Joe Smith (Joe Dallesandro) is a New York heroin addict who is more interested in getting his next fix than he is in anything else, and even then he might be barely interested in that. This addiction has left him impotent in that he cannot get aroused by anyone no matter how hard they try, as happens today when he is with Geri (Geri Miller), a go-go dancer who attempts to perform oral sex on him, but is forced to admit defeat when he’s just not up for it. She is determined, however, and sets about stripping for him to a blaring tune on the stage, yet while Joe looks on appreciatively, it still doesn’t do much for him sexually, and after a bit of canoodling they find idle conversation is all he’s able for…
Trash was the film that gave its name to a whole genre, or rather a strain of various genres, where the most lurid events and indeed casts were assembled to create something that revelled in lowlifes, camp, and often sexual matters into the bargain. It was not Andy Warhol and his Factory of variously talented folks who invented this, of course, but they tried to find something worthwhile in it, and thus thereafter these movies would be labelled trash cinema, lumping in a whole host of idiosyncratic filmmakers who could just as easily be out to make a fast buck as they were an artistic statement, and if it was the latter, it might even be so obscure or misguided that barely anyone would notice it.
Paul Morrissey was our director here, and his statement with this was how revolting the whole world of the junkies was, he wasn’t going to romanticise it one bit, yet perversely by depicting it in all the disgust he felt for it, he made it strangely attractive to watch for a certain section of the moviegoing public. Although the actors were more or less amateurs, Morrissey found something worthwhile in their performances, even if it was simply how annoying they could be, and with Dallesandro and the transgender actor he found to play Joe’s girlfriend Holly Woodlawn, he had discovered two highly unconventional stars who may not have been trained thespians, but did have a peculiarly watchable quality that certain higher profile actors may not have had.
In Dallesandro’s case that was largely down to his willingness to take his clothes off, spending around half the film naked in a manner that you’d be hard pressed to find a more mainstream star doing, even in the nineteen-seventies. This lack of inhibition set the standard for many a counterculture movie, not to mention the then-rising popularity of pornographic films, but there were few quite as casual about nude scenes as Little Joe, and it makes his cult endure to this day. As for Woodlawn, she really was a heroin addict, but proved to be such a champion improviser that she was kept on the film to improve the humour and indeed the drama, as her character was meant to be adopting her sister’s baby all the better to get welfare payments and keep her and Joe in drugs money.
Holly was of course the first person mentioned in Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side (Joe was mentioned later on in the lyrics), which made Trash a chance to see those references in action, as were many of the Warhol movies for which he served as producer, though whether he did much more than put up the money and stick his name on the opening titles was a moot point. Other weirdo characters showed up to bother Joe, who appeared unflappable thanks to the stupor he has been landed in by his addiction, which can be quite amusing as you could classify this as a comedy after a fashion. Aside from Holly, there was rich girl Andrea Feldman, whose cadence has driven more than one viewer up the wall, but must be tempered with the knowledge she committed suicide not long after her appearances in Warhol movies, and teenage Jane Forth playing a bored housewife who like almost everyone except Joe loves to hear themselves talk. With sexual frankness, graphic drugtaking, and general squalor, Trash may be an acquired taste, but still attracts its fans.