Watching an Andy Warhol movie starring Joe Dallesandro — really watching it, really going for it, giving your imagination over to it — is to understand how it feels to be a mad, brilliant old queen in worshipful love with a stupid junkie hustler.
I do not mean these adjectives (mad, old, stupid, junkie) as insults, neither to Warhol nor his muse. I also do not mean as insults the nouns: queen and hustler comprise the fundamental units of gay male mythology. The connection between the one and the other is about as iconic and old-fashioned as you can get. The sophisticate yearns for the crude. The crude appreciates the attention and returns it, in his own way, in time, in spades.
Alexander and the Persian Boy. Catullus and Juventius. Hadrian and Antinous. Oscar Wilde and a thousand London streetboys. Captain Vere and Billy Budd. Boy George and the cute drummer. That old queen from “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and the hustler who killed him. Pasolini and the hustler who killed him. The effeminate convention visitor toward the end of “Midnight Cowboy” and Joe Buck, who killed him.
Joe Dallesandro doesn’t kill anybody. Joe Dallesandro is a sweetheart. He just grins and flexes. So what if Lou Reed hates him? Lou Reed was jealous. Poor Lou Reed. The johns have no time for Lou Reed when Joe Dallesandro is on the scene, I can guarantee you that. Lou Reed goes many a fixless night due to losing his johns to Joe Dallesandro. Joe doesn’t care. He doesn’t hate Lou back. He doesn’t anything. Joe just is. He is just Joe. He just reads his lines (better than the other actors, usually). In a weird way, it’s not even Joe that counts. It’s the camera. It is the way the camera caresses Joe. I can’t put this any other way. The camera ravishes him. I’d say it rapes him, the camera is so insistent and (even when Joe is fully clothed) obscene in its forceful intentions, but Dallesandro’s very obviously a willing, if passive, participant in the camera’s filthy-minded goings on:
You’d never get cold-skinned, white-faced Warhol himself to admit to desire, much less worshipful love. That was not his style, and his style was all he was. He just let us look at Joe, which is all he had to do. It’s all right there in the gaze. And, yes, I know he didn’t direct most of these films himself, and no, I don’t think it matters — nor would Warhol have thought it mattered. Warhol and I are correct on this point, by the way.
“In my films, everybody wants Joe.” — Andy Warhol.
You look at Joe in the B-movies he made post-Warhol, and it’s just not the same. The camera doesn’t care anymore. He’s just another beefy goof up there on the screen. He might as well be Tab Hunter. People talk about how lucky an artist is to find his muse. It’s not every muse who finds his artist, though, and maybe that’s the more desperate situation. Dallesandro was hot, hot, hot — there’s no denying it — but we would never have known him if he hadn’t landed in Warhol’s circle of influence somehow. As Little Joe, who never gave it away, who made us all pay and pay and pay, he stands in for all the hot unknown street hustlers none of us will ever get to see. He stands in for all the hot unknown street hustlers none of us will ever get to see through the aesthetic filter of a major figure in the history of visual art, I should say.
“Nobody’s straight. It’s not about being straight or not straight. You just do what you have to do.” — Joe Dallesandro, speaking aloud the time-honored Hustler’s Creed.
I do not mean to romanticize this mode of homosexual relationship.
Strike that: yes I do.