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Paul Morrissey

Paul Morrissey

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: February 23, 1938 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, cameraman, actor, editor, production assistant, office worker, social worker, magazine editor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Often overlooked as an independent filmmaker because of his association with Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey was instrumental in enhancing the celebrity of that pop icon, while his own fame fell victim to the success of his myth-making. The Fordham University graduate had made several short films prior to meeting Warhol who remarked, "Your films are great. They are in focus! Why not come help me make a movie?" Warhol had already made the epically monotonous "Empire" (1964), in which the camera stares at the Empire State Building for eight hours, among his experiments in the inane. Morrissey brought camera movement and editing to the Warhol pictures, as well as the camp, satire and 'social realism' that made the films appeal to a wider circle. Though Warhol liked to operate the camera, he withdrew from the filmmaking process after Valerie Solanas shot him on June 3, 1968, leaving the field wide open for Morrissey to enjoy unprecedented freedom as a director, though Warhol's "brand name" continued to "present" the product. He has described the shooting in interviews as "an ill wind that blew somebody some good".One day in 1967, while Morrissey and Warhol were shooting "The Loves of Ondine" (1967), Joe...

Often overlooked as an independent filmmaker because of his association with Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey was instrumental in enhancing the celebrity of that pop icon, while his own fame fell victim to the success of his myth-making. The Fordham University graduate had made several short films prior to meeting Warhol who remarked, "Your films are great. They are in focus! Why not come help me make a movie?" Warhol had already made the epically monotonous "Empire" (1964), in which the camera stares at the Empire State Building for eight hours, among his experiments in the inane. Morrissey brought camera movement and editing to the Warhol pictures, as well as the camp, satire and 'social realism' that made the films appeal to a wider circle. Though Warhol liked to operate the camera, he withdrew from the filmmaking process after Valerie Solanas shot him on June 3, 1968, leaving the field wide open for Morrissey to enjoy unprecedented freedom as a director, though Warhol's "brand name" continued to "present" the product. He has described the shooting in interviews as "an ill wind that blew somebody some good".

One day in 1967, while Morrissey and Warhol were shooting "The Loves of Ondine" (1967), Joe Dallesandro walked in through the open door of the Greenwich Village apartment and ended up in the movie. It was the beginning of a long collaboration between Morrissey and Dallesandro, who as the enigmatic, often naked star of a trilogy of films at the center of the Morrissey oeuvre "forever changed male sexuality in the cinema," according to director John Waters. Morrissey had already found a formula for working improvisationally with young, untrained actors, and now he had his Brando, the quiet, eye of the storm around whom he could spin dramatic lunacy. In "Flesh" (1968), which would go on to make $2 million on its meager $1500 budget, Dallesandro was a male hustler turning tricks to pay for his wife's girlfriend's abortion. In "Trash" (1970), Morrissey's enduring commercial hit re-released in 2000, the actor was a drug addict unable to perform sexually despite numerous opportunities, whereas "Heat" (1972), which marked the director's transition to traditional linear storylines, cast him as a washed-up child star preying on Sylvia Miles a la "Sunset Boulevard". In all, Dallesandro radiated a sort of passive virility (to go with the beefcake) attractive to both women and gay men.

Though Morrissey worked with producers Carlo Ponti, Andy Braunsberg and Jean-Pierre Rassam on two Gothic horror spoofs "Flesh for Frankenstein" (1973) and "Blood for Dracula" (1974) in Europe. Warhol got the credit when distributors called them "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein" and "Andy Warhol's Dracula". Both starred German actor Udo Kier opposite Dallesandro and both made money, but "Frankenstein" with its severed heads and hands galore (plus an X rating) made more money than any of Morrissey's previous films, while "Dracula" was the better, more poetic picture. Kier's Old World Baron was at the other end of the spectrum from Dallesandro, whose howlingly funny Jersey accent cut an incongruous swath through the European accents around him, but the premise of "Dracula" presented an even better gag. Kier's sickly Count, who must feast on the blood of virgins ("where-gins") to survive, keeps getting beaten to the bed by the hunky Dallesandro. Morrissey abandoned improvisation when he realized his actors were having trouble acting spontaneously in front of the biggest crew he had ever used and would never return to it. Instead, he brought a secretary to the set to record his "off-the-cuff" dialogue for the cast to quickly memorize before going before the cameras.

Morrissey's association with Warhol was over, and he struggled in the absence of the Warhol "branding". Despite the comic input of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1978) fell flat, and of his next five films, only two, "Mixed Blood" (1985) and "Spike of Bensonhurst" (1988, his last film to date and arguably his most mainstream confection), received timely releases. "Retired" from filmmaking because he refuses to give up the control he has always had over his product, by the late 90s, Morrissey was finally emerging from Warhol's shadow as more and more people recognized him as a true "independent". One of the oddest ducks to work at the Warhol "Factory", he was the conservative businessman of the group, putting in his nine hours a day to generate revenue throughout his time there. Ironically, this man who saw his work labeled as "obscene, vulgar and profane" was a Ronald Reagan Republican, but he was just faithfully recording the times. Having anticipated the tenets of Dogma 95 by about 30 years, it is little wonder that Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier's company has a project in development with Morrissey about a man who tries to make it look like he's having sex with children in order to make a name for himself in the fashion business.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
2.
  Andy Warhol's Dracula (1992) Director
3.
  Spike of Bensonhurst (1988) Director
4.
  Beethoven's Nephew (1987) Director
5.
  Mixed Blood (1984) Director
6.
  Forty Deuce (1982) Director
7.
  Madame Wang's (1981) Director
9.
  Women in Revolt (1972) Director
10.
  Heat (1972) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
4.
 Sleep in a Nest of Flames (2001) Himself
6.
 Divine Trash (1998)
7.
 Nico Icon (1995) Himself
8.
 Jonas in the Desert (1994) Himself
10.
 Chambre 666 (1984) Himself
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
While working at an insurance office job in Manhattan was inspired to make movies by critic-filmmaker Jonas Mekas' Monday evening programs at an Off-Broadway theater
:
Made own short films in the 1960s, including "Ancient History" (1961), a five-minute "rearranged newsreel", and "Taylor Mead Dances" (1963), a 14-minute profile of underground "superstar" Taylor dancing with wild abandon at the Second City nightclub
:
Introduced to Andy Warhol through mutual friend, poet Gerard Malanga
:
Managed the celebrity of Warhol, using the "underground" films to raise the artist's profile and ultimately the price of his art; put Warhol on the lecture circuit, allegedly going back and forth across the country the first year with a Warhol impersonator, owing to Warhol's fear of speaking in public; discovered Nico and the Velvet Underground and signed them to a management agreement and was instrumental in the production and selling (to Verve Records) of their first album; also served as the first editor of <i>Interview</i> magazine until he turned it over to Bob Colacello who worked as editor from 1970-1982
1965:
First Warhol film on which he considers he had input in the direction, "My Hustler", his third or fourth project with Warhol; convinced Warhol that a panning camera produced footage superior to that captured by a fixed camera, putting an end to Warhol's use of the fixed camera
1968:
Wrote, directed and shot "Flesh", the first in a trilogy; all three films starred Joe Dallesandro and were produced by Warhol; in London in 1969, an entire audience was arrested for watching the "pornographic" picture
1968:
Edited, executive produced and shot Warhol's "Lonesome Cowboys", filmed in Tucson, Arizona; the two-and-a-half days in Arizona brought the budget to a whopping $5000
1969:
Made cameo appearance as a party guest in the mainstream film "Midnight Cowboy"
1970:
Wrote, directed, shot and edited "Trash", the second part of the trilogy; filmed for $3000; re-released in 2000
1971:
Helmed "Women in Revolt", a transvestite take-off on 1950s women's prison movies
1972:
Wrote and directed the final segment of trilogy, "Heat", a campy reworking of "Sunset Boulevard" with Dallesandro cast opposite Sylvia Miles as the faded star; also served as cinematographer; filmed for $6000 over three weeks in Los Angeles
:
Wrote and directed the horror films "Andy Warhol's Dracula/Blood for Dracula" and "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein/Flesh for Frankenstein"; first pictures working with a full studio crew; the original credits read "Andy Warhol presents a Carlo Ponti, Andy Braunsberg, Jean-Pierre Rassam Production", but distributors simply changed the billing in the ads, making it seem like the "presenter" had more to do with the films, when in reality Warhol did not see them until they were complete
1978:
Directed "The Hound of the Baskervilles"; also co-scripted with Dudley Moore and Peter Cook
1981:
Made cameo appearance as a party guest in "Rich and Famous"
1982:
Helmed "Forty Deuce" about a teenage hustler (Kevin Bacon) who tries to frame a client for murder; based on the play by Alan Browne; released in 1996
1984:
Co-scripted (with Browne) and directed "Mixed Blood", a black comedy of rival drug gangs in Greenwich Village's "alphabet city"
1985:
Helmed and co-scripted (with Mathieu Carriere) "Beethoven's Nephew"; released in 1988
1988:
Wrote and directed "Spike of Bensonhurst", arguably his most mainstream movie, which drew favorable comparison to that year's "Married to the Mob" along with criticism for its ethnic stereotypes and "politically incorrect" humor
1989:
"Retired" from film directing
1990:
Appeared in Chuck Workman's documentary "Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol"
1993:
Featured in the documentary "Jonas in the Desert", about avante-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas
1994:
Appeared in "Nico Icon", a documentary about the heroin-addicted heroine of the Velvet Underground
1997:
Interviewed for the documentary portrait of the early works of John Waters "Divine Trash"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Fordham University: New York , New York -

Notes

"I just chose to find story material in people who led idiotic lives, doing their own thing. I was making fun of people who accepted the hippie life of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll." --Paul Morrissey to William Grimes in The New York Times, December 26, 1995.

"Andy not only did not try to put direction in, he was incapable of it. He didn't even think in sentences, only disconnected nouns and fragments. He would say 'bathtub', then 'It's outdoors', then 'Viva's in it'. For him, that was a scene." --Morrissey in The New York Times, December 26, 1995.

"Andy brought the camera and film, I loaded the camera and set the lights, he operated the camera until the 35 minute reels ran out. I gradually began to choose the performers in front of the camera and make more and more suggestions as to what they should improvise about, and in what tone of voice to do it in. I tried to make sure all the performers understood that nothing 'dramatic' was wanted. I deliberately wanted to avoid the phony acting-class improvisations that were just becoming fashionable . . . two or three actors beginning slowly, finding something they could argue about, then raising their voices and escalating their dialogue to shouting matches wherein their 'sincere' and 'profound' emotions were supposed to be revealed . . . In order to avoid this agonized style of performing I never used anyone who informed me they were 'studying acting', even though New York was then, and remains, the acting capitol of the world." --quoted in the 1997 Stockholm Film Festival Catalogue.

"I have always felt that if filmmaking is ever to have any direct connection to the filmmaker himself it is essential that one person be in full charge of all the possible mistakes and possible choices. Few filmmakers get this opportunity, and I will always be grateful to producers like Andy Warhol and others who had the common sense to let me make my own films. I was spoiled from the very beginning by producers like this. In America such freedom is really unknown. When I felt that I no longer had the possibility of fully controlling the films, I chose instead to stop making them." --Morrissey in the 1997 Stockholm Film Festival Catalogue.

"Every movie I ever made says the same thing. They all find comedy in people trying to live their lives without any rules. They are a record of the period, but without any overt messages. And I think that confuses people.

"A movie should only be concerned with characters, not some big moral, although it's always underneath. I just thought the idea of people doing whatever they want was a great subject for films. The characters may be losers, but they're all kind of likable. I can't imagine putting unlikable characters in a movie. As to why their lives are so messed up, well that's for the audience to figure out." --Paul Morrissey quoted in The New York Times, February 27, 2000.

"Paul is very straight and narrow. But he's not moralistic. That's why we got along so well. And that's why his fans run the gamut from A to Z, from old ladies to gay liberals." --Holly Woodlawn to The New York Times, February 27, 2000.

"Without institutionalized religion as the basis, a society can't exist. All the sensible values of a solid education and a moral foundation have been flushed down the liberal toilet in order to sell sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll." --Morrissey to Maurice Yacowar, quoted in Gary Morris' "Slapstick Realist: Paul Morrissey".

"Cool is something fashionable, and fashion is frivolous. But now in the absence of any other standards, there's only fashion. There's nothing else but what's cool. This is a pagan planet, and anybody who speaks up for anything religious is ridiculed. But when you take away standards, you can't have stories. A game played with no rules is not worth playing. Today people live with no rules--so their life is not worth living." --Morrissey quoted in Boston Phoenix, February 21, 1999.

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