Out of the Vault
The Warhol and collaborators are once again setting Andy to music, this time revealing 15 never-before-seen early films.
One day in 1964, literary icons Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg sat on a couch in Andy Warhol’s studio. Among friends, they flipped through books and newspapers, talked, and drank. Gregory Corso was also there, the youngest of the Beat Generation’s inner circle. When underground film actor and poet Taylor Mead walked in, he began mugging, making faces, and standing on his head. Kerouac played with Mead’s necktie. Warhol, using five 100- foot rolls of film and his very first camera, documented it all in a short film titled Allen.
Clockwise from top: Andy Warhol, Me and Taylor, 1963; Paraphernalia, 1966; Screen Test: Marcel Duchamp and Benedetta Barzini [ST 81], 1966; Bob Indiana Etc., 1963, © 2014 The Andy Warhol Museum. All rights reserved
“It’s going to be a shock for people to see that this even exists,” says Dean Wareham, founder of the famed indie band Galaxie 500 and guest music curator for Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films. Part of The Andy Warhol Museum’s 20th anniversary celebration, Exposed presents 15 never-before-seen Warhol films set to live music. A partnership between The Warhol, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, Exposed will premiere at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall on October 17 and then travel to UCLA on October 24 and BAM’s Next Wave Festival on November 6-8.
The project was born from the success of 13 Most Beautiful…Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, co-commissioned in 2008 by The Warhol with The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Wareham and his wife Britta Phillips composed a song for each of the 13 Screen Tests. During live performances, their band Dean & Britta played in harmony with the four-minute projected close-ups of Nico, Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed, and Edie Sedgwick, among others. The show got lots of press and the project gained momentum. What began as a short-run series became a domestic and international tour of 85 dates over five years, attended by the likes of Lou Reed himself.
“We found that there was an appetite for Warhol film in a performance mode,” says Harrison, curator of performing arts and public programs at The Warhol. “We knew there was something else to explore.”
The films in Exposed, all created between 1963 and 1966, include some of the earliest Warhol made as he began to explore a new medium. “There’s a lot of scholarly writing to happen about these films, but it just hasn’t happened yet,” says Harrison. The footage— filmed at 24 frames per second and projected at nearly two-thirds the speed—is among the first in a massive digitization project that will change the way Warhol’s lesser-known work as a filmmaker is presented to the public.
In the spring of 2013, Geralyn Huxley and Greg Pierce, The Warhol’s curator and assistant curator of film and video, sat in the film archive bulding of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) near the rural town of Hamlin in northeastern Pennsylvania. It houses some 1,000 reels of original Warhol film, organized in a database and held in cold storage. Huxley and Pierce requested a list of 125 titles, which an attendant wheeled out to them on a cart. Using a flatbed editor, a machine that looks similar to a microfilm reader, they watched footage that, with the exception of a handful of researchers, no one had seen before. “It was thrilling!” Huxley recalls. “It was a pleasure, and a great learning experience,” says Pierce.
“I think all of Warhol’s films are humanizing,” notes Huxley. “Compared to his art, you see real people moving.”
Created at the tail end of Hollywood’s classic era, Warhol’s films were part of an avant-garde movement in New York in the 1960s. Many of his early works were minimal, shot with a fixed camera on a tripod for a certain period of time. He’d turn on the camera and let it roll. “He wanted to show life without the edits,” Huxley says.
“We found that there was an appetite for Warhol film in a performance mode. We knew there was something else to explore.”
- Ben Harrison, curator of performing arts and public programs
In Exposed, each film lasts for approximately four minutes. Ten of the films are black and white, and five are in rich, saturated color. Several “new” Screen Tests are included. Although the films’ backgrounds— settings like Warhol’s studio, the Factory, and the Connecticut summer home of one of Warhol’s gallerists—may not be humble, Warhol’s portrayal of his iconic friends is more human, more relatable, than in his later work, says Huxley. Warhol’s boyfriend, John Giorno, washes the dishes nearly nude. Feminist writer and critic Jill Johnston performs an impromptu dance outside of someone’s home. Artist Marcel Duchamp flirts with model Benedetta Barzini.
From the original list of 125, Huxley and Pierce chose 30 to discuss with Harrison and Wareham as possibilities for Exposed. Watched on laptops via a password-protected server, these films were among the first in the MoMA archive to be digitized through a partnership between The Warhol, MoMA, and Motion Picture Company, a global leader in visual effects and a Technicolor company. The larger digitization project will make accessible approximately 500 titles made by Warhol between 1963 and 1972. The 16mm films will be scanned, frame-byframe, and converted into high-resolution images. As they are digitized, the films will be considered for The Warhol’s new on-demand touch-screen gallery. “It will be great,” says Huxley. “The project is realizing my dream to get the material out there.”
For his part of the project, Wareham selected a group of five musicians, himself included, to compose songs for three films each. “I suggested people who I would want to go see,” he says. With diverse influences ranging from the 1960s to today, the first four musicians he approached said yes.
There’s Tom Verlaine of the band Television, a key figure in the 1970s New York punk scene; electropunk keyboardist and composer Martin Rev, who co-founded the band Suicide; Eleanor Friedberger, the vocalist of the brother-sister indie-pop duo The Fiery Furnaces; and Bradford Cox, ambient music producer and singer for the indie-rock band Deerhunter. In terms of direction, Wareham has given them relatively little. “I respect them too much to do that,” he says.
With minimal lighting and stage design, the final performance will place equal weight on film and song. For Dean, however, the music is created in service of the visual. On his laptop, he presses play. He sees the model Susan Bottomly, a Warhol superstar widely known as International Velvet, playing with a whip at the New York fashion store, Paraphernalia.
He tries to imagine what music she was hearing. He plucks a few strings on his electric guitar. Experimenting with how to deepen a mood and create dialogue between two mediums, he reimagines the passage, rewinds, and pushes play again.