So you're not that into Warhol, and the name Joe Dallesandro is unfamiliar? That's his crotch on the cover of The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers LP. More of a Smiths fan? That's his torso on the cover of the band's first record. Lou Reed called him "Little Joe" in his hit song, "Walk on the Wild Side." You know Joe, or parts of him anyway.
Dallesandro, the only Warhol superstar to have any significant film career outside the factory, is coming to the Brooks Museum of Art to talk to fans. Fly on the Wall talked to him first about the Warhol/Morrissey trilogy Heat, Trash, and Flesh. working with Louis Malle, and Serge Gainsbourg, and what it means to be told you changed male sexuality on film forever. .
Fly on the Wall: When you first started working with Paul Morrissey, part of the allure — as I understand it — is Paul told you these films would still be shown in museums in a hundred years. I know it’s not been that long, but what’s it like living through the hype, and watching that promise, more or less prove true.
Joe Dallesandro: No, no surprise as it started appearing in the way he had said. It was kinda for me something I believed to be true back then, and it was beginning to happen. There was nothing I thought was real special because I always expected it to be that way. Having seen all the different work Andy had. And even back then he was doing tours at universities and things.
I felt that what he told me was the truth, and they were already doing tours at universities. So the next step was these things went to museums.
I read somewhere a quote by John Waters. Something about how you changed male sexuality on film forever. And so much else has been said in that regard. What’s it like living with those kinds of comments?
I always thought of Paul Morrissey as my mentor. Paul told me early on, I can't look at the press because if I take to heart the good and the appreciation, I have to take to heart the bad things, too." It was enjoyable to hear all that. But it was just the many opinions and sayings of people who were out there. I love John Waters. Anything he said was appreciated. I look at him as a personal friend. It’s not like I’d expect him to say something bad about me like Paul or Andy.
Why were they talking bad about you?
Back in those days, after I finished the trilogy with them I was pretty much kind of fed up for a while because they started to say bad things about me. I was being looked at in productions that were bigger and different than there’s in the real world. I remember reading somewhere that Andy’d said, “Oh, I think he does drugs.” And Paul told someone, “I don’t believe he could learn a script. So, when I went to do Frankensteinand Dracula with them, I made them write every line I had to say. Because it pissed me off they didn’t think I could do a script. I was never offered to do a script with them before.
But you hadn’t had experience with that kind of film. Or any kind of film, you just fell into it. Unlike a lot of the others who started this way, you put together a career.
It was Paul’s saying, he thought I’d be good at it. And just to do it. And everything he’s telling me— He’s like a book on cinema. He knew everything about actors and the movies. You could call him up and ask him anything and he had the information on it. So, when he’d say he thought I’d be good at it, I trusted what he was telling me was the truth. Back then I was a real young kid so people made impressions on me back then. Back then I wanted to be a cook and make pizzas. I wanted to own my own pizza shop one day. That was my big dream back when I was a kid. But things change.
I trusted what Paul was saying to me was the truth and I was getting a lot of press.
There were the movies I did with Paul and the movies that I did with Andy. Andy’s movies, whoever talked the fastest and the most was the lead in the movie. There was no story to it, it was just whatever was interesting to Andy that went in the movie. The first time I met him he was sitting behind a camera reading a newspaper and we couldn’t see him because he had the newspaper up. And he was turning the camera on and off. And you’d hear a giggle or a laugh from behind the newspaper, and then his hand would come out and he’d switch the camera on and off. Really strange, peculiar guy.
And an odd artistic partner for Paul, a number of people have noted.
Paul always was trying to shift him in a different direction in the way he made his films. To put more of a story to it. To use the people in a more interesting way. This is back when Paul had the greatest eye for casting, because he’d pick these peculiar people, and they were very interesting, and they had a knack for being able to tell stories and stuff. Until we went to Europe and he’d get people who just spoke to him briefly in English. Then, come to find out, they didn’t speak well enough to improvise their lines. So it was kinda good I said I wanted things written for me. They had to write things for the other people too.
And he’s shooting in an environment he doesn’t approve of.
He was always trying, in some way, to change those people. Get them to go in a different direction than what they were doing. He’d get really upset with Andrea [Feldman]. He wanted her to be normal. But Andrea was just Andrea.
Andy wouldn’t know my name when I came into the office. My brother was his chauffeur and drove him around all day long. Would come back telling me all these stories and conversations they talked about in the car. He chose who he talked to, who he spoke to and listened to. People I guess he thought were entertaining. And there were people that he didn’t. I was one of those people he didn’t speak to very much. I used to think he was just afraid of me. That’s why they had me up there guarding the door or something. I always got the impression they wanted me almost like a bodyguard, or somebody that scared people away: “Andy’s not here today.” When he’s here in the back.
But of everybody, you kept on making movies.
I went over to Italy with the idea I’d come back Clint Eastwood, but it didn’t happen that way. I was too short for a horse.
But you made some action movies.
I made all these shoot ‘em up films.
Did you know you were going to stay in Europe when you went over to do Frankenstein and Dracula, or did all that happen while you were there.
They were already offered to me by the time I finished Frankenstein and Dracula. Paul set it up so I’d do movies over there.
And I don’t know a thing about them— about the Italian films. They were like gangster films, right?
Bad boy gangster films. I’m the guy who was selling cigarettes for the higher ups, but then wanted to take over and do it for myself. They made a bunch of those lower budgeted ones over there. They would shoot them pretty fast. They were all like that, back to back. I swore off artists when I got to Italy. But the manager who helped me over there because Italian wasn’t my language, and I had to have somebody to interpret for me. I remember telling them I didn’t want to work with art directors. I just wanted to do shoot-em-ups/And he said, “No, no, no, no, you came from working with Andy, you have to continue working with art directors. So I continued working with art directors in France.
Louis Malle. Serge Gainsbourg.
Oh, yeah, Serge.
He was already established as a musician, but Je t'aime moi non plus was his first film, and he’s writing, and directing. And it just looks like everybody is comfortable, and having a great time. Is that just my impression, or is that accurate?
That’s accurate. I believe it was Serge. He had an openness about him. I didn’t know if it was because he drank a lot or what, but we all had a really great time doing the film. I became a good friend of Serge after that. I don’t usually stay connected, I move on. It’s family when you’re doing it, then you move on. That’s how it is in a film, you’re family. But Serge was a great guy.
Do you have a favorite film.
Oh, Je t'aime. When it was done, Serge wanted a bigger showing here [in America]. Not sent out to some odd theater. He wanted a big release. I believe it was a little too early. People weren’t there yet. But the material was great material. And it was beautiful to look at.
Yes, with the aerial shots. A really playful camera.
When I did Louis Malle film it was great to work on that too. When I saw the film, my son, who was still young, loved the it. He just loved it. So I saw it a couple of times. But I didn’t see the colors. We spent a lot of time with the lighting, and it wasn’t what I expected from his talent. But it was a fun film.
Je t'aime was certainly colorful. I think of the truck.
They asked if I drove a truck, and I was thinking a little pickup truck. I get there and it’s this big Mack truck with two gear shifts and air brakes. Holy shit. And the first shot they want me to drive up to a plate glass window with her behind and stop. And I thought everybody’s gonna run away because they don’t know if I’m going to stop in time. Our cameraman was one of the craziest, bravest guys I ever knew. There was a shot he wanted to do from a plane and he was hanging outside the plane to get the shot. That was just his way of doing things. And I loved Gerard [Depardieu]. He was doing a movie in Italy and would fly in on the weekends to shoot these small scenes with us. And he was so much fun. Everybody walked the extra mile to make the film look good, like it was in the midwest and shot in America.
It would be wrong of me to not ask something about. Sticky Fingers. The Smiths. Lou Reed and “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” You didn’t even know Lou when he wrote about “Little Joe,” is that correct.
That’s correct. None of those things had nothing to do with me. With the Smiths album, [Smiths singer Morrissey] was a fan, and I don't think he asked anybody for permission. He just used the picture. Sticky Fingers, the crotch shot could have been anybody. The only reason I know it was me is because of my belt. With "Walk on the Wild Side," that was Paul Morrissey telling Lou he should watch some films they'd been doing and write about the people in them. He wrote about the character he saw on screen. It wasn't like he was socializing with us."