The film world last week lost a great historian, an irreplaceable resource, and, for many, a cherished colleague with the sudden, untimely passing of Callie Angell. A woman of considerable intelligence, passionate dedication, fierce integrity, and wry humor, Callie devoted her life to avant-garde cinema in general and the preservation of Andy Warhol’s films in particular.
When I first met her in the early ’70s, Callie was a librarian at the newly created Anthology Film Archives, then housed at Public Theater. For much of the ’80s, she served as film curator John Hanhardt’s assistant at the Whitney Museum and, in the early ’90s, returned to the Whitney to oversee the cataloguing and restoration of the vast, largely uncharted film oeuvre that Warhol had bequeathed the Whitney shortly before his death.
For nearly 20 years Callie worked on the Warhol project — sorting, screening, interviewing, retrieving, restoring, describing, annotating, and cataloguing.
The world authority on Warhol’s cinema, she created a coherent body of work out of his hundreds of 100-foot “screen tests” and reconstructed the double-screen, film-video Edie Sedgwick portrait, Outer and Inner Space. It’s possible that no one before Callie actually watched all of Warhol’s eight-hour Empire; certainly, no one had ever commented on the reel changes within the movie in which one can briefly see Warhol and Jonas Mekas reflected in window through which the eponymous skyscraper is filmed. At the time of her death, she was completing the second volume of Warhol’s cinematic catalogue raisonné. The first volume, Andy Warhol Screen Tests, was published in 2006.
Callie’s massive scholarship was tinged with irony — she was only too aware of the absurdity of tracking down and fixing the facts behind each spontaneous, if not haphazard, Warholian moment. At the same time, she was what the Brits used to call a “brick.” For all the impossible bureaucracies and difficult personalities with whom she had to deal, her enthusiasm never seemed to flag. Her love for the material was unconditional; although she never doubted the significance of what she was doing, she was, in the best sense, disinterested — that is, she was utterly scrupulous in placing historical verity above personal gain or institutional turf. She was also generous: When it seemed as though the Whitney was going to acquire the Jack Smith estate, she turned her good-natured savvy and formidable organizational skills towards creating an inventory of another chaotic oeuvre.
Born into a literary family, daughter of Roger Angell and step granddaughter of E.B. White, Callie was herself a wonderful writer. However exemplary it is as a catalogue raisonné, Screen Tests is also more. In her understated way, Callie used Warhol’s portraits to orchestrate a social history of the mid ’60s art world, just as Vladimir Nabokov constructed a novel from the annotated poem in Pale Fire. Her book was, in its own right, a work of art; for me the shock and sadness of her loss is compounded by the knowledge that she did not live to finish the sequel.
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