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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.

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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