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Frameline 2009: Little Joe reveals the real Joe Dallesandro. Plus: a special appreciation
Oh, Joe

Sat/20, 4:15 p.m., Castro ------------


"Don't do this to me and leave me, Joe!" So rasps Sylvia Miles as Joe Dallesandro dutifully pleasures her missionary-style in a scene from Andy Warhol's Heat (1972). When it comes to mid-coital dirty talk, could any line possibly be more comically terrible? Miles' character is Sally Todd, a past-prime actress with a Beverly Hills mansion whose "game show money" doesn't keep her in hairspray. Dallesandro is Joey Davis, an ex-child star terminally on the make in an attempt to revive his marooned career. But really, anyone who enjoys Heat — and I'll come right out and say it's my favorite movie, ever — is enjoying the people behind the characters.

A key reward of the Warhol movies that star Joe Dallesandro is that he doesn't just do it to us and leave us — his signature brand of candid male sexuality, something entirely new in American cinema when it arrived, is still available to us today. "Little Joe" brought before the camera the fantasies that biographers and gossip tattle-tales entertained about James Dean and Marlon Brando, and his naturalism helped pave the way for Robert DeNiro's and Al Pacino's brands of Italian-American charisma and machismo, even if he wasn't theatrically trained. Yes, Dallesandro was usually stoic-to-stony, scarcely reacting to the hijinx of the myriad feminine characters with whom Paul Morrissey and Warhol paired him. But he knew enough to realize that he didn't have to do much, which is more than most actors learn in a lifetime.

Joe Dallesandro played a key role for me in terms of knowing I was attracted to men, and I can hardly be alone in that experience. When I first saw him, it was only a portion of his body — his sculpted chest and abdomen, tinted a plum color on the cover of the Smiths' self-titled 1985 debut album. This image was too oblique to be lust at first sight, but still images of Dallesandro from Flesh (1968) in Parker Tyler's book Underground Film and Stephen Koch's Warhol cinema survey Stargazer resolved any lingering issues or teenage doubts. The treat in discovering the movies behind these images was that Dallesandro's unapologetically naked good looks were simply the hook on which Warhol, and especially director Morrissey, hooked a fantastic crew of eccentrics.

Little Joe, Nicole Hauesser's new feature-length biographical portrait of Dallesandro, has as much in common with That Man: Peter Berlin (2005) as it does the legion of documentaries about Warhol superstars. Like the Berlin movie, it fascinates as a study of an icon of masculine glamour, though Dallesandro isn't as narcissistic (who could be) or as detached and cerebral. Hauesser skims over the coded symbols of Dallesandro's physique model days, and I wish she'd had Dallesandro sound off more about dearly-departed costars such as the amazing Andrea Feldman.

But Little Joe's story can't help but be dramatic. Who knew Dallesandro had an ill-fated handsome brother — shades of Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorléac — or that the love of his life was Suspiria (1976) star Stefania Casini? Still handsome today, Dallesandro addresses the camera with a directness missing from his Warhol performances, wrestling uncomfortably with his manipulation by Morrissey, and reminiscing with little sentiment about latter-era Warhol films such as Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula (1974), which includes his best and most hilarious performances — as a Marxist servant with a Brooklyn accent in medieval Europe.

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