Andy Warhol, Man of the West—why not? The 11 Warhol productions showing through June at the Museum of Modern Art, in conjunction with the current photography show “Into the Sunset,” demonstrate that even New York City’s quintessential society artist made a few camping trips to the far side of the Hudson.
Indeed, Warhol’s first “narrative” feature, Tarzan and Jane Regained . . . Sort of (May 6–8) was shot in Los Angeles, with spindly Taylor Mead playing King of the Jungle opposite buxom Naomi Levine. Hollywood iconography and superstar behavior notwithstanding, Tarzan and Jane doesn’t look or feel like classic Warhol—it’s a playful home-movie riff interspersed with casual kinetic interludes suggestive of cine-miniaturist Marie Menken. There’s a soundtrack composed of Mead’s maunderings, excerpts from a British sex-ed doc, and a pop invitation to dance the Watusi—but not much plot. In a desultory search for his mate, Mead tours the city (locations include the Watts Towers, Venice Beach, Topanga Canyon, and the Beverly Hills Hilton), disporting with local bohemians, notably Wallace Berman and Dennis Hopper. At one point, Hopper plays a stunt double, donning a leopard-skin wrap to climb a palm tree in Mead’s stead. Coyly showing as much butt cleavage as he can, the fey hero rescues a doll from a swimming pool, but the movie ends with Jane re-kidnapped by bearded “youth star” Russ Tamblyn.
Warhol actually did make two somewhat more conventional “westerns.” Horse (1965) required that a real live pony be brought to the Factory to hang out with Edie Sedgwick and friends; the more ambitious Lonesome Cowboys (1967–68) involved an actual field trip. Viva and Mead headed up a posse of superstars whose antics on the Arizona movie location resulted in a tourist’s complaint and the start of Warhol’s FBI file.
The MOMA show also includes Bike Boy (1967), which has a protagonist just arrived from the coast, and two movies—Sunset (1967) and Imitation of Christ (1967–69)—partially shot in California. There are also four movie-star parodies—Harlot (1964), Hedy (1966), More Milk, Yvette (1966), and Lupe (1966)—in which Mario Montez plays Jean Harlow, Hedy Lamarr, and Lana Turner, and Sedgwick impersonates Lupe Velez. Harlot, Warhol’s first talkie, was scripted by Ron Tavel, as were Horse, Hedy, and More Milk, Yvette—the first examples of this talented, hilarious writer’s work to show here since his death earlier this spring. ‘The West: Myth, Character, and Reinventionin the Films of Andy Warhol’ runs from May 6 to June 26 at MOMA.
Also: Very much a man of the European East, Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó has a four-film show at the Walter Reade (“Jancsó Classics,” May 6–9). The Round-Up (1966)—which employs Hungary’s failed 1848 revolution to evoke the unrepresentable aftermath of the 1956 uprising—introduced his boldly stylized film language. Even more aestheticized, The Red and the White (1967) slyly presents Hungarian volunteers defending October against Russian reactionaries. Somber Silence and Cry (1967) deals with the collapse of the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic, while Red Psalm (1972) uses Hungary’s 19th-century harvesting strikes as a means to recast history as ecstatic New Left ritual.