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50th Anniversary Screening of The Chelsea Girls at Anthology

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Fifty years ago today, Andy Warhol’s The Chelsea Girls had its first public screening.

Tonight at Anthology Film Archives, Jonas Mekas will introduce the 50th anniversary screening of this indelible, inexhaustible masterpiece, which is a very difficult film to project, requiring two 16mm projectors, stereo sound, and a great deal of patience on the part of the projectionist.

Starring nearly the entire gallery of Warhol 60s superstars, including Nico, Ondine, Marie Menken, Mary Woronov, Gerard Malanga, International Velvet, Ingrid Superstar, Mario Montez, Eric Emerson, and Brigid Berlin, the film runs a mammoth 210 minutes, but is worth every second of your time.

As Anthology’s website notes, “Warhol’s double-screen masterpiece – consisting of 12 unedited reels, shown side-by-side, with only one soundtrack audible at a time – depicts the Chelsea Hotel as a teeming hive of Superstars, junkies, prostitutes, and generally out-sized personalities.

An underground sensation upon its release, it ultimately broke out of the underground cinema circuit, invading a ‘respectable’ uptown theater and leading uptight New York Times critic Bosley Crowther to declare, ‘now that [the] underground has surfaced on West 57th Street and taken over a theater with carpets…it is time for permissive adults to stop winking at their too-precious pranks….’

Before having the gall to blow uptown minds, however, The Chelsea Girls premiered in 1966 at Jonas Mekas’s Film-Makers’ Cinematheque at 125 West 41st Street (apparently far enough downtown for Crowther), where it sold out many of its initial screenings and enjoyed several return engagements, before moving to the Cinema Rendezvous on 57th.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, we present this special screening (safely downtown), hosted by Jonas Mekas himself, who will share stories of how The Chelsea Girls was let loose on the world.”

The original projectionists were Jerome Hiler and Bob Cowan; the Cinemathque in this particular iteration was run by the late Greg Sharits; and as the notes above indicate, it was an instant smash, with ads running in The New York Times, and nearly universal critical acclaim.

More than any other film, with the exception of La Dolce Vita, The Chelsea Girls holds a mirror up to the culture of the 1960s; it is at all surprising that the late chanteuse and actor Nico is in both films?

So, if you’re in New York City tonight, this is a must see – of course, there’s also a great new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde playing at The Metropolitan Opera this week, so that’s something – just something – of a toss up. But that should give you some idea of just how important The Chelsea Girls is as a cultural landmark – it’s an absolutely brilliant, merciless, and altogether stunning experience, of equally epic stature.

The Chelsea Girls is on my “top ten” list – which has 250 films in it – see it if you can.

Jerome Hiler

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Jerome Hiler in 1970

Jerome Hiler might be called the phantom of the cinema. I have known Jerry since about 1965, when I borrowed his Bolex to shoot a film of my own at St. Theresa’s Church across the street from his apartment, and even then, living on the lower East Side in a small flat, he had already amassed many hours of gorgeous 16mm footage, all neatly edited into related segments on large stacks of 400′ reels; I sat there, entranced, for hours, watching his work, all of it silent, which knocked me out then, and does still.

But Jerome is a very private person, and doesn’t really feel like sharing his work with the world — at least for the most part. I may be one of perhaps 100 people who have seen several hours of his work; in the mid 1980s, I sent him several thousand feet of outdated 16mm raw stock, Ektachrome reversal film, and he promptly went out and shot several brilliant short films with it, including one called Acid Rock, so named because near the start of the film, the camera passes over a trolley car with the words “acid rock” scratched on it.

The film consists of three rolls of film straight out of the camera, with only three splices in the completed film, to put them together to make a 9 minute silent film of almost indescribable beauty. To my knowledge, this was the first film he exhibited publicly, sometime in the early 1990s; and, at this point, Jerome had been making films for nearly forty years. Since then, Jerry has changed the title of the film to Gladly Given, and expanded it “a bit from three rolls at this point.”

When I wrote about Jerry’s work in my book The Exploding Eye, I did a long interview with him for the book, and then asked him to send some stills from his work. He laughed, and responded, “that’s like saying to a poet, ’send me a word’ — I can’t do it.” I laughed too, but on a certain level I understood. At 24 frames per second, one image can hardly capture the essence of an entire film, no matter how evocative it might be.

Lately, Jerome has been into stained glass rather than film, although he recently completed a feature film, Music Makes a City, and he also teaches and lectures from time to time, but of course, I wish he would hold a marathon screening of his work, just as it is — pull out any ten or twelve 400′ reels, and run them for an unforgettable evening.

About the Author

Headshot of 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.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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