Jonas Mekas: With Andy Warhol, Filming ‘Empire’


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July 30, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 41

Movie Journal

By Jonas Mekas

Andy Warhol is unquestionably the most productive film-maker in the world today. In less than a year he has completed 15 movies, most of which are features: “Sleep” (six hours), “Eat,” “Kiss,” “Haircut,” “Naomi and Rufus Kiss,” “The End of Dawn,” “Salome and Delilah,” “Tarzan and Jane Regained Sort of,” “13 Most Beautiful Boys,” “Blow Job,” “Dance Movie,” “Dinner at Daley’s,” “The Rose Without Thorns,” “Soap Opera,” and “Empire” (eight hours).

Last Saturday I was present at an historical occasion: the shooting of Andy Warhol’s epic “Empire.” From 8 p.m. throughout the night and until dawn the camera was pointed at the Empire State Building, from the 41st Floor of the Time-Life Building. The camera never moved once. My guess is that “Empire” will become the “Birth of a Nation” of the New Bag cinema.

The following are excerpts from a conversation with the Warhol crew — Henry X., John Palmer, Marie Desert, and the poet Gerard Malanga:

John: “Why is nothing happening? I don’t understand.”

Henry: “What would you like to happen?”

John: “I don’t know.”

Henry: “I have a feeling that all we’re filming is the red light.”

Andy: “Oh, Henry!!!”

Henry: “Andy?! NOW IS THE TIME TO PAN.”

John: “Definitely not!”

Henry: “The film is a whole new bag when the lights go off.”

John: “Look at all that action going on. Those flashes. Tourists taking photos.”

Andy: “Henry, what is the meaning of action?”

Henry: “Action is the absence of inaction.”

Andy: “Let’s say things intelligent.”

Gerard: “Listen! We don’t want to deceive the public, dear.”

John: “We’re hitting a new milestone.”

Andy: “Henry, Say Nietzsche.”

Henry: “Another asporism?”

John: “B movies are better than A movies.”

Andy: “Jack Smith in every garage.”

Marie: “Someday we’re all going to live underground and this movie will be a smash.”

John: “The lack of action in the last three 1200-foot rolls is alarming!”

Henry: “You have to mark these rolls very carefully so as not to get them mixed up.”

Jonas: “Did you know that the Empire State Building sways?”

Marie: “I read somewhere that art is created in fun.”

Jonas: “What?”

Gerard: “During the projection, we should set up window panes for the audience to look through.”

Andy: “The Empire State Building is a star!”

John: “Has anything happened at all?”

Marie: “No.”

John: “Good!”

Henry: “The script calls for a pan right at this point. I don’t see why my artistic advice is being constantly rejected.”

Henry to Andy: “The bad children are smoking pot again.”

John: “I don’t think anything has happened in the last hundred feet.”

Gerard: “Jonas, how long is this interview supposed to be?”

Jonas: “As much as you have.”

Andy: “An eight-hour hard-on!”

Gerard: “We have to maintain our cool at all times.”

John: “We have to have this film licensed.”

Andy: “It looks very phallic.”

Jonas: “I don’t think it will pass.”

John: “Nothing has happened in the last half-hour.”

John: “The audience viewing ‘Empire’ will be convinced after seeing the film that they have viewed it from the 41st floor of the Time-Life Building, and that’s a whole bag in itself. Isn’t that fantastic?”

Jonas: “I don’t think the last reel was a waste.”

Henry to John: “I think it’s too playful.”

Jonas: “Tell me something about the Empire State Building.”

Andy Warhol: “No matter how the visitor comes to New York…by land, by sea, or by air…one of the first landmarks he can see is the Empire State Building soaring more than a quarter of a mile into the sky above Manhattan. The tallest building every erected by man…1472 feet or 448 meters…this towering achievement is a magnet which attracts people from every corner of the earth to marvel at its beauty and the breath-taking glory of the view of the world’s greatest city.”

Jonas: “How is the building’s tower lighted?”

Andy Warhol: “Empire State Tower is bathed in light from dusk until midnight — more than 125,000,000 beam candle-power shines on top of the world’s tallest building.”

Andy Warhol: “Each year the Empire State Building plays host to many Heads of State and other dignitaries and celebrities. Had you been here on the right days in the past, you might have seen Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of England, or the King and Queen of Thailand, or the Princesses Birgitta and Desiree of Sweden, or Queen Frederika of Greece, or even your favorite movie actor.”

Jonas: “What do people think about this building?”

Andy Warhol: “Empire State…one of USA’s seven engineering wonders” — Time Magazine; “The unbelievable Empire State Building — Reader’s Digest; “…see New York from the top of Empire State. There’s nothing like it” — Dorothy Kilgallen; “From Empire State you can see 50 miles” — Allentown Sunday Call Chronicle; “No visitor should miss Empire State” — New York Times; “Empire State’s view is breathtaking” — Britain’s Queen Mother; “New York’s most visited building” — NBC.

Jonas (to the readers): Andy Warhol’s next film will be “Warhol Bible” — a film version of the Old and New Testaments. The complete version of “Warhol Bible” will run 30 days.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]