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Queer Film Classics: Trash

by Jon Davies

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, notes author Jon Davies in his new study of the counterculture classic Trash, a 1970 film produced by Andy Warhol and directed by Paul Morrissey. But what it means to be trash – and indeed, what it means to be a man – are questioned in this thoughtful monograph, part of Arsenal Pulp’s new Queer Film Classics series.

Davies, a longtime film writer and a curator at Toronto’s Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, generally avoids the mire of dense semiotics that can render much cultural-studies writing inaccessible. With crisp and expressive prose, he reflects upon the offbeat film and the times and culture that inspired it. Davies provides valuable historical context, describing Andy Warhol’s Factory hangout and the “Superstars” he created and promoted – such as the stars of Trash, sex worker Joe Dallesandro and transsexual actress Holly Woodlawn.

In Trash, part of a Warhol/Morrissey trilogy that also included Flesh and Heat, Dallesandro plays a heroin addict unable to get an erection. Meanwhile, his sexually frustrated girlfriend Holly furnishes their home with discarded items she picks up off the street. Impotence and the notion of what constitutes trash are themes that operate on multiple levels in the film, and Davies offers critical insights on these metaphors via a close reading of plot, performance, and the technical details of how the film was shot. He also provides a summary of journalistic responses to the film at the time, as well as its subsequent impact on queer cultural theory.

Davies comes dangerously close to overtly romanticizing the junkies, whores, and outcasts who populated Warhol’s world, but his intentions are noble. In this book, he makes the same argument that he asserts is the film’s premise: that the people and things society deems worthless often dazzle with unexpected beauty.