New York

“Forty Deuce,” directed and adapted by Paul Morrissey from the play by Alan Bowne

the Gay Film Festival

The transposition of a play to the cinema or television can be a tricky one trading in the static long view of the theater for the cuts and framing alterations of film and video. In the case of film the conversion all too often results in a distanced picturing of expository speech and gesture, while video performs a relentless process of miniaturization, setting tiny actors adrift in the text of a play in the same way that it turns almost all practitioners of dance into minuscule Thumbelinas. There are exceptions, of course, two of the more recent being Robert Altman’s cinematic adaption of Streamers, David Rabe’s excruciating indictment of the demands of military alignment, and the televised rendition of Sam Shepard’s True West (directed for American Playhouse by Allan Goldstein), which proves even more powerful in a video context. Nestled amid network litter, tucked between variations on “Call to Glory” and “Different Strokes,” True West singed the screen with the intensity of its characterization of brotherhood, clearly defining its difference from the anesthetizing phantasms that generally constitute network television. Shot in an enjoyably queer manner, the meeting of its biased angles with Shepard’s screeching speech resulted in a powerful exchange of theatrical goods for video product.

Forty Deuce is Paul Morrissey’s attempt to adapt Alan Bowne’s 1981 off-Broadway play about young, strung-out, homosexual hustlers. With Kevin Bacon recreating his original role of Ricky, the lead glob, the film rings with much of the horrific absurdity of the play, a weird and funny combo of scatological verse and techno-rant. Zoned out and roaming through a Port Authority Building that can best be labeled a halfway house to Hell, these kids (well portrayed by Mark Kelyoun, Esai Morales, and Tommy Citera) squabble, squawk, and enact demiandroidal renditions of how low can you go.

In an effort to ditch the body of an overdosed 12-year-old runaway, Ricky devises a scam to convince Mr. Roper, a rich john portrayed by Orson Bean, that he has murdered the boy in an angel-dust-induced orgy. In order to accomplish this, Ricky and his colleague Blow must con Roper into spending some time with the pretty young body which, unbeknownst to him, is already a corpse. Plying him with dusted weed, they tell Roper the kid is so totally blitzed out that anything can be done to his sleeping young flesh. They “show him the merchandise,” offering up the prone meat as “top quality product” that “wants you to find his limits.” This scam-slang about “business” laces much of the film and foregrounds the recognition of the human body (dead or alive) as commodifiable merchandise. Augie the Pimp (Harris Laskawy) alludes to his squalid room as “my headquarters . . . my facility.” Roper’s brilliantly written soliloquies are drenched in the vocabulary of exchange, from his screaming at the corpse "This is New York City. You pay out, you produce, you deliver,” to his idea that young boys modulate his desires and oppose their tyrannies to his own. Only Blow bemoans the fact that the young kid is being tucked, killed, and sold.

Bowne’s play powerfully captures the scuzzy trafficking of dope and young male bodies, and Morrissey’s film is a gritty attempt to bring the play’s acuity to the screen. It is fraught with problems, the biggest being terrible sound recording which dissolves much of Bowne’s biting text into barely understandable mumbles and echoes; although the film does not boast a blockbuster budget, it is certainly no super-8 effort, so one wonders why this kind of technical problem should stalk a project so concerned with the complexities of speech. Yet even Morrissey’s use of a split screen for the final third of the film, not a terrific cinematic accomplishment, still does not diffuse the power of Bowne’s theater piece. Forty Deuce’s conversion from play to film is not as riveting as one would hope, but it is a welcome accomplishment in a time when intelligent film dialogue is threatening to become an archaism.

Barbara Kruger