FLESHPOT ON 42ND STREET From Vinegar Syndrome is a Milligan Masterpiece

I’m a big fan of Andy Milligan, the divisive, openly gay, multi-talented sleaze auteur who helped keep the grindhouses running in the ‘70s with his own brand of low-rent/high concept masterpieces. The best way to describe Milligan for the uninitiated is his films are quirky and wordy like a John Waters film, but often meaner and way more nihilistic. His casts were also usually composed of off-Broadway talent, so you have these poor souls literally acting the hell out of these dense scripts that are often times bizarre period pieces that have way bigger ideas than their budgets or special effects allow. Vinegar Syndrome recently released and restored what I would consider to be one of his best films on Blu-ray — the grim slice of life, Fleshpot on 42nd Street. The film is presented in a never before released director’s cut right off of Milligan’s 16mm camera reversal.

Fleshpot is the story of Dusty (porn actress Laura Cannon of Forced Entry), a captivatingly complex prostitute always on the hustle in grimy ‘70s New York and also a pretty terrible human being, which fits Andy Milligan’s M.O. At the beginning of the film when the man she is living with asks her to clean up around the apartment, since she is no longer hooking, she promptly has sex with him and robs him blind after he leaves for work. While pawning his belongings she also has sex with the pawnshop owner for cash and robs him when he goes to buy her lunch. Dusty then falls into the company of a drag queen prostitute named Candy, while continuing to seduce and hustle her way through anyone dumb enough to fall into her trap. That is until she meets good guy Bob, who charms the woman and has her entertaining the possibility of turning over a new leaf. The problem is this is an Andy Milligan film, and happy endings really aren’t his thing.

What I like about the film is that Milligan, who has some complex views on the opposite sex thanks to mommy issues, doesn’t just portray Dusty as just some slutty succubus preying on the men she meets. Laura Cannon takes the role surprisingly seriously and does something really unexpected with it. She infuses Dusty with these moments where we see the the toll her choices have taken on her, through a line delivery, look, or a glance, as we tag along with her through these excruciating 48 hours. We also see her very much in control of her sexuality as she wields it as a weapon, never losing control or letting her guard down. To be honest this film is not an easy watch, but it feels like there is a gritty reality and truth buried behind its exploitative facade. Fleshpot also features a pre-Disney-fied New York in all its dangerous splendor, filled the kind of misfits and miscreants that make you miss the good ol’ days.

Now for the presentation — the most obvious additions to this new cut, given most of us are probably more familiar with the previous R-rated version, is more nudity thanks to the removal of the hard matting that we find was rather strategically placed going from Andy’s intended aspect ratio of 1.37:1 to 1.85:1. There is the ability to select which version of the film you wish to view and a brief description of the restoration when you start viewing the film. The film also now features full penetration in some of its sex scenes, which are a bit longer now. While I was happy to see Andy’s intended cut of Fleshpot in all its glory, I found some of these newly added scenes to be rather tedious at times. They kind of make the film drag a bit with its leering and murky close-ups, which actually caught me off guard on the first viewing. I also have to mention the film has NEVER looked this good — the film looks pristine with great color and contrast in a way that I wasn’t expecting considering other viewings I’ve caught, both digital and on film.

The film comes paired with a commentary by film historians and authors Samm Deighan, Heather Drain, and Kat Ellinger, who being women are an intriguing and enlightening voice on the subject of Milligan. There is also an interesting ‘then and now’ featurette on the locations of Fleshpot, and boy have things changed in since the film was lensed in 1973. Overall it’s a great package by Vinegar Syndrome; my only teeny issue would have been the inclusion of the R-rated cut as well, because I would love to share this film with folks that many be understandably turned away by full on penetration. Still, the film the transfer looks amazing, or looks as good as film shot by Milligan would, and the extras do their job giving the film context in the odd auteur’s cannon. So I mean for fans of Milligan this is a must, but I totally feel ya where the inclusion of some of this material may be a deal breaker for some.

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