The following comments are based on viewing Raro Video's recent Andy Warhol Anthology, but I decided to use this thread for the discussion since this is more about the films than the discs and I was hoping to restart a discussion about the entirety of Warhol's filmmaking, not just the films in the box set. Prior to receiving the set I'd seen plenty of Morrissey's films, but the only authentic Wathol I'd seen was Bike Boy.
The box set includes eleven films on eight discs (4 singles, 2 doubles). They're all available individually as well, to the best of my knowledge (though the box set is a much better deal, and might still be available at an even bigger discount). All of the discs include extras in the form of interviews with academics, participants or hangers-on. Jonas Mekas' Scenes from the Life of Andy Warhol is an extra on the Chelsea Girls bonus disc (plus there's a lovely interview with Mekas conducted by Paul Morrissey). All Italian extras have English subtitles. Some of the features have the option of Italian dubs, if anyone is interested. Raro does some of the best booklets in the business, and four of the six come with hefty squarebound books of sixty or so pages, half Italian, half English, including detailed analyses of the films, interviews, reminiscences, contemporary reviews, photos, etc. The box itself has a four page brochure slipped in (the flimsiest documentation in the set).
The discs are:
Four Silent Movies (Kiss / Blow Job / Empire / Mario Banana)
Vinyl / The Velvet Underground and Nico
My Hustler / I, a Man (double-disc)
The Chelsea Girls (double-disc)
The Nude Restaurant
Four Silent Movies
With the inclusion of a sampling of some of Warhol's earliest and most austere films, the box does give a decent overview of his filmmaking practice. These are hardcore experimental films for the serious scholar, and, for me, had more in common with Warhol's best-known graphic art than with the later films. With the exception of Kiss, which takes the form of variations on a theme, each of these films is a single set-up, long-held view of a more or less 'iconic' subject.
Empire goes so far into the iconic that it becomes abstract, and alarmingly quickly, at that. What's on the disc is obviously not the full eight-hour epic, but a sixty-minute extract. It's taken from the middle of the night, so the building is just a pattern of lights in a field of black. Although the composition is static, the image is far from it. Within the first minute of viewing, it's the filmic 'flaws' that become the foreground: print damage, miniscule reframings, solarization, flicker: the field of the screen is constantly active. The image becomes everything which our eye and brain normally filter out as 'non-image', so there's an affinity with Brakhage here. More purely Warholian is the film's concern with the inherent flaws of mechanical reproduction and the withering gaze at heroic subjects. An eight hour hard-on, indeed.
Blow-Job applies something of the same technique to a human subject, and, more to the point, an event, but the effect is quite different. Here, the long gaze is accumulated through a sequence of near-identical three-minute shots, complete with flares and flashes at the top and tail of each reel. These artifacts (and the same applies to Kiss) sometimes seem like an abstracted representation of the passion / emotion that is largely absent from the screen. For me, this is a film about performance, even about bad performance. It's a head-and-shoulders shot of a guy apparently enjoying the titular titillation - but without the title (which is reported and extra-filmic), how would we read his gurns and grimaces? And would we read the series of repetitive reels (the actor has a comically limited range and there seems to be no attempt at 'development') as linear (i.e. a gradual movement towards climax) or as multiple takes of the same 'performance'? The obsessive focus on the poor guy's performance, every nuance of which comes and goes innumerable times, ultimately renders him as expressive as the Empire State. Pointers to the future: the scanty mise-en-scene (his leather jacket, the brick wall) alludes to a narrative context, making this a (vestigial) fiction rather than a documentary.
Kiss is an impressive series of kisses (multi-gender, in various framings and conducted with various degrees of enthusiam), each one occupying a three-minute reel. Warhol's later film work would be preoccupied with social interaction (specifially within his coterie), so, of the films on this disc, this is the one that has the closest connection to the rest of the box set.
Both Kiss and Blow-Job are mastered at the wrong speed (25 fps instead of silent speed 16 fps). The accompanying booklet indicates that this is how the films were supplied by the Warhol Foundation and also gripes about their cropping. I'm sure this makes a crucial difference to the viewing experience, as the slower speed (which should also place us at the horizon of perceptible flicker) would act as a further distanciation technique (silence is already operating as a powerful one) and render the actions in both films much less naturalistic.
Mario Banana - A sweet camp prank in two versions, colour and black and white, both a single three minute reel of Mario salaciously devouring a banana. The washed-out black and white has an eerie Sternbergian glamour that I particularly like.
Vinyl / VU
Vinyl - A feature-length adaptation of A Clockwork Orange covered from a single camera set-up in three or four shots. The camera is viewing the proceedings from a slightly elevated position, and I find the master composition rock-solid and compelling. The screen is crammed with detail (there are about half a dozen actors on screen much of the time, generally in their own worlds), so when the main action slackens (which it does, often - the conventional narrative stuff is radically unsatisfying in conventional narrative terms) you find yourself drawn to the goings-on in a different corner of the screen. Down-market Bosch? Gerard Malanga as Victor (ne Alex) delivers a dramatic performance of staggering awfulness (and that is definitely part of the point), but looks pretty cool go-go dancing to Martha and the Vandellas ("you sure don't look like Martha and the Vandellas", to quote the VU). Actually, this film probably offers the best evidence I've ever seen of the rock-solid brilliance of a Motown mono mix: even with the rudimentary sound recording of this film, Nowhere to Run sounds like a million bucks. In the lower right, a completely irrelevant Edie Sedgwick steals the show. I should leave the last word to Victor: "Where did they make such a flicker? I did not know such films existed!"
The Velvet Underground and Nico - Again, this is for the most part a single camera set-up, but in front of the camera is the VU in action, for about an hour (an exploratory, Melody Laughter-style improvisation). This is thus an essential document, but what's visually interesting about it is that, again, Warhol has composed a beautiful master shot with art historical significance (we glimpse it briefly near the beginning: it's Nico in the centre with her son Ari at her feet, the VU circled around her - yep, it's a profane nativity), but this time he radically fragments the composition through manic tilts, pans, zooms, loss of focus - basically any kind of movement / change that can be accomplished from a fixed camera position. I don't think we ever see the master composition again. Instead, we explore it at an atomic level, blowing it up into dozens of specific close-ups (not all of telling details), smearing it, shaking it, smothering it in darkness, blasting it with bleaching light. Eventually, the police arrive to break the scene up.
to be continued
Last edited by zedz
on Tue Jun 24, 2008 5:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.