FEATURING: Joe Dallesandro, Holly Woodlawn
PLOT: All the women (and the men dressed as women) want hunky Joe Dallesandro, but he’s impotent from shooting too much junk; he lives with a woman who furnishes their hovel with castoff items she finds left on Manhattan curbs for trash pickup, and the two dream of getting on welfare someday.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though Trash is about weird people and has its “off” moments, it’s not quite weird enough for the List. Trash was cutting-edge in style, concept and subject matter when it came out in 1970. But in the forty years since its debut, the sad lives of lowlife junkies and social outcasts have been tapped many times, and Trash‘s casual, near-documentary approach (accurately) makes a drug addict’s life seem painfully banal most of the time. Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol have collaborated on weirder projects.
COMMENTS: Told in a pseudo-documentary style with partially improvised dialogue, on one level Trash is a gritty and realistic slice-of-life drama about deadbeat druggies on Manhattan’s lower east side. It glides from meaningless episode to meaningless episode; Joe Dallesandro searches for his next fix and can’t get an erection no matter how many ladies try to seduce him; Holly Woodlawn keeps searching through the neighbors’ trash for stuff she can use, but she never finds any hidden treasure. Their dreams are pathetically small but still far beyond their grasp, and by the end the conjoined losers end up exactly where they started. Fortunately for us, plenty of weirdos drift into their lives in the meantime—a go-go dancer, a rich girl looking for an acid connection, an out-of-his-depth high school student, Holly’s pregnant sister, a welfare bureaucrat. A few of these encounters are completely naturalistic, but most have an absurd edge to them. Trying to turn Joe on, the go-go dancer breaks into a song and dance number, backed by swinging strands of Christmas lights on the stripper’s stage she has in her living room. The welfare functionary can’t approve a junkie for the public dole, but he’s willing to strike a fairly bizarre bargain to skirt the rules. The weirdest sequence comes when Joe breaks into a house and is caught by the scatterbrained, bored woman who lives there; she isn’t frightened by the junkie burglar at all, but instead keeps him around and concocts a story about them being old high school friends for the benefit of her husband. Half the people Joe meets get off on watching him shoot heroin, and so we are treated to multiple scenes where he actually ties off and sticks a needle into his vein: junkie porno. The women who try to seduce him all have annoying, high, nasal voices—one has a speech impediment—and they all whine even during casual conversation. The grimy strangeness makes it seem like we’re watching a reality that’s being filtered through Joe’s hazy, heroin-addled brain; the randomly scattered audio dropouts that mimic his opiate nods add to the effect. Dallesandro had charisma, but he always was a pretty boy who never really learned to act no matter how many times Morrissey cast him. Here, playing a permanently strung-out hustler, his lack of talent isn’t a problem: he spends the entire movie either repeating back what’s said to him or mumbling “Whaaa…?”, as if he really is stoned out of his gourd. On the other hand, the transvestite Holly Woodlawn is a genuine surprise: not only does the performance convince you the he is a she, it can also be funny, angry, pathetic and oddly dignified. Woodlawn’s never drag-queen campy, and you can see why Morrissey expanded her role from a bit part to co-star status: she conveys the street-wise, city-foolish attitude of the elective underclass (“I wanted to get back on welfare, be respectable…”) Since Dallesandro’s too disconnected and unambitious to identify with, Woodlawn gives the story a center.
Trash is the second part of Morrissey’s unofficial lowlife trilogy: Flesh, Trash and Heat. Compared to Flesh, which featured Dallesandro as a teenage hustler and male prostitute, Trash has less experimental flashes and more humor, and is a more watchable and better movie. Historically, it’s an important film in the underground canon; today, Trash is interesting as much for its peek at the mindset and preoccupations of 1960s experimental filmmakers as it is for the story or performances.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…it’s aware of its own ludicrousness. It understands that it’s not to be taken seriously, or erotically. And there are some weirdly funny performances by Holly Woodlawn, a transvestite, Joe Dallesandro, Jane Forth and Michael Sklar. Morrissey has a muscular sense of the ridiculous.”–Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Duane.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)