“The Bitchy Humor Feels Fresh”: Interview Presents, “The Gospel According to Paul Morrissey”

Joe Dallesandro, Paul Morrissey

Joe Dallesandro in Loves of Ondine (1968). Publicity Still. Photo Courtesy of the Paul Morrissey Archive.

Now showing at the Roxy Cinema, in collaboration with Interview, is a selection of Paul Morrissey’s films. The Gospel According to Paul Morrissey features one of the visionary’s films every Wednesday night for the next few weeks, including Flesh, San Diego Surf, Chelsea Girls, The Loves of Ondine, and My Hustler, from 1965, the first of many movies that Morrissey made in collaboration with Andy Warhol. Last week over lunch, our editor-in-chief Mel Ottenberg sat down with Michael Chaiken, who’s currently working on Paul Morrissey’s archive, to delve into the eccentric worlds that Paul and Andy built together. “The project in the Factory was to recreate the Hollywood of the thirties in New York City by creating this whole new set of teen idols,” Chaiken explained. “Joe Dallesandro and Viva and Candy Darling… they give kids a sense that there’s more than just these fucking drugged-out rock stars.” Last week, at a diner downtown, the two had tea and chatted about Chaiken’s foray into the the archives, Paul America’s disturbing tan (rediscovered on colored BTS footage), and how Morrissey’s films hold up in 2024. Hint: extraordinarily well.


WAITER: Hello. How are you?

MEL OTTENBERG: Hey, how are you? Good to see you.

WAITER: Good to see you.

MICHAEL CHAIKEN: You’re a regular here?

OTTENBERG: I am a regular.

CHAIKEN: You know this guy?

WAITER: Hell yeah.

OTTENBERG: I’ve been coming here for a long time.

WAITER: Coffee?

OTTENBERG: I’ll have tea. Thanks.


CHAIKEN: I remember having a really bad date here once. I remember sitting here being like, “Get me the fuck out of here.” You’ve probably had a few of those, having been in New York for as long as you have.

OTTENBERG: Of course. 

CHAIKEN: You’ve been here for almost 30 years, right? 

OTTENBERG: 26 years. I moved here in ‘98. 

CHAIKEN: New York was still popping off in the nineties. 

OTTENBERG: Yeah. It was a crazy fun city and I saw the very last of old New York.

CHAIKEN: Me too. I’m from Philly and I would come up. I got reeled into the whole techno house stuff that was happening in New York in the early 2000s. I was such a bumpkin. I was like, “Oh, this is fucking it.” I didn’t realize I was catching the dead end.

OTTENBERG: Wait, how long have you been an archivist for?

CHAIKEN: Well, the archive thing just kind of happened. I started at the University of Delaware around 1993. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. But weirdly, there was a very cool scene. A lot of interesting kids into avant-garde music and film. There was a professor who would bring people from the Warhol circle to the University where they would give a talk and then afterwards they would show an Andy Warhol film. I was so obsessed with all of it. It was this gateway drug to everything. So the first job I ever had, even remotely related to the arts, was hanging fliers for a Gerard Malanga visit to Newark, Delaware. When he came, I had this big Warhol, David Bourdon book. It’s this giant catalog I had as a fucking kid. He opens it to the front page and he signs it, “In Warhol’s absence, Gerard Malanga. 1993.” So that was the Delaware experience. And then I failed out, because I wasn’t going to class. I took some time off and I got very obsessive about films. I started working at a video store in Philly. 

OTTENBERG: Video stores were the best.

CHAIKEN: Yeah. I ended up going back to Temple University in Philadelphia. As an undergrad, I had an internship at the Harvard Film Archives, which lasted for a few months. It was great because I learned how to put together a little film calendar. Then later, I started working at this art center and I said, “Hey, could we start showing this stuff?” They were like, “If you think you could bring in films, and people will come…” And people would come to these fucking films because they were really hungry to see this stuff in Philly. The thing that got me to New York is a retrospective we did of Albert and David Maysles. And Al came and started asking me about his archive, because they were trying to figure out how to generate revenue. So the first question was, “Well, where’s your archive? I mean, you shot the Rolling Stones in 1969, and Grey Gardens.” They were documentarians, so you can imagine the outtakes were enormous. For a 90-minute film, you probably have anywhere from five to 15 hours of outtakes. So the Maysles invited me up to New York City to help them. 

OTTENBERG: Did you watch Grey Gardens stuff that has never been seen? There must be so much.

CHAIKEN: Oh yeah. I mean, just unreal.

OTTENBERG: And when did you start doing the Paul Morrissey archive?

CHAIKEN: After Maysles, I was freelancing and working with different artists. It started with filmmakers and then it jumped to writers and authors and songwriters. I worked on the Bob Dylan archive for about five or six years.


CHAIKEN: After all that ended, I worked on the Isabella Rossellini archive. That was amazing because she’s fucking amazing. And then, I don’t know if you met him, he was there last night, Brian Block. He works at MoMA. A couple of years ago, he approached Marisa Crawford, who’s Paul’s niece, about getting his films back out there. There’s never been restorations of Paul’s films until Brian got involved and helped get [Flesh For] Frankenstein and [Blood for] Dracula out there on Blu-ray. We’re working on all of the rest.

OTTENBERG: I discovered those movies as a teenager at video stores. What is so fucked up about our culture now is that streaming has made it… I mean, it’s gatekeeping all the wrong things. You can’t find a lot of outsider stuff, there’s no videotapes. It’s all regulated in some way that’s fucking crazy. I guess you can see it on YouTube, but it’s just not the same. 

CHAIKEN: Yeah. I remember browsing those boxes and seeing Joe Dallesandro’s face on the cover of Flesh.

OTTENBERG: It really took me down the gutter as a teen. As it should have. I’m excited that we’re going to see Flesh again because I haven’t seen it since I was a teenager.

CHAIKEN: Oh man, same with me. I didn’t get half of what was happening in the fucking movie, but watching it now you realize how far ahead of the times they were. And how relevant this stuff weirdly still is.

OTTENBERG: So last night we did My Hustler, that was the first night of the film series. 

CHAIKEN: Yeah. The crowd last night were really into it. I mean, the way they were laughing at lines.

OTTENBERG: It really played well. That movie from 1965 played really well in 2024.

CHAIKEN: It is astonishing that it came out in 1965.

OTTENBERG: Also, we’re all laughing at the funny parts. It’s not like–

CHAIKEN: Yeah, you’re not laughing at it because it’s such a poorly made film or it’s campy. You’re laughing because it’s funny and it’s free. 

OTTENBERG: The bitchy humor feels fresh. 59 years later, it feels fresh.

CHAIKEN: It really does. I mean, it’s shocking how open and free they were. They were living in this post-labeled society before anybody even got to the point of labeling anything.

OTTENBERG: Yes, we’re way before the pre-sexual revolution, pre-gay rights, way pre-Stonewall. And they’re all on acid, as Danny [Fields] was telling us last night. Which is amazing because on Instagram, TikTok, whatever, everyone’s pretending to be off the cuff. A lot of people are doing a zillion takes to get it right in the perfectly nonchalant way that the algorithm is going to reward. And this was 66 minutes of acid tripping, never flubbing a line.

Joe Dallesandro, Paul Morrissey

Joe Dallesandro and Paul Morrissey photographed by Werner Bokelberg in 1970, courtesy of the Paul Morrissey Archive.

CHAIKEN: Ever. That was the most astonishing part. Especially that second reel, that’s one take. 

OTTENBERG: Oh my god. The second reel, when they’re in the bathroom talking about hustling, is so sick.

CHAIKEN: It’s amazing. The naturalism. I was watching Paul America’s expressions and stuff and it’s not acting. It’s reactive. That’s one of Paul’s greatest contributions to those films, especially with Joe Dallesandro. He wouldn’t have him act, he would have him react. It gives a solidness to his performances without being histrionic. More than anything, he just hated the over-the-top acting school, constipated seriousness. Dallesandro’s blasé attitude in those movies feels totally real and contemporary. It’s also that openness and accepting attitude towards life that Paul really interjects in those movies without being preachy. Paul obviously is a deeply committed political person. But he would always say again and again, “My personal beliefs don’t matter when it comes to making these movies. I have an empathy and a sympathy–”

OTTENBERG: As in, he’s a Republican, but he is sympathetic and into his counterculture subjects. Also, they were saying last night, he was almost spectacularly supportive of women. 

CHAIKEN: Yes. I mean, Paul would say, “When people are in front of my camera, I have nothing but empathy and sympathy, and even if they’re in these situations that are preposterous, I want to show that there’s real humanity there.” I think that’s another reason why people find his movies not only funny but relatable. Also, he would say over and over in interviews that casting was like, 98% of it for him.

OTTENBERG: Right. Just getting the right people in there.

CHAIKEN: And the personalities that he gravitated towards have been very consistent since the mid-sixties. People like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris were the ultimate for him, because they were the same person on screen as they were off. That was 100% true for Joe as well, who became something like Paul’s muse starting with Flesh. Andy was convalescing in the hospital after that psychopath Valerie Solanas tried to kill him, so Paul ended up making Flesh totally on his own. It’s a break from the earlier stuff, certainly much more commercial. From the moment Paul met Andy, he was always like, “We want people to see these fucking movies.”

OTTENBERG: Flesh is so good. And The Loves of Ondine is so sick.

CHAIKEN: The Loves of Ondine is brilliant, a real fucking head-scratcher. Chelsea Girls comes out and it’s successful. It’s the film that gets them out of the downtown avant-garde scene, gets seriously reviewed and makes it to the Box Office. Then, after Chelsea Girls, the big project at The Factory was that Andy wanted to make a 25-hour movie. So they were constantly shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting. But a 25-hour movie, which did show once in New York, had no commercial prospects. Paul was saying, “Look, why don’t we cut some of these films down and we could send them to the Hudson?” So that’s where I, a Man comes from and Bike Boy and Imitation of Christ, and Loves of Ondine, which was a much longer piece that was originally part of that 25-hour movie. So, Paul cuts Loves of Ondine down to 90 minutes, and it is so fucking outlandish. I mean, there’s sort of a plot. It picks up with Ondine post-Chelsea Girls having these encounters with different women. Then in the middle, there’s this inexplicable freak-out in the woods of the Hamptons, followed by Joe Dallesandro in his underwear wrestling with Ondine. It’s Joe’s first appearance in a Warhol film. What’s astounding is that they were like, “Okay, let’s put this in the theaters,” considering that these theaters were getting busted for obscenity throughout the 1960s. It’s so in your face, so outrageous and over the top, so brilliant and funny.

OTTENBERG: Did Flesh do well?

CHAIKEN: Yeah, Flesh did well. Flesh cost $4,000 to make, and it did well in New York City. Weirdly in Germany, it went fucking huge. 3 million people saw it. Off of that, they started making Trash and Women in Revolt. All these films are kind of happening on top of one another. The only reason why we’re not showing Trash in this series, and Women in Revolt, is because they’re being restored. Luckily, we were able to borrow this print of Flesh from the Warhol Museum.

OTTENBERG: Thank you, Warhol Museum. It’s also crazy that they were making Women in Revolt and Heat basically at the same time, because Heat is just a much better movie. I remember being a teenager watching it. This stuff was really contaminating my mind in a great way. I still really like it.

CHAIKEN: In a couple of years, Interview will do the 4K premiere of Heat.

OTTENBERG: Sick. I’m not going to be here for Chelsea Girls, which sucks. But it’s so sick that we’re showing it.

CHAIKEN: It’s the Gone with the Wind of the underground. 

OTTENBERG: Really, it’s the Gone with the Wind of the underground. I had dinner with two friends after My Hustler last night, and they said that they went to Metrograph a year ago and saw Chelsea Girls, but they said they forced themselves to sit through three hours and that was all they could handle. So, how long is Chelsea Girls?

CHAIKEN: It was only a half hour more, they could have gotten to the end.

OTTENBERG: Had they known. What’s the best part of Chelsea Girls?

CHAIKEN: Ondine. It peaks at the end where you see him shooting up amphetamine. And Brigid Berlin, she’s amazing. She comes in like the calvary at the end of Loves Of Ondine. There’s also that unbelievable stuff that Paul shot of Nico, beautiful silent footage while all this other craziness is happening on the other side of the screen.

OTTENBERG: Yeah. So wait, the home movies footage from last night was amazing. It was very beautiful, vibrant color footage of BTS from My Hustler. That was a real highlight of my 2024, was seeing that footage.

Holly Woodlawn, Joe Dallesandro, Jane Forth, Paul Morrissey

Paul Morrissey in 1970 with the cast of Trash. Holly Woodlawn, Joe Dallesandro and Jane Forth. Photo by Henri Dauman. Courtesy of the Paul Morrissey Archive.

CHAIKEN: It was surreal seeing Paul America and Ed Hood in color with their sun tans. Once you see it in color it really drives home how modern these people look. I mean, Paul America’s look is insane.

OTTENBERG: Yeah. Everyone was ragging on him last night at the thing, and I was just letting everyone hate on him. Danny Fields was saying how disgusting Paul America was, and how ugly he was. Everyone in the audience was agreeing and I was like, “I think he looks great.” He looks like a piece of shit that doesn’t even know how to be a hustler. He’s becoming whatever he is going to be, be it loser, be it star. Whatever, I think Paul America’s perfect. 

CHAIKEN: He’s perfect because he plays kind of an amateur hustler. Whereas Joe Campbell is like, “I know this game backwards and forwards.” But the look on Paul America’s face… Paul America would later claim he had no idea what the movie was about because he was on acid. It’s like, really? He’s pretty fucking in the moment. Maybe that was his way of saying, “I’m not accountable for anything that happened in that movie.”

OTTENBERG: Right. Well, it’s sort of the gayest movie ever. 

CHAIKEN: But you haven’t seen–

OTTENBERG: Oh, San Diego Surf?

CHAIKEN: Yeah. Pretty gay. But nothing touches The Loves of Ondine.

OTTENBERG: What other details should we give that are sparkly about Paul?

CHAIKEN: So, Paul breaks off from The Factory scene after [Flesh For] Frankenstein and [Blood for] Dracula, which we’re–

OTTENBERG: Which we’re not showing, but are pretty good. They’re restored and look good.

CHAIKEN: Yes. That’s what kicked off this whole project of getting Paul’s archive in shape.

OTTENBERG: Who restored them?

CHAIKEN: A company called Vinegar Syndrome, again through Brian, who was the person who put me in touch with Marisa to work on the other side of Paul’s archive hisscripts, correspondence, photographs, tape recordings, ephemera, unbelievable shit. Brian asked me, “Hey, would you be interested in working with the Paul Morrissey Archive and helping organize it?” I was like, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Immediately, yes. So that’s what I’ve been helping with since late last year. Paul was at The Factory from ‘65 to 73, there almost every day, and played so many different roles. I mean, not only was he helping Andy with the films, but he was also like a publicity director for Warhol. He managed the Velvet Underground during their first year at The Factory and handled the distribution of the films on top of eventually making them. The one thing Paul didn’t have any real hand in was the art, because Fred Hughes dealt with all the galleries. Paul didn’t care about contemporary art and freely admitted that. He was a filmmaker. By the late 1960s, the project at The Factory was to recreate the Hollywood of the thirties in New York City by creating this whole new set of teen idols. Joe Dallesandro and Viva [Superstar] and Candy Darling. Amazing personalities. Paul wanted to give kids a sense that there’s more than just these fucking drugged-out rock stars to adore. He made a real concerted effort to do that.