CONVERSATION WITH JOE

[Cover & Photograph: Vaughan Films]
It’s Wednesday about 5pm. The Gay News office is a tip. We’ve been mailing subscription copies most of the day. The phone rings.

It’s Variety. Not the show-biz trade paper, but the girl who answers the phone at Vaughan Films, with the collected movie works of Trevelyan (not the ex-censor), Anger and Warhol in cans piled up round her desk and her electric typewriter.

“Joe’s in town. Would you like to see him?” she asks.

“Would I? You must be joking. What time and where?”

“I’ll have to tell you the time tomorrow and it’ll be at the office.”

Next morning up and ready ridiculously early. We have to waste some time listening to Jimmy Young and sitting at home – if home is where my toothbursh is – waiting for Variety to call.

She does. At midday.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to get up, Peter, you can see Joe at one.”

London Transport Executive does its best to delay all 149 buses to Liverpool Street, and to keep all Central Line trains to Oxford Circus from running.

Despite LTE we get there on time. Just.

Variety looks after the Gay News carrier bag while we’re off to see the ‘superstar’ of the movies that puts fear into the hearts of the sensitive and politically ambitious of Enfield.

Next door is almost as crowded, but this time it’s people not film cans that are piling up round the walls. There are Christine, the lady who fixes almost anything, and the rest of the small distribution company’s directors and staff, all buzzing with excitement at the thought of The Big Opening, (Trash, February 8, London Pavilion). And leaning against the doorpost there’s a young man who looks as though he’s trying to merge with the furniture and the posters with his face on.

He’s got the face of Joe Dalessandro, but it’s difficult to recognise him in a tidy blue suit with creases in the trousers any banker would be proud of, let alone with his clothes on.

Christine says: “This is Peter Holmes of Gay News and he’d like to have a few words with you.”

We shake hands and say hello/hullo/hallo and retire to the inner sanctum — the office of Andy Warhol’s European agent, Jimmy Vaughan.

Joe seems frankly surprised that Europe’s leading gay fortnightly wants to talk to him. He takes out a Marlboro and lights it. He says he’s hungry, loud enough for the massed company directors and their right-hand men and women to hear.

On every surface of the room there’s a picture of Joe, some in colour, some in plain old black-and-white.

Gay News: How much do you identify with the characters you play in the movies? After all, you’re always called Joe on the screen.

Joe: Well, I’ve got Joe tatooed on my arm, and I didn’t find out how to blank it out with make-up until just recently.

GN: You’ve been a screen stud, a gay and you’ve even fixed heroin on screen. How much of it is the real you?

Joe: None of it. They’re just characters in movies. At home I’m just a quiet family sort of man. I’ve got my mother living in the city, and I visit her regularly. And I’ve got a wife at home and a child. And my wife cooks me delicious meals and I stay at home and watch television a lot. I don’t know any junkies. I don’t know any gays. I’m just a very straight sort of person.

GN: Despite that you’ve become something of a gay hero.

Joe: I don’t know why.

GN: Well, Joe was pansexual in Flesh and Lonesome Cowboys was overtly gay.

Joe: Well, I’m glad I’ve become a hero for somebody.

GN: Back at reality in the Warhol movies, there’s a scene in Trash where you fix heroin…

Joe: ‘Fix’? Is that what you call it?

GN: You fix heroin, you shoot it up into your arm in full view of the screen. That scene made the boyfriend I saw it with faint.

Joe: Did you see it here in London?

GN: Yes, at a screening for the trade, to coin a phrase. Anyway, what did you shoot up, or fix, or whatever? Was it water or something?

Joe: I didn’t shoot anything into my arm.

GN: You mean it’s all done with the tricks of the cinema business?

Joe: Yes, I never put a needle into me.

GN: You say you lead a very straight life. Does that mean you’re anti-drug and anti-gay?

Joe: What do you mean by ‘anti’?

GN: Do you personally, discriminate against drug-users or gays you meet?

Joe: I can’t really because I don’t come into any contact with anyone who falls into these categories, because I spend most of my life at home when I’m not working. I believe that people should be able to do whatever they like, in ones or twos or threes or whatever outside my home. But once they’re inside they have to do what I say.

I wouldn’t discriminate against gays — if I knew any – but then, I wouldn’t sleep with a gay guy either.

Actually, I’m very anti-drug. I don’t use any and I don’t allow any to be used in my home.

GN: I think Trash is probably the most convincing condemnation of drug-use I’ve ever seen. It’s ridiculous their banning it for two years in this country. If it was given a U-certificate, that’s the unrestricted viewing certificate, and shown in schools, it would kill the smack trade stone dead in just ten years, probably.

(Jimmy Vaughan, Andy Warhol’s European agent walks into his office to the refrigerator that holds the hospitality wine.)

Joe: Do you have some kind of hamburger joint in England?

JV: We’ll be giving you some meat in half-an-hour. We’ll go out for a steak.

Joe: 15 minutes.

JV: 15 minutes.

Joe: I’m sorry but I really am hungry.

JV: And when Joe gets hungry he gets annoyed. Isn’t that right Joe?

Joe: Yes.

JV: Don’t mind me, I’m just popping through.

GN: You’ve been with the Warhold factory for five years now …

Joe: Six.

GN: Ever since The Loves of Ondine. Can you see a time when you’ll quit the factory to join the more conventional movie-making industry?

Joe: Not really. After all, the movies we make have changed a lot. Paul Morrisey has changed things and the movies are very different now.

GN: Yes, but Savages has just opened in London with Ultra Violet in it. She was one of the factory’s first superstars, and Play It Again Sam had Viva in a very small and rather bad part.

Joe: Viva was great in Cisco Pike. Did you ever get to see that?

GN: No. What I meant was that these two have broken away from the factory, seemingly to get into the straight movies, if you can call Savages straight. Would you do that, now that you’ve become a ‘superstar’?

Joe: I wouldn’t say I was a superstar.

GN: It’s the Warhol name for the stars of the factory’s movies. Would you make movies for other directors and other set-ups?

Joe: Sure I would, but that doesn’t mean I’d stop working for Warhol. I enjoy working there too much to leave it.

GN: Why did you start working for the Warhol factory?

Joe: You see I like money and I wanted to be an actor in the movies and no studio would give someone of my age a part unless he’d already done a couple of features.

GN: How old were you when you started, then?

Joe: 18.

GN: At that age, I suppose you can’t get a part unless your father is a big-name star.

Joe: Who are you thinking of?

GN: Peter Fonda, for one.

Joe: Do you know how old Peter Fonda is?

GN: He’s starting to look about 40 or 50. But he was in a lot of features before he made the big-time, albeit low-budget jobs.

Joe: Yes, but he was 28 or 29 when he started those.

GN: Are you only loyal to the Warhol movie factory because it keeps you in regular employment?

Joe: I suppose so, yes. I don’t live and breathe it, and I’m not politically committed to it. To me they’re just movies with parts in them to be played.

GN: Which is your favourite of the movies you’ve been in?

Joe: I don’t know that I have a favourite. I liked them all. They’re all movies.

GN: What do you think of the British censorship scene? Trash was banned for two years as you know and independent television is being forced to shelve its screening of the Warhol documentary.

Joe: You mean the Bailey film?

GN: Yes.

Joe: I never say what people should do and what they shouldn’t do, and I don’t think anybody else should. Britain’s no worse than other countries.

GN: It’s more repressive than most, and not just in censorship. The laws against gays make male gay sex legal only between consenting adults over 21 in private, as long as neither is a member of the armed forces or the merchant navy.

Joe: What you’ve got is a law that gives gays the freedom they haven’t got in the States, and then takes it away again at the same time.

GN: Sure, that’s why we run a contact ad section. You see gay contact ads got International Times busted a few years back. The law hasn’t changed since.

Joe: But contact ads aren’t important enough to get busted on.

GN: The contact ad thing is just an example of the discriminatory laws against gays in this country. You know the reason the Bailey documentary got banned was because of the movie clips in it, most of them with you in them? People complained because the clips showed gays and you said fuck four or five times.

Joe: Have you seen this?

(He shows us The Evening News headline ‘Now Judges See That Sex Film.’)

Joe: That’s ridiculous.

GN: Have you seen Gay News?

Joe: No.

GN: Well there are about four copies coming in here every fortnight. You know Kenneth Anger is working here? Have you seen Anger’s movies?

Joe: No.

GN: Oh. You should. He more or less invented the quote underground unquote movie years ago with some of the earliest gay movies made that were really good movies. Now he’s getting more involved in the work of Aleister Crowley.

(By this time it’s lunchtime and Joe heads off for the steakery. One of the directors is asked to follow with cash for the meal, as he’s tied up talking to the art man about the deadline for posters for Trash’s opening.

Then other members of the staff talk about the people they forgot to invite and talk to Joe on his 24-hour trip to London.)

Staff: Did we invite that guy who does the arts on Friday for the Standard? What’s his name? And how about Ray Connolly? Did we invite him? Damn.


Conversation with Joe. Starring Joe Dallasandro. With Peter Holmes, Jimmy Vaughan and staff, the Evening News. Introducing Variety. Cert ‘U’.

Steppin’ On The Spaniel

SAVAGES. The Players: Louis Stadlen, Thayer David, Susie Blakeley, Kathleen Widdoes, Ultra Violet. Written: George Trow, Michael O’Donoghue. Photographed: Walter Lassally. Directed: James Ivory. Certificate ‘AA’

One of the saddest facts of living in these civilised times is that a few people are supposed to bundle off to the cinema and then write what they think of what they saw for others to read. But once you’ve sat down at your typewriter and written that Savages is as close to being a masterpiece of a movie as you’re in danger of seeing in the next 12 months — and that’s a long time — you’ve said all that’s worth saying, bar telling the story.

It’s by retelling the story you can usually pad out a review once you’ve run out of words because the movie defies words – there are a lot more knocking words than there are words of praise.

And that being said/written, let me add that there’s nothing anyone can say about Savages that is going to make sense unless you go and see the movie. Ignore what people say, see it. Make up your own mind.

Savages, quite simply has very little story. Or, to put it another way, it is a simple little story which still has an amazing complexity.

It charts the rise and fall of civilisation through a series of chapters (I think there are five, but the number doesn’t matter).

We start with a black-and-white anthropological documentary about The Mud People — as the chapter heading tells us.

The action is explained and interspersed with captions written in a send-up anthropology jargon – after all, co-scripter O’Donoghue is a staffer on America’s National Lampoon, the satirical magazine.

The Mud People are getting ready for a bit of ritual human sacrifice, but they’re quite bowled over by the appearance of a croquet ball from the clear sky over their unspecified territory in an unspecified continent at an unspecified time.

The tribe sets off to find where the perfect sphere – hitherto unknown as a shape in the forest, we’re told — came from. And they end up at a very stylish old house belonging to an unspecified period in the development of the civilisation of an unspecified nation – it looks like America, and it was shot in upstate New York.

They enter the house, find the remnants of the last ‘civilised’ occupation — cupboards of clothes, records and so on. They dress up and assume the attitudes of the people whose clothes they’re wearing – capitalist, eligible young man, limping idealist, remote artist and such like.

The next main step – the third chapter -is the dinner party when the attitudes are played for all they’re worth. Suddenly a croquet ball appears from nowhere and passes the table unseen. But the people know that some force has passed among them — shades of the Exterminating Angel and 2001.

From then on the civilisation they’ve reached is in decline.

Anyone for croquet. Asha Puthli is the Forest Girl in ‘Savages’.

A girl who consistently wears men’s clothes does a number to a song called Steppin On The Spaniel (a song about treading household pets into the ground). People dive into the swimming pool and the eligible young man does an underwater grave robbing job, stealing coins and jewellery. Ultra Violet, described in the beautiful title sequence as a decadent, seduces the maid in the back of a massive car that’s parked in the grounds. This lesbian-fuck scene is typical of the movie in that every time you think you know your bearings, director James Ivory throws in something else to confuse things just a bit.

Confusion reigns at the end, crusty aristocrats, cigar-smoking capitalists, sensitive girls and idealists are involved in a game of croquet that turns into agame of cheat, the hostess keeps moving the pole – a scene reminiscent of the first time I tripped on LSD (when it was legal of course) and cheated gloriously at cards.

The rise-and-fall of civilisation is one huge subject for a movie to tackle, and James Ivory, whose idea the scripters worked from, has used the motif of the croquet ball to link the sequences. That might sound like a clumsy image, but in the context it isn’t, honest.

As I’ve said/written, it’s a huge subject, and it’s a movie I had to see twice before I could take it all in. And it’s still running.

The Curzon ought to sell season-tickets. I’ve got to see it another two or three times to really absorb the subtleties of the script – in a desperate attempt to regain civilisation the hostess relies on ritual and uses an etiquette-form question to get the conversation going again (“Do you know,” she asks, “the precise meaning and derivation of the phrase bric-a-brac?”).

The subtleties are also included in Walter Lassally’s best cinematography since Tom Jones, the soft focus, the muted and delicate colours.

At once. Savages is funny, mind-blowing, intelligent, good-to-look-at and so good it confounds criticism. There’s only one thing to do – go and see for yourself.