puppet master

For three decades, filmmaker Paul Morrissey has lived in the shadow of Andy Warhol. Now, his work is at last being assessed in its own right. He sets Alan Morrison straight about who pulled the strings on those Factory shifts.

15 The List ()- l‘) Sept I996

hink of it as a trademark. a designer label. The titles say ‘Andy Warhol presents . . and that’s as far as it goes for history’s greatest pop artist. Read on into the credits and you’ll discover the film was written. directed. possibly even produced. photographed and edited by someone called Paul Morrissey.

Legend has it that Warhol only supervised the production of those famous silkscreen portraits. passing on the actual chores to his acolytes. The same could be said of the ‘Warhol’ films made in the ()()s and early 70s. except that movies aren’t mere copies of an original print. but artistic creations in their own right.

Now. with the simultaneous video and cinema releases of a string of Warhol films. Morrissey is finally shaking off the artist’s shadow.

Morrissey came into contact with Warhol around the time of My Hustler (1965) and immediately introduced a stronger sense of narrative and commercialism into the film output of the East 47th Street studio in New York known as ‘The Factory’. Earlier Warhol movies were artistic statements that stood on the summit of cinematic boredom - five and a half hours of a slumbering man in Sleep. eight hours of the lights going off and on in the Empire State Building in Empire. the 25-hour patchwork of images that is (Four Stars).

Stars of the Warhol movies tell of the artist coming in. switching on the camera. going out

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Paul Morrissey: ccllpml tor decades by Andy Warhol's Image


again. and only returning when the reel needed changing. Morrissey took more directorial control. allowing for improvisation within his scripts. And yet there’s a feeling that Morrissey’s input and the man himself has been airbrushed out of the picture in a Stalinist reworking of the Warhol myth. Some reference books even list. say. Flesh For Frankenstein as Andy Warhol's Frankenstein. which begs the question: did Warhol’s input vary on each film?

‘No. because he didn’t have anything to do with them.‘ replies the 57-year-old Morrissey. ‘l’d show Andy the movies when they were finished. he‘d say “They’re great". and that was it. All that stuff about The Factory is what journalists have invented. l was managing the place and l was also manager of the Velvet Underground. Most people don’t know any film Andy made because Andy never made a film. He depended on people for everything.‘

In print this may sound like bitterness. but in conversation Morrissey’s humour is as strong as his opinions. And that is something he comes back to again and again ‘humour’ bemoaning the jumped-up seriousness of most American independent movies. As several of his films receive a UK video release. Morrissey’s contribution to the establishment of a modern independent scene can be seen in a fresh light.

With Flesh and Trash. he pushed images of drag queens. pimps and prostitutes into commercial cinemas. paving the way for the likes of John Waters. In Women In Revolt. he managed to embrace and satirise Women’s Lib. achieving a thematic double take by having the issues debated by transvestites men wanting to be women wanting to be WOMEN.

Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula. made back-to-back in the same Roman studios beloved by Fellini. subvert the Universal and Hammer genre icons with graphic gore. strong sex and wicked humour. They also have an unusual political level: in Frankenstein. Wagner’s Tannlu'iuser plays as Udo Kier perfects his Serbian master-race. adding a Nazi dimension to the horror, while Dracula has bolshevik peasant Joe Dallesandro start a private revolution against the aristocratic count with a climactic splurge of dismemberment.

Morrissey’s post-Warhol movies have also given a framework for wannabe independents: Madam Wang is, Mixed Blood and Spike ()f Benson/airs! simmer with dark comedy. sympathetically presented grotesque characters and an ensemble energy. ‘I always think I’m the only truly independent filmmaker.’ says Morrissey. who hasn’t made a movie for eight years and now prefers to pass the day at home watching old black-and-white classics on cable. ‘People now, maybe their first movie is really independent. but then they’re caught up in the system. When I first made films, it wasjust me and maybe one other guy the sound boom had to be laid down on the floor.’

‘Paul was nuts.’ Warhol said once. ‘He really

believes all these wild theories he comes up with.’ But when the myths, egos, inventions and subjective truths are blown away. Mornssey’s films remain. and they have a combined entertainment-shock factor that still puts young pretenders to shame. Flesh, Trash, Heat, Women In Revolt, Flesh For Frankenstein, Blood For Dracula and Madam Wang’s (all cert I8) are available from Mon 9 Sept on the First Independent label, at £12.99 each. Selected films play the F ilmhouse, Edinburgh, in November: