Monday, November 23, 2009

Human Leftovers

“’Trash’: A Queer Film Classic”
By Jon Davies
ISBN No. 978-1-55152-261-6
If you need any proof that this shiny little pocketbook is a serious academic discussion of an old Andy Warhol movie just turn to page 76 of the book. There you’ll find the line, “The second scene finds Joe arguing with Holly…” That’s “second” as in the scene that comes after the title credits and first scene – both of which apparently demanded the first 75 densely detailed pages to explain. Now THAT’S academic.
The movie’s plot is deceptively simple. Joe Dallesandro, a hunky hustler and drug-addict, lives with Holly Woodlawn, a drag queen who turns the trash she collects in the street into furniture for their apartment. In search of his next hit Joe floats from one neighbour to the next, while Holly stays home and fumes. That’s it. That’s pretty much the whole plot of “Trash.”
But whether or not you’ve seen “Trash”, you’re in for a bit of a shock when you start to read this analysis of the movie. The first shock is just how much the movie predicted today’s disposable culture – art- and people-wise. The second shock is just how much mileage (172 footnoted pages!) Davies gets on a single, largely forgotten Andy Warhol movie. Seriously, in a broken English age of texting teens it’s both enlightening and exhausting to read something by someone reading so much into one line of dialogue, one scene, and one movie. Even more daunting is just how cerebral Davies gets. Sure, kids today are socially smart and tech-savvy but I’m not sure they’re going to be able to grasp the “classicism” of a blowjob. That’s a shame, really, because, in our sexually saturated culture the book manages to return the reader to that wow-worthy era when sex wasn’t a spectator sport, drugs were dangerous, and movies were actually worth discussing and arguing about. Carefully sifting through the aesthetic of “Trash” Davies unpacks the movie’s central theme, espoused by the movie’s director, Paul Morrissey: “(T)here’s no difference between a person using drugs and a piece of refuse.” This is heady stuff for those of us who thought “Trash” was just strung-out kids filming each other doing nothing because there was no YouTube back then.
Of course, this being an Andy Warhol movie, the message is muffled (or amplified, if you’re doing a doctorate) under a lot of art school pretensions (male nudity, an opening shot stolen from Marlene Dietrich’s movie “The Blue Angel”) and, like the cocktail chatter at a film festival, some of that zeal amps up Davies’ assessment of “Trash” itself. Sometimes he manages to make the movie sound much better than it is (he mentions the movie’s “thrilling dynamism” and its “stylized super-proximity”). But if you’re going to be cornered by an excitable movie patron at a film festival you’re lucky if it’s Davies. He’ll have you longing for that waaaay bygone era when movies were actually art.
Sure, perhaps at its most grandiose, “Trash” (the book) suggests that “’Trash’ [the movie] urges us to accept as valuable the limited, the tawdry, the vulnerable, and the sordid because they are the common qualities of the human condition.” Oo-kay… We’ll try to ignore the fact that pretty much every movie asks us to accept as valuable the limited, the tawdry, the vulnerable, and the sordid because they are the common qualities of the human condition. But given the ongoing drama of what to do with Vancouver, Canada’s poorest and drug-addled neighbourhood, the downtown east side, “Trash” is more topical today than when it was first released. As for “’Trash’: A Queer Film Classic”, ultimately, it’s a passionate swirling of ideas that makes discovering old movies sound like the most thrilling pursuit ever. Davies’ book has the whispering intimacy and wide-eyed excitement of great date dialogue. Who knew that the most erotic title of recent memory would be a very long review of an old Andy Warhol movie?