation for not saying much in his Morrissey or Warhol movies is contradicted by the films themselves. I think that this perception, one which I shared for quite some time, is skewed by how otherwise “normal” Joe’s characters appear when surrounded by flamboyant, larger-than-life, and very talkative characters. By comparison, he seems subdued and silent. Where others are verbose and vociferous, Joe Dallesandro is economical and quietly efficient.
Sometimes one has to be a close listener to catch the verbal gems, such as his strange remark in Flesh right after the blow job that “Mother used to watch and she didn’t mind.” The throwaway comment suggests an entire subplot, or at the very least a dysfunctional family history that could explain why the character is doing what he’s doing.
In Lonesome Cowboys (1969), when Taylor Mead hesitates after prefacing “When you’re gay, when you want to be gay…,” Joe interrupts with, “Well are you or aren’t you?” He does so with a smile in his voice, cutting to the quick, stating the obvious without a trace of prejudice, as if such things didn’t matter to him as much as he was confused that Mead didn’t seem to know. His contributions are without meditation, instinctual and happily full of subtext.
In Heat, Sally Todd remarks how much Joe has grown up and he answers, “Kind of.” It’s the perfect reply from a character who’ll reveal himself to be an overgrown child, a narcissist. Replay the later scene where he talks to Sally in the living room of her mansion and marvel at his ease, so unaffected in his delivery, with beautiful, subtle shifts in expression, conveying cynicism and melancholy.In Europe, Joe embraced offers to appear in urban gang movies (chilling in the best of them, Fango bollente), exploitation, even literary costume drama (Un Cuore semplice), anything that would change his image or widen his horizons, all the while weaving in and out of “art” pictures: as a mute player in a fairy tale battle of the sexes for Louis Malle (Black Moon), as a gay garbage truck driver in love with Jane Birkin’s behind for Serge Gainsbourg (Je t’aime moi non plus), as a married man doomed by sex in Paris for Walerian Borowczyk (La Marge), as a mystery boyfriend who may or may not be trustworthy for Jacques Rivette (Merry-Go-Round), and in a cameo as a self-centered American actor for Catherine Breillat (Tapage nocturne).
©2009, Michael Ferguson | firstname.lastname@example.org