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Lacking a formal narrative, Warhol's art house classic follows various residents of the Chelsea Hotel in 1966 New York City, presented in a split screen with a single audio track in conjunction with one side of screen.
Geri (Geraldine Smith) ejects her husband Joe (Joe Dalessandro) from bed, and insists he go out on the streets to make some money for her girlfriend's abortion. This leads to Joe's various encounters with clients on the streets of New York City: an Artist (Maurice Bradell) who wishes to draw Joe, a Gymnast (Louis Waldon), and another 'John' (John Christian). Joe spends time with other hustlers, one of whom is played by his real life brother, and teaches the tricks of the trade to the New Hustler (Barry Brown). Back home, Joe interacts with his real life one-year-old son. Joe gets back home, presumably at the end of his duty work, and is in bed with Geri and her girlfriend Patti (Patti D'Arbanville). The women strip Joe and begin to get intimate with each other; Joe gets bored and falls asleep. (Source: Wikipedia)Written by
I guess only a selected number of audience members really had any interest in watching how a male hustler in New York operates but I'd be willing to bet that even these brave souls were turned off by the irritating patchwork technique and deliberately muffled sound recording on display here; the fact that these inherent 'defects' were a direct result of the film's low-budget/underground/experimental nature is, I'd say, beside the point. Anyway, for those so inclined, the film features extensive male nudity and Joe Dallesandro, understandably, became an underground and gay icon!
The episodic structure showing the day-to-day routine of the hustler protagonist offers a couple of mildly interesting scenes: his meeting with (and eventually posing for) an eccentric elderly artist; the one where Dallesandro expresses his views on his unusual line of work and delineates his particular modus operandi to a couple of prospective 'colleagues' including perhaps the unlikeliest of hustlers a bespectacled nerd! Perhaps mercifully, the film ran for only 89 minutes against the IMDb's claim that its complete length is 105 (but the latter could well be a mistake)!
I had watched a few other of Warhol's 'movies' and this one is decidedly not as satisfying as the most tolerable example I've run into yet, BAD (1977), and only slightly better than the likes of MY HUSTLER (1965) which were mostly a strain to sit through. The fact that this was only the first part of a trilogy did not augur well but, as the saying goes, you gotta to do what you gotta do and the other two 'chapters' had to follow in quick succession...
Despite my generally negative reaction to it, FLESH is nevertheless still valuable as a 1960s time capsule and as a prototype of the Underground scene of that era, both cinematically and in real life. For the record, an image of Dallesandro from this film adorns the sleeve of The Smiths' self-titled 1984 debut album and transsexual Candy Darling (who appears here rather unremarkably) was immortalized in "Candy Says", the opening track of The Velvet Underground's eponymous 1969 album. Although the latter band is my all-time favorite, and one of the reasons for this is that, through their sheerly unique and ground-breaking music, they described a lifestyle so utterly different from my own, this is truly a case where I'd much rather experience something aurally instead of visually!
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