In the past few months Andy, assisted by poet Gerard Malanga, cameraman Buddy Wirtschafter, script-writer Ronald Tavell, and the ubiquitous photographer Billy Linich ("foreman" of the East 47th Street "factory"), has been making at least one full-length movie per week. There is usually a current "superstar," the present one being Edie Sedgwick—a slender, beautiful East Side chick who played herself in the 70-minute feature "Poor Little Rich Girl." Warhol did a revolutionary thing in this epic: he moved the camera, swinging it around to follow Edie into the kitchen, completely oblivious to the fact that two sightseers were in the line of fire.

Much of the movie—like most of his works it was filmed in one day, processed the next, and screened the day after—is out of focus, but nobody knows better than Warhol that this merely increases the mystique. A midnight audience that will sit stolidly for six hours and watch a man sleeping will probably argue fiercely about whether the lack of focus was intentional or not. He has since refilmed it to do Edie more justice. And the point is, of course, that once again the focus or lack of it doesn't matter; the filming is the thing, not the film.

If Warhol has any specific point of view, it is probably that what happens happens; he's having a ball learning how to make home movies, and it's merely gravy to him if the movies become valuable art works because he happens to have made them. (How much do you think an original Warhol movie, of which there's so far only one print, might be worth someday? If this aspect has occurred to him, he doesn't talk about it.) Meanwhile, the movies—screened once—pile up in silver cans in his silvered studios.

Fabulous 15 minutes. Andy Warhol with Mr. America and Gerard Malanga at Filmmaker's Cinematheque (December 1965)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah
Fabulous 15 minutes. Andy Warhol with Mr. America and Gerard Malanga at Filmmaker's Cinematheque (December 1965)

The filming is fun. Like most amateur movie-making, it casts that extraordinary spell that makes the onlookers believe they can go in and out of the action at will. Up front, in the lights, are the "actors," often just a bunch of people improvising on a basic script; then there's the camera, alone and dispassionate as it automatically eats up the film; and Warhol himself is a few feet away watching silently with an enigmatic expression. In other parts of the studio, somebody may be asleep on a sofa, or atop a ladder taking still pictures of the scene. The ultimate, bound to come someday, is when a second camerman simultaneously films the scene of Warhol filming his movie, both version to be projected side by side at a subsequent viewing.

Acceptable Spoof
Some people complain that "Andy Warhol is putting everyone on." It might be true, but could be as much a compliment as a critique. Society is flexible enough these days to tolerate somebody who is playing back a tape of it at a different speed. And people who are "put on" are usually accepting such a spoof, albeit sometimes unwillingly (just as one definition of a loser is somebody who thinks he's a loser). It is doubtful, anyway, if anybody deliberately sets out to "put everyone on." More likely he (i.e. Warhol) just started to be interesting, outrageous, funny—more or less indifferent initially to the effect it might have but obviously greatly pleased (and encouraged) by the fact that there was an effect.

"Poor Little Rich Girl," though technically lousy, did a good job of catching the languid boredom that exists around a girl who has little to do all day but lounge on her bed, read, chatter on the phone, smoke, make coffee, and try on her wide range of spectacular clothes (including a fur dress). In the second reel Edie's friend Chuck came in to chat with her (he is mostly off-camera—to get a Warhol movie it is necessary to intrude into the static frame itself). The conversation was . . . well, just conversation. Neither pointed or pointless, but rather the normal gossip of two friends who discuss things and people in common.

Black Background

For "Horse," Warhol took a horse up to his fourth-floor studio apartment, stood it near the door, eating a pile of hay, enacting a parody Western in front of it, complete with hokey hamming, drawled insults between the Cisco Kid and the sheriff, fist fights, a game of strip poker, and facial mugging to an opera record on the sound track. The horse, a solid, black background, munches unconcernedly throughout the movie. What gives this film its authentic Warhol touch is to have the characters peer through the lights to read their lines from scrawled shirt cardboards held up off-camera by Malanga and Tavell.

In "The Life of Juanita Castro," a large family group ranged on and around the sofa, sits unmoving for at least half of the movie while "Fidel" (played by a pretty Argentine girl), improvises a 30-minute harangue in Spanish. Other offbeat casting in this movie includes the Argentine's sister as Che Guevara, Elektrah as Raul Castro, and Marie Mencken as Juanita Castro. Director Ronnie Tavell stands in the center of the group verbalizing each action and comment before it takes place. ("Juanita, get up, face the camera, and say "Puta, puta, puta.") Objective Warhol trademark, although everybody faces the camera, the movie is actually filmed from one side.

« Previous Page
Next Page »