EXPOSED: SONGS FOR UNSEEN WARHOL FILMS
I went to see this program of short films by Andy Warhol at BAM on 11/7/14. These were films that had never been screened in public, and BAM made it even more festive by bringing in five musicians to do live music.
When I say short films, I mean short - - they were all under five minutes. One of Warhol’s standard techniques was to film something for 2.5 minutes and then show it in slow motion, so it would be 4 minutes long. Strangely enough, it doesn’t seem like slow motion, it just seems kinda dreamy.
Each musician did three films, fifteen films total. I’ll start each set with the name of the musician.
Tom Verlaine - - he’s the guitarist from the seminal punk band Television. He played solo electric guitar for the films.
“John Washing” (1963)
This film showed Warhol’s boyfriend John Giorno washing the dishes. In the nude. You couldn’t see his junk, you could see just the top of his backside. The film was sweet and tender, and Verlaine’s score was delicate and intimate. It didn’t just accompany the film - - it illuminated it. One of the highlights of the evening.
Dancer (and later lesbian separatist) Jill Johnston dancing around in the out-of-doors with a rifle. The rifle, at first, had a sense of menace, but by the end of four minutes it was just a prop. Maybe it’s the way she was handling it. Verlaine’s score was like a typical film score, let’s say an indie film - - it had more forward movement, more of a sense of direction than the score for the previous film.
“Bob Indiana, etc” (1963)
The word “warmth” doesn’t come to mind when you think of Warhol, but this film had such warmth. For one thing, it was in color, gorgeous depth of color. The two of them were shown hanging around someone’s yard with a few other people. Bob Indiana (the artist who made the 1973 LOVE stamp) was a real looker, ditto Marisol, who appeared in another film, later in the program. Verlaine’s score was very sweet.
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Martin Rev - - co-founder of the electronic group Suicide. He stood at an electric keyboard, played a pre-recorded track, and seemingly slapped at the keyboard. Great energy.
Another of my favorites. A young blond guy drinking a huge bottle of Coca-Cola. The film was defiantly NOT in slow motion, it was often sped up, and the camera movement was jerky with lots of splicing. The guy was built like crazy and shirtless, naturally. He had a sharp adam’s apple, which bobbed up and down as he drank. The score was pulsating and was an amusing counterpoint to the film. I giggled.
Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and a handful of other weirdos hanging around on the couch at The Factory. Smoking, naturally. Rev used a riff from “Ladies Night” by Kool and the Gang. I tapped my foot, bobbed my head, rolled my shoulders.
“Jack Cigarette” (1964)
The great Jack Smith (downtown performance artist) smoking up a storm, like cigarettes are going off the market next week. Also wearing massive amounts of guy liner. Beverly Grant in the background, looking a lot like two-time Tony winner Donna Murphy. Also smoking, but not with the same vehemence as Smith. Rev used a riff from “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps, one of the greatest songs ever! More bobbing of the head and rolling of the shoulders.
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Eleanor Friedberger - - of The Fiery Furnaces. She performed with the in-house backup trio: Noah Hecht on drums, Britta Phillips on bass, keyboards, and vocals, and Jason Quever on guitar and keyboards. Her songs were sort of ordinary pop songs that went well with the films.
“Screen Test: Donovan” (1966)
Warhol filmed nearly 500 “screen tests” - - he told the subject to sit down and look into the camera and not move. They didn’t usually do what they were told. Donovan - - what a cutie he was! Such sweet eyes, fabulous dark curly hair, and a marvo velvet jacket. Richard says that I have big teeth, but sweet Jesus, this guy’s teeth are unreal. They’re so huge it appears there are only six or eight of them in his whole mouth.
“Marisol – Stop Motion” (1963)
Friedberger introduced each of her films, and she said that Warhol called Marisol “the first girl artist with glamour.” She was a pretty glamorous gal! Fabulous head of black hair, a cool Latina beauty. The film showed her interacting with her own sculptures, which are mostly of her. Cute shots of her walking around in her cute little black boots (with a kitten heel).
“Screen Test: Edie Sedgwick” (1965)
Edie, such a sad story. This film was infused with my knowledge of what happened to her.
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Dean Wareham - - a singer/guitarist from New Zealand, has lived in NYC since 1977. He and his wife Britta Phillips (from the backup band) having been touring for six years doing *13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests*. He was the host for the show, and chose the other four musicians. His scores were pop instrumentals, worked well with the films - - more interesting, as music, than the Friedberger songs. He performed with the backup trio.
Paraphernalia was a boutique in Manhattan that featured designs by Betsey Johnson, who was just starting out. The film was done at the opening of the boutique - - Warhol superstar International Velvet (aka Susan Bottomly) vamps it up, wearing a sequined mini dress and enormous sequined ball earrings. She also handles a whip, maybe a bit too coyly.
Antoine was a French folk singer, Nico was a German actress who sang with the Velvet Underground. The film shows them sitting in front of the Warhol banana print that was used for the Velvet Underground’s first album. Their only album? Antoine and Nico are eating bananas. Is that her real hair color? It’s a saturated shade of blonde, I’m not sure I’ve seen that on an adult. Those are not her real eyelashes, that’s fer damn sure.
“Kiss the Boot” (1966)
Mary Woronov (who went on to star in *Eating Raoul*) sits in a chair, one leg draped over the arm of the chair, the other foot on the floor. She’s wearing leather boots. Gerard Malanga lies on the floor, face down, his face in the boot. The foot dangling over the arm of the chair eventually ends up on his back, then on the back of his neck. Him: transcendent. Her: distant disdain.
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Bradford Cox - - leader of the avant garde garage band Deerhunter. He played alone, his music was abstract electronica, and made no impression on me at all.
“Screen Test: Marcel Duchamp and Benedetta Barzini” (1966)
Duchamp is one of the greats of modern art. Barzini was a model when the film was made, but later became a Marxist and radical feminist organizer in Milan. She wears a zebra-print gown in the film and is beauty personified. Duchamp is amused. Barzini is amusing.
“Mario Montez and Boy” (1965)
Mario Montez and Richard Schmidt are shown making out and eating a hamburger. Montez is wearing a red Susan Hayward wig, lots of light blue eye shadow, a plastic necklace, a silky dress, and white polyester opera gloves. Schmidt is wearing a black shirt and seemingly no makeup. I kept looking at Montez and thinking, “Who does she look like, who does she look like?” Then I figured it out: she’s a dead ringer for America’s Soprano, Renee Fleming! But the making out and the hamburger are the real stars of the movie. The two of them kiss, take a bite of the hamburger, and then really go at it, kissing and chewing and kissing and chewing. I found it gross, but they seemed to find the experience highly erotic. Maybe it was all for the camera. Either way, why not?
“Me and Taylor” (1963)
How sweet that they ended the program with a film that shows Andy himself onscreen. I’ve read his 800-page diary three times, so I think that gives me the right to call him Andy, right? But then I always call Diana Vreeland “Mrs. Vreeland” - - mostly because that’s what Andy called her. But I digress. Andy is young and cute in this movie, and appears to have his own hair. Taylor Mead is a wacky friend of his, a Vincent Minnelli look-alike. Mead goofed around, Andy assisted a bit here and there.
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My conclusion: the music was variable. Verlaine and Rev were the best by far, and could not have been more different. The star of the show was Warhol - - all 15 films were brilliant.