Mixed Blood
One of the most commercial films from independent director Paul Morrissey, Mixed Blood (1984) marked the middle entry in the filmmaker's New York "street" trilogy in the 1980s after a strange, extended detour through Europe and Los Angeles for the previous ten years. The bizarre cinematic output of that period was a major switch for the former Andy Warhol associate, yielding work as diverse as Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), Blood for Dracula (1974), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978), and Madame Wang's (1981).

Morrissey's career was in an odd place upon his return to America, following two aborted projects that couldn't have been more different: a proposed counterculture update of Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, which he wrote in 1980, and Trash II, a sequel to his underground hit, which reached the budget stage in 1981. That latter project morphed into a return to the seedy New York milieu of his previous film as the play adaptation Forty Deuce (1982), a throwback to his famed hustler-themed collaborations with Warhol and actor Joe Dallesandro starting in the late '60s.

Released in 1984, Mixed Blood remains in New York but leaves the hustler trade to focus on the multiracial drug wars brewing in the city's lower east side, specifically in so-called Alphabet City of the East Village, between a Portuguese crime family, the Maceteros, and their Puerto Rican rivals, the Master Dancers. The female head of the Maceteros, Rita La Punta, is obsessed with Carmen Miranda and keeps an iron grip on her dim-witted son, Thiago, whose involvement with a girl outside the group escalates the already growing tension involving local corrupt police forces.

This film is populated primarily by non-actors in the usual Morrissey mold, with Cuban delivery boy Richard Ulacia, stepping in at the last minute after the previous actor dropped out, bringing a certain Dallesandro-style blankness. That's in keeping with the Morrissey method, however. As the director noted in Maurice Yacowar's book, The Films of Paul Morrissey, "None of my central characters - neither Joe nor the kids in Forty Deuce or Mixed Blood... ever behaved in front of the cameras as they did in real life. They were usually happy and talkative but I'd tell them not to smile... A smile is a kind of surrender to date. It eliminates any kind of tension. It implies acceptance and therefore a kind of commitment."

In addition to the beautiful Linda Kerridge, whose all-too-short film career was highlighted with an auspicious debut as a Marilyn Monroe lookalike in Fade to Black (1980), the film does feature one astonishing professional performer at its center: Brazilian actress Marília Pêra as La Punta. Though she had been acting since the mid-1960s, Pêra rose to international prominence with a scene-stealing turn in Hector Babenco's Pixote (1981). She campaigned for her role here despite her limited knowledge of English, explaining to Morrissey that she was experienced with improvisation and often made up her own dialogue. Mixed Blood remains one of her very few English-language efforts, as she has acted almost entirely in Brazil where she remains a fixture in TV series. However, she did return to cinematic prominence again in 1998 starring in the Oscar-nominated Central Station (1998), which also took home numerous awards including the Golden Globe for Foreign Language Film.

Made for $400,000 and originally entitled Alphabet City during production (a title later used for a 1984 crime film with Vincent Spano), Mixed Blood was banned in Ontario for its explicit scenes of drug use but received an exception to play at the Toronto Film Festival. Though not planned at the time, it became the centerpiece of the aforementioned New York trilogy, followed in 1988 by the far more comical Spike of Bensonhurst. That said, this film is not without the trademark offbeat Morrissey humor, particularly a now-nostalgic visit to a store specializing in the preteen Latino pop group Menudo, famous for regularly ejecting its members once they outgrew their "cute" phase. The parallel to the film's gang lifestyle had to be intentional on Morrissey's part, and his use of source Puerto Rican music on the soundtrack reveals his level of attention to detail far beyond the performances. He also enlisted Andy Hernandez of Kid Creole and the Coconuts to provide some original music as well, creating an ambience far from the electronic and rock music prevalent in action and crime films at the time. "Rock and roll made drugs fashionable, and it is a twenty-four hour commercial for drug taking" Morrissey said about his music choices in the Yacowar book. "Ethnic music, on the other hand, isn't negative or pro-drug. It's life affirming, so I would rather use it in my films."

By Nathaniel Thompson