‘Little Joe’ explores Factory star

Joe Dallesandro, the subject of monologue/documentary Little Joe, which plays at the Inside Out...

Joe Dallesandro, the subject of monologue/documentary Little Joe, which plays at the Inside Out Festival this weekend.

JIM SLOTEK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:17 PM ET

On set at The Factory with Andy Warhol and director Paul Morrissey, Joe Dallesandro found himself asking questions posed by many female ingenues before him.

“And I’m nude in this next scene ... Why?”

Dallesandro — aka Little Joe — was a street kid who’d grown up in foster homes and reform schools (for stealing cars).

Fate would have him starring in innocent-of-style Warhol art films like Flesh, Trash, Heat, Flesh For Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula, where acting lessons were banned, dialogue was improvised and the men (Joe was one of the few more-or-less straight ones) were more likely to be naked than the women.

As a result of baring it all in art films, he became one of the pre-eminent sex symbols of the ’70s. That’s him in the jeans in the iconic Warhol-designed cover of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. And that’s him referenced by Lou Reed in Walk on the Wild Side (“Little Joe never once gave it away, everybody had to pay and pay”).

The irony of Reed’s lyric is that Dallesandro made very little money during his Factory years. Was the only Factory star to go to a movie career a victim of exploitation?

“I think it’s so easy for us to look back at that time and put all this stuff on it,” says Nicole Haeusser, the German-born director of Little Joe, the acclaimed monologue/documentary of Dallesandro that makes its Canadian premiere Saturday as part of the Inside Out LGBT (Lesbian/gay/bi/transsexual) Film and Video Festival.

“But Joe grew up without any stability and The Factory gave him stability. He always refers to Paul (Morrissey) as his father figure and when Paul said ‘No, I think the nudity is necessary,’ he believed it. The realization (that it was gratuitous) came much later. But in the first few films he was much more gullible.

“But I don’t think he had any problems with taking his clothes off. After all the conversations I had with him, he just didn’t care. And that is very different from when most women (actors) talk about that stuff. They usually do mind.”

Little Joe was kind of a case of ‘all in the family.’ Haeusser became a friend and production partner of Dallesandro’s step-daughter Vedra Mehagian when they worked together on her breakthrough student film, The Death Strip (about East Germans making the often-lethal jump to the other side over The Berlin Wall). “And while we were doing it, she said ‘Oh, I have this little project I’ve been working on for a while.’ ”

So began Haeusser’s three years of conversations with the now-60-year-old sex symbol about a life of hard-living and hard-loving, first with Warhol (who seldom said a word to him), then with exploitation directors in Italy, then with bona fide French auteurs like Louis Malle and Serge Gainsbourg, followed by drug and alcohol addiction and a last act as a bit-player-of-choice for Hollywood directors enchanted with his pedigree (Soderbergh’s The Limey, John Waters’ Cry-Baby, TV series like Miami Vice, Wiseguy and Matlock).

“The nicest thing was contacting all these people,” says Haeusser, who ended up with a wealth of donated footage and stills. “I didn’t find anybody who has one bad word about Joe. (Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist) John Frusciante, we really only wanted one song from him. And he just said, ‘Oh my God, anything for Joe!’ And that’s how we ended up with so many John Frusciante songs.”

Then came last year’s opening at the Berlin Film Festival, where all things Warhol are worshiped. “Joe lives a very humble life in L.A.,” she says. “He lives in an apartment, he’s not an actor anymore, he’s in the phonebook.

“And when we came to Berlin, there was all this paparazzi at the airport, and I was thinking ‘Wow, I wonder who’s coming in.’ And it was Joe. We were all shocked. There were so many people with autographs, and he got the Teddy Award for lifetime achievement in gay cinema. He was totally overwhelmed. And I think a little uncomfortable.”

The Inside Out LGBT Film and Video Festival carries on through May 30. See insideout.ca for more films and info.

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


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