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Robert Heide’s The Bed — March 14th in NYC

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

This poster says it all — if you’re in Manhattan this coming Thursday, be there!

Want an authentic slice of Warholiana? Then get thee to the The Gershwin Hotel, 27 East 27th Street, at 8PM on Thursday, March 14th, where for a mere $10 — what is this? 1965? — you get to see footage by Andy Warhol associate Danny Williams of Warhol shooting his film The Bed, based on Robert Heide’s play of the same name, plus John Gilman and Tim Cusack performing a segment of the play, one of the authentic classics of the avantgarde, as well as James Dean’s first screen test, and music by the Dave Clark Five. Plus, Robert Heide chats about The Bed with an all-star panel of experts. It’s all just too good to miss if you’re in The Big Apple this coming Thursday, so come on out and meet some authentic survivors of one of the most vibrant eras in American art history. You won’t get this chance again, so really — be there!

Andy Says . . .

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

“It’s the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.” — Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Blue Movie

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Andy Warhol and Viva in a publicity shot for Blue Movie (1969)

Here’s a story from way back in the day; it’s 1969, and I’m covering “underground films” for Life Magazine as a writer, which means I get to go the countless screenings of superb films on a daily basis and write about them – a dream job.

One day, Warhol invited the media to the Factory, then located at 33 Union Square West, to see his latest film, the original title of which is unprintable here. However, suffice it to say that the film was about Warhol “superstars” Viva and Louis Waldon making love in an apartment — owned by art critic David Bourdon — shown in considerable detail. For the time, it was quite a daring project.

In any event, when I showed up at the Factory, we were all ushered into the back, which served as the screening area (the front part of the loft being business offices of a sort, with huge, airy windows – a gorgeous space to work in), and seated in folding chairs, waiting for the film to begin. I look to my right, and who’s sitting next to me but the brilliant Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, and to my left, his leading actress Monica Vitti.

So, pretty daunting company. The film, which runs roughly 105 minutes, starts, in three 1200′ reels; the first reel is more or less conversation between Louis and Viva, shot in the interior of an apartment, using artificial light. But when the second reel comes on, a static shot of Viva and Louis in bed, illuminated only by daylight streaming through a very large bedroom window, the entire image is blue.

Why? Well, Warhol used 16mm reversal film for his movies, and if you were shooting color film in the 1960s and 70s, two of the most popular choices for film stock were Eastman Reversal 7241, balanced for use outdoors; and Eastman Reversal 7242, balanced for tungsten (indoor) lighting. If you shot Eastman 7242 outside without using a Wratten 85B filter, the image would become completely blue; and that’s what was happening here. The only light used was the daylight coming through the window, thus making the final image very, very blue indeed.

Reflexively, I leaned over to Antonioni and said “well, it looks like Andy forgot to put in the 85B filter.” Antonioni looked at the screen, then looked back at me and smiled. “You’re right, of course,” he said, “but Andy doesn’t care about things like that.” I nodded, because Warhol really didn’t care about things like that, and we watched the rest of the film in silence, along with the rest of the audience.

When the film ended — and it’s not one of Warhol’s best, by a long shot — I heard Warhol asking someone plaintively “why is the whole second reel all blue?,” so I told him about 7242, 7241, and the need to use the proper filter to balance the color when you used indoor stock outdoors, or vice versa. “Ohhhhhhh” said Andy.

Long pause. “Well, I guess we should call it Blue Movie.”

True story. Warhol’s genius at “embracing the mistakes” was never more apparent to me than on this occasion, and Antonioni laughed, as well, appreciating the obvious double entendre; a “blue movie” that really was a blue movie. Shortly thereafter, on July 21, 1969, the film opened under that title at the Garrick Theater in Greenwich Village. In his review of the film in The New York Times, Vincent Canby noted that the film was “literally a cool, greenish-blue in color.” Now you know why.

The Black Hole of the Camera by J.J. Murphy

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

You would think that everything possible that could be written about the films of Andy Warhol has been written, but you’d be wrong.

J.J. Murphy’s new book, The Black Hole of the Camera: The Films of Andy Warhol, is a significant contribution to the literature on the artist’s film work, offering, at least to my mind, the most detailed and accurate readings of his classic films of the 1960s, up to and including such later works as Blue Movie. As the book’s press release notes, “Andy Warhol, one of the twentieth century’s major visual artists, was a prolific filmmaker who made hundreds of films, many of them—Sleep, Empire, Blow Job, The Chelsea Girls, and Blue Movie—seminal but misunderstood contributions to the history of American cinema. In the first comprehensive study of Warhol’s films, J.J. Murphy provides a detailed survey and analysis. He discusses Warhol’s early films, sound portraits, involvement with multimedia (including The Velvet Underground), and sexploitation films, as well as the more commercial works he produced for Paul Morrissey in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Murphy’s close readings of the films illuminate Warhol’s brilliant collaborations with writers, performers, other artists, and filmmakers. The book further demonstrates how Warhol’s use of the camera transformed the events being filmed and how his own unique brand of psychodrama created dramatic tension within the works.”

Critical approval is already coming in: “Those of us who care about independent cinema have always struggled with Andy Warhol’s massive oeuvre. At long last J.J. Murphy, who has spent a lifetime making contributions to independent cinema, has undertaken the Herculean task of helping us understand Warhol’s development as a filmmaker. Murphy’s precision, stamina, and passion are evident in this examination of an immense body of work—as is his ability to report what he has discovered in a readable and informative manner. The Black Hole of the Camera helps us to re-conceptualize Warhol’s films not simply as mythic pranks, but as the diverse creations of a prolific and inventive film artist.”—Scott MacDonald, author of A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers

“In his careful firsthand study of Andy Warhol’s films, J. J. Murphy contributes to the ongoing revision of the enduring but misplaced perceptions of Warhol as a passive, remote, and one-dimensional artist. Murphy’s discussions of authorship, the relation of content to form, the role of “dramatic conflict,” and the complexity of Warhol’s camera work show these perceptions to be stubborn myths. The Black Hole of the Camera offers a clear sense of the nuances of Warhol’s fascinating, prolific, and influential activities in filmmaking.”—Reva Wolf, author of Andy Warhol, Poetry, and Gossip in the 1960s.

As someone who was tangentially involved in the Factory scene in the late 1960s, the book brings back the energy and passion of the era with deft and telling detail, and is in every respect a remarkable job of historical recovery and careful analysis, with numerous frame blow-ups throughout, many of which are in color. Murphy’s book brings back to life an era which is almost beyond authentic recall, and demonstrates why Warhol’s films still matter today, and were, and remain, so influential. Essential reading.

Inner and Outer Space

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see Edie Sedgwick in one of Andy Warhol’s most brilliant films, the two-screen, 33 minute Inner and Outer Space (1965), the only one Warhol’s films to incorporate the use of videotape, creating a hallucinatory monologue/duologue between Edie in front of Warhol’s Auricon 16mm film camera, and Edie onscreen, in a previously shot video.

I first saw the film when it came out in a rare screening at The Filmmakers’ Cinematheque, and many years later, at The Whitney Museum in a restored print in 1998, which confirmed my initial impression of the film — it’s absolutely original in conception, design and execution. Callie Angell, the late Warhol historian, wrote an excellent essay on the film in Millennium Film Journal 38 (Spring, 2002), in which she notes that “Outer and Inner Space is a 16mm film of Edie Sedgwick sitting in front of a television monitor on which is playing a prerecorded videotape of herself.  On the videotape, Edie is positioned on the left side of the frame, facing right; she is talking to an unseen person off-screen to our right. In the film, the ‘real’ or ‘live’ Edie Sedgwick is seated on the right side of the film frame, with her video image behind her, and she is talking to an unseen person off-screen to our left.

The effect of this setup is that it sometimes creates the rather strange illusion that we are watching Edie in conversation with her own video image. The film is two reels long, each reel is 1,200 feet or 33 minutes long, and the videotapes playing within the film are each 30 minutes long. The two film reels are projected side by side, with reel one on the left and reel two on the right, and with sound on both reels. So what you see are four heads, alternating video/film, video/film,  and sometimes all four heads are talking at once.

Warhol was able to make this film in August 1965 when he was loaned some rather expensive video equipment by the Norelco Company. The summer of 1965 was the time when portable, affordable video equipment designed for the home market first became available to the general public; a number of different companies, including Sony and Matsushida, were developing their own home video recording systems and beginning to market them at prices ranging from $500 to $1000 each.

The Norelco video equipment was a rather high-end system costing about $10,000, and it was loaned to Warhol as a kind of promotional gimmick.  That is, Warhol was quite well-known as an underground filmmaker at the time, as well as an artist, and the idea was that Warhol would experiment with the new video medium, see what he could do with it, and then report on his experiences in a published interview and more or less give his endorsement to the new medium and specifically to Norelco’s product.

The Norelco equipment was delivered to Warhol’s studio, the Factory, on July 30, 1965; in fact, the arrival of the video camera and the ensuing conversations about it between Warhol and his colleagues are some of the events documented in the early chapters of Warhol’s tape-recorded novel, A. During the month that Warhol had this video access, he shot approximately 11 half-hour tapes (at least, that’s how many Norelco videotapes have been found in the Warhol Video Collection).

One of the interesting things about Outer and Inner Space is that it contains, in effect, the only retrievable footage from these 1965 videotapes. The Norelco system utilized an unusual video format, called ’slant scan video,’ which differed from the helical scan format developed by Sony and other video companies, and which very quickly became obsolete. There are now no working slant scan tape players anywhere in the world, the other videotapes which Warhol shot in 1965 cannot be played back, and the only accessible footage from these early videos exists in this film, which Warhol, in effect, preserved by reshooting them in 16mm.”

You can read the entire essay by clicking here; it’s a remarkable essay on a brilliant film.

Bob Heide on Andy Warhol

Monday, March 5th, 2012

John Gilman (left) and Bob Heide (right) in Greenwich Village recently, with a George Segal sculpture.

I’ve known Bob Heide and John Gilman since the late 1960s, when Bob was most active as a playwright, and was on the scene at Warhol’s Factory on East 47th Street, known as “the silver Factory,” where Warhol churned out a torrent of paintings, films and sculptures, which have now become some of the most influential work created in the second half of the 20th century.

Bob and I still keep in touch on a regular basis, and I was thrilled when I heard that Bob would be giving a lecture at The New School, in New York, talking about his work with Warhol and his entourage during the artist’s most creative period. Now, The New School has posted the entire lecture online, and so I’m pleased to be able to bring it to you — it’s the authentic testimony of someone who was there. This lecture took place on a very cold night in Manhattan, on January 31, 2012. Despite the weather, the auditorium was, as you will see, filled to capacity.

As the New School’s website notes, “Andy Warhol’s fame grew during his years in New York City, and his unique persona and career were shaped in large part by his association with the downtown arts scene in and around Greenwich Village. Playwright Robert Heide, who wrote some of Warhol’s screenplays, and Thomas Kiedrowski, the author of Andy Warhol’s New York City, discuss Warhol’s involvement with Greenwich Village and its artistic and literary denizens before, during, and after his rise to fame in the art world.” It’s a fascinating look into Warhol’s creative process, by someone who really was on the scene during the era, making Bob’s oral history of the period absolutely invaluable.

A party at the Silver Factory in the mid 1960s.

Click here, or on the image above, to see Bob’s entire lecture, some 77 minutes long.

Andy Warhol in 1963

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Andy Warhol photographed by Dennis Hopper, January 1, 1963

I’ll never come to terms with Andy Warhol, and I don’t think anyone can. Essentially unknowable, he was “the absolute Queen of non-existence” as one observer put it, and the most you could get out of him in casual conversation was “wow” or “really?” or “oh, wow” — with perhaps a “uh, yes” or “uh, no” thrown in for emphasis. In private, he could be much more talkative, but there was always a distinct distance between Warhol and the world, from the start of his career until the all-too-early end.

So much has been written on him; perhaps the best account of life at the various Warhol studios, or “Factories,” is either David Bourdon’s Warhol or Steven Watson’s Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties, which is more recent. He was an absolutely serious artist, yet he made it all look ridiculously easy, knocking out silkscreen paintings at such a torrential pace that one felt that there would always be another one, since they were so easily manufactured.

Arguably the most influential visual stylist of the second half of the 20th century, he only lived to the age of 58, after narrowly surviving an assassination attempt on June 3, 1968 by Valerie Solanas, from which he never really recovered. A lifelong Catholic who attended Mass every morning, Warhol was nevertheless emblematic of the demimonde of the New York art world, and his films, paintings, and sculptures were, from the first — with his Disaster paintings, and works like 129 Die in Jet — always tinged with the scent of death.

As he told critic Gene Swenson in 1963 — in “What is Pop Art? Interviews with Eight Painters,” Art News 62 (November 1963) — “I guess it was the big plane crash picture, the front page of the newspaper: 129 Die.  I was also painting the Marilyns.  I realized that everything I was doing must have been Death. It was Christmas or Labor Day—a holiday—and every time you turned on the radio they said something like ‘4 million are going to die.’  That started it.  But when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it really doesn’t have any effect.”

And yet, once upon a time, the future seemed limitless for Warhol, as the 1960s were getting under way. At the top of this page is a lovely portrait by Dennis Hopper, now in the Public Domain, of Warhol in a restaurant on New Year’s Day, in 1963. Warhol seems relaxed and absolutely at ease; his career is just taking off. Pop art is about to explode. Warhol will become its principal figure. The world is young. Death is an abstract concept, something far, far away.

Andy Warhol Meets Bob Dylan

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

One day in 1965, Barbara Rubin arranged a meeting between Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan at Warhol’s Factory on East 47th Street for one of Warhol’s 100ft. 16mm screen tests; when Dylan left that day, his only visit to the Factory, he took/was given/bargained for a Warhol painting as “payment.” As this intriguing site describes the historic meeting,

“After Dylan’s “screen test” that day he was either given or appropriated (dependent on the teller) a Warhol silk screen , known as either a “Silver Elvis” or “Double Elvis.” According to Warhol, he “gave” an Elvis to Dylan. Other accounts have Dylan and Warhol kind of doing a “you’re cool, man,” “no you’re cooler, man” potlatch dance around each other that ended with Warhol reluctantly giving the Elvis away. Still other accounts have Dylan saying “I’ll take that (the double Elvis) as payment [for the screen test],” and Dylan’s crew, which included Bobby Neuwirth and Victor Maymudes (sometimes spelled as Maimudes), hustling the painting down the freight elevator before anyone in Warhol’s camp could object.”

Read the entire essay here.

Vinyl

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

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.

About the Author

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 numerous books and more than 70 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. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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