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Left to right: Billy Linich gets a light meter reading, as Andy Warhol holds up a can of soda for a focus point, while actors Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick wait for the camera to roll on the set of Warhol’s Vinyl; back of screenwriter Ron Tavel’s head in foreground

No doubt you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 version of Anthony Burgess’s groundbreaking, dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, but have you ever seen Andy Warhol’s 1965 film, Vinyl, which is arguably superior in nearly every respect?

Working from a screenplay by the late Ron Tavel, the film, in three long takes from one vantage point, chronicles the misadventures of Victor, the Victor (Gerard Malanga) as he wreaks havoc on society, until he is turned in by his sidekick Scum Baby (Ondine) and “re-educated” by Cop (J.D. McDermott) and The Doctor (Tosh Carillo). Through all of this, Edie Sedgwick sits on a steamer trunk to the right of the frame, watching everything unfold, but saying nothing. Warhol also absolutely forbade rehearsal for the actors, so everyone had to read their lines off huge cue cards during the actual filming, adding to the Brechtian aspect of the film.

Shot in high contrast black and white, on a total budget of roughly $250 ($72 for 2400 ft. of 16mm b/w reversal film; another $72 for processing; then another $100 for final print; none of the actors or technicians were paid) on a sync-sound Auricon camera that recorded an optical soundtrack directly on the side of the film during shooting, Warhol’s film, completed in a mere three hours of shooting time, effectively evokes the dark nihilism of Victor’s empty universe, even as a shiny disco ball twinkles in the inky blackness of the frame over the heads of the foredoomed protagonists.

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Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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