Paul Morrissey was an integral part of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene. He managed the Velvet Underground and director of many iconic art films of the 60’s such as Trash and of course Chelsea Girls. Spanish directors Armand Rovira and Saida Benzal created a visually stimulating and provocative tribute to the Factory renaissance man, Letters to Paul Morrissey. The film is evocative of the style of Morrissey’s films. Shot in 16mm, and in black and white, Letters is an anthology film that is exactly what it says it is, a series of five letters to the iconic director.
“Spanish directors Armand Rovira and Saida Benzal created a visually stimulating and provocative tribute to the Factory renaissance man…”
The first letter is from Udo Strauss, but may as well be a young Udo Kier, played by Xavi Saez and voiced by Max Phillip Bruchmann. Udo is writing a letter to Paul about his ongoing existential crisis that is sparked by his loathing for capitalism. He is lead from Berlin to Madrid and then to a monastery in Mallorca, where he becomes obsessed with attaining faith in God. He reads the bible from dusk till dawn, eventually becoming so demented by his search for faith that he staples the bible’s pages onto his body. Also during his stay, he has many conversations with a woman in black named Maria, played by Andrea Carballo and voiced by Corinna Seiter. Udo thinks she is a demon, but once can be led to believe that it’s actually God he’s talking to, but he just can’t seem to get the point. Udo’s letter is very reminiscent of Bergman, particularly The Seventh Seal, in addition to evoking comparisons to Morrissey’s work.
The second letter is one of the shortest and features the voice of Joe Dallesandro, who acted in Morrissey’s Trash. He is speaking not as himself, but as William S. Burroughs in one of his many rants on the effects of opiates on man. His monologue is superimposed on two teenage junkies shooting up and hanging out at a skatepark. The third letter is from one of the stars of Chelsea Girls, Olena Wood, played by Maria Fajula and voiced by Marjorie Glantz. Olena is stuck in the nostalgia of her youth and glory days. She discovers a service that creates men for women to have as companions. A 35-year-old man named Steve is made for her. This letter is probably the most comical out of the 5. The fourth letter is directed by Saida Benzal (all the rest are directed by Rovira) and could be seen as a tribute to Warhol’s Dracula, considering both Benzal and Joan Carles Suau play vampires in love. The fifth letter focuses on Hiroko Tanaka, played by Almar G. Soto. She has had horrible tinnitus her whole life and tries to reproduce the sound with synthesizers, which essentially means that the last 15 minutes is ¼ experimental music performance, ¼ love story, ¼ science experiment, and ¼ hypnosis.
“He is speaking not as himself, but as William S. Burroughs in one of his many rants on the effects of opiates on man.”
Letters To Paul Morrissey could have been made in the late ’60s/early ’70s, and it’s quite clear that the directors have a nostalgia for a time they never lived in themselves. It’s something that a lot of fans of art and film, in general, can relate to, I’m sure. Chief themes in all the letters are obsession and longing. While experimental film can sometimes be excruciatingly pretentious, this film doesn’t fall prey to those trappings and is supremely captivating through its relatively short run time. I think that fans of Morrissey’s will definitely enjoy the film, as well as lovers of cinema in general. I loved it and could watch it many more times to catch the visual storytelling I may have missed the first go-round. I highly recommend the film and look forward to its theatrical release beyond the festival circuit.
Letters to Paul Morrissey (2019) Written and Directed by Saida Benzal and Armand Rovira. Starring Xavi Saez, Almar G. Soto, Maria Fajula, Joe Dallesandro, Saida Benzal, Agnes Llobet, Andrea Carballo, Esteve Torres, Kylie Van Beek. Letters to Paul Morrissey screened at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival.
9 out of 10 stars
"…"...supremely captivating through its relatively short run time.""