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VOL. 132 | NO. 35 | Friday, February 17, 2017

Warhol Film Icon Talks Art, Being an Underground Icon

By Bill Dries

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Joe Dallesandro has “practically never” done the kind of question-and-answer session he did Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

Joe Dallesandro, an iconic LGBT underground film star of the late 1960s and early 1970s, made a rare appearance this week for a question-and-answer session at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

(Jack Robinson)

It isn’t that the star of Andy Warhol’s pioneering art films of the 1960s and 1970s is reticent about his work.

“I was asked. My wife set it up,” he told The Daily News before the event. “I don’t run around looking for any of this kind of stuff. It just happens. Like everything in my life, it just happens.”

In Dallesandro’s view, the films, the photos and the legacy are all part of a life that just happened and how people consider his work is their impression.

“It’s just very strange,” he said. “I’m not the one that judges things; someone else does. This to me – it’s just my life. There’s not much to think about.”

Earlier this month, the Brooks screened the 1975 Louis Malle film “Black Moon,” a surreal take on “Alice in Wonderland” starring Dallesandro. In addition, University of Memphis art historian Virginia Solomon is scheduled to give a tour of LGBT-related artwork in the museum’s permanent collection Wednesday, Feb. 22.

Dallesandro remembers shooting his first Warhol film, “The Loves of Ondine,” after Warhol compatriot Paul Morrissey told Dallesandro that Warhol was the artist best known for pop art paintings of Campbell Soup cans. Dallesandro was doing some nude modeling already to support himself.

“I thought we were going to have soup,” he said of the experience. “There was a man behind the camera reading a newspaper where you couldn’t even see. His hand would come out from behind the newspaper and turn the camera on and off. Sometimes you’d hear him giggle. That was my meeting with Andy. I didn’t get any soup. They told me I had to sign a release.”

Dallesandro said he hasn’t seen any of those early films – made when he was 19 and 20 years old – “in a hundred years.” He also described them as “strange.”

“I was told that what I was doing was art and that one day they would show in museums,” he said. “At the time I had to trust that what I was being told was the truth. It turns out that it somewhat happened the way they told me it would. Kind of back when it was happening I just had to trust that they were telling me the truth.”

He also remembers Morrissey telling him, “Don’t worry about taking your clothes off. This is not anything wrong. This is art.”

The films also made Dallesandro a LGBT icon now and then – a status he again says is in the eye of the beholder.

“I don’t see it that way. They had me come over to Germany for their Teddy Award,” he said of a 2009 honor as an artist whose work has contributed to the acceptance of LGBT lifestyles. “And that’s nothing to do with me looking for this stuff.”

Dallesandro’s last two films with Warhol in 1974 – “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” and “Andy Warhol’s Dracula” – were filmed in Italy, with a plan to make some films with Clint Eastwood.

“The idea was that I would stay and make more films,” Dallesandro said. “I had two other films offered to me before I finished. I went over there with the idea that I would come back with Eastwood. But that didn’t happen. The horses were too big and I was too small. So I did mostly shoot ’em ups.”

He stuck with art films, working mostly in France.

His film career went American-made and mainstream in the mid-1980s with a part as gangster Lucky Luciano in the Francis Ford Coppola film “The Cotton Club.”

Dallesandro’s still-photo modeling work with Warhol also led to the cover of the Rolling Stone’s 1971 “Sticky Fingers” album, a now iconic waist-down photo of someone wearing blue jeans.

“It had nothing to do with me,” he said. “You were not supposed to recognize who it was. … They didn’t even explain it was me for many, many years.”

Thirteen years later, a still of Dallesandro from the Warhol film “Flesh” was the cover of The Smiths’ 1984 self-titled debut.

“They were just fans that wanted to use the photo,” he said.

Dallesandro still works as an actor occasionally.

“I’m an old person – I’m a 68-year-old man,” he said of his life. “I have a building that I manage in Los Angeles. … The people are mostly actors, musicians or writers. I used to have a bunch of old tenants. But they kept dying on me. … It was too sad.”

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