After making Trash, Paul Morrissey spend a year travelling with the film around the world. He then returned to make Heat. Not wishing to make a film set amongst the New York counterculture, he took some of the same actors and hired an apartment in Los Angeles. Morrissey had a strong grounding in classic Hollywood and Heat is on one level a parody of Sunset Boulevard. Joey Davis (Joe Dallesandro) is a former child actor, working as a pool cleaner in Hollywood. He’s aware of his considerable sex appeal, and uses it to get a rent reduction off his landlady (Pat Ast). He is taken on as a toyboy lover by washed-up actress Sally Todd (Sylvia Miles) but her bisexual daughter Jessica (Andrea Feldman) tries to intervene.
Although Morrissey used similar filmmaking methods as he had with Flesh and Trash - minimal crew, shooting on 16mm with direct sound - Heat looks very different to its predecessors. Some of this is an inevitable polish from experience and a larger budget: the colours are brighter and more vibrant (which may have something to do with the sunlit exteriors), there’s a score by John Cale, and a professional actress (Sylvia Miles, Oscar-nominated a few years earlier for Midnight Cowboy) plays a leading role alongside Dallesandro and others from the Warhol Factory. This surface gloss counterpoints characters and situations that most people would find impossibly outré and exotic, then as now, but which the filmmakers view candidly but non-judgementally. The clash of acting styles – Miles’s scenery-chewing versus Dallesandro’s charisma, blank and passive but not without presence – is certainly effective as well. It’s often very funny as well. It’s not to my mind the best of the three – that would be Trash - but anyone who liked the two earlier films should certainly check this one out.
Dallesandro would go on to play supporting roles in Morrissey’s next two films made under the Andy Warhol aegis, the two gory horror films Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein and reunited with the director in 1988’s Spike of Bensonhurst. He continues to work as a character actor to this day, but his standing as a cult icon is based on Heat. and its two predecessors. Much the same is true of Morrissey. His two horror films have their fans, but his reputation will stand or fall on this initial trilogy. With higher budgets and larger crews – and more interference – his work has been much more uneven, at its worst with the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore version of Hound of the Baskervilles and the 1985 Mixed Blood. Sylvia Miles also continues to act. Andrea Feldman, who had earlier played the rich LSD freak in Trash, killed herself in 1972, aged twenty-four.
Heat had far fewer problems with the BBFC than its two predecessors. It did suffer cuts, mostly to the shots of Harold (Harold Childe) masturbating through his clothes. These were reinstated on video in 1996.
The loose trilogy of Flesh, Trash and Heat were groundbreaking in their day. More than thirty years later, we enjoy the benefits of the breakdown of censorship, a process that these films played a considerable part in. They may seem less remarkable nowadays, but at the time they were revelatory, displaying attitudes (particularly to sexuality) and depicting lifestyles that were quite out there in the early 1970s. Remember, video didn’t exist then, let alone DVD. You couldn’t see anything like this on television, nor indeed in your local cinema unless you lived close to an independent or arthouse. (I saw them in a triple bill at the Scala in the late 1980s, though all of them at once is probably too much of a good thing.) In their attitudes to sexuality, they were influential on Fassbinder and Derek Jarman, and later Pedro Almodovar and Todd Haynes. Technically, you can see the roots of Dogme 95 and its imitators. They have a secure place in film history and anyone interested in the Sixties, or Warhol, or independent filmmaking, queer cinema or the history of censorship will find plenty to interest them.
Heat is released on DVD as part of a three-disc box set with Flesh and Heat, which I have reviewed separately. The DVDs are encoded for Region 2 only and are not available separately.
As with the two earlier films, Heat was shot in 16mm. The DVD transfer is in the correct 4:3 ratio. The colours are more vibrant than in the earlier films, and the transfer is often sharper, though it is still soft and grainy. From the running time, it appears to be a NTSC-to-PAL transfer, but (maybe due to the lo-fi quality of the original) it avoids the usual problems of such a process. Again, given the nature of this film, you’re unlikely ever to see it looking better.
The sound is mono, as per the original film. Again it has a hollow quality due to the use of direct sound, but the dialogue is clear. Unfortunately there are no subtitles, which is the major shortcoming of this box set.
As with Flesh, Tartan have provided a commentary track. This time it’s a solo effort from producer and director Don Boyd. He leaves some pauses, when he’s clearly getting caught up in the film again, but this is a talk that’s more appreciative than analytical. Boyd is an engaging speaker though, particularly when he thinks he may have rented the house where much of the film takes place. Morrissey, as before, provides an introduction (3:19) and provides an optional commentary over deleted scenes and his 1965 short film Like Sleep. At 10:11, it’s longer than the short films on the other discs, but like them it was shot silent on a 16mm camera. Squeamish viewers are advised that it contains graphic shots of drug injection.
Flesh, Trash and Heat have a place in film history and Tartan should be congratulated for releasing them on DVD in their uncut forms. They certainly won’t be for everyone, and I wouldn’t recommend watching all three in quick succession. Tartan’s presentation is generally very good, with the lack of subtitles being the major failing.