Andy Warhol Made Hundreds of Movies During His Career. Here Are the 9 That Changed Film History
The artist may have been known for his famous soup cans, but Warhol was a voracious filmmaker, too.
In June 1963, Andy Warhol bought a 16mm Bolex camera from a store on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, and within a month he started making movies. It was a time of tremendous productivity—a year prior he first exhibited his serialized his now-famous Campbell’s soup cans and began silkscreening; six months later he would move his studio to the first location of the Factory. Film soon became a primary fixture of his frenzied practice. Over the next five years, the artist produced hundreds of movies, varying in length from a few minutes to multiple hours. To date, only a small selection of them have been released.
When Warhol began screening his films in 1964, it was a “sudden shock-blow to the aesthetics of the avant-garde film,” according to film historian P. Adams Sitney. Warhol both engaged with the experimental films of the period and lightly mocked them, pushing ideas of taste to their limits. Movies that were already long were made longer by projecting them at a slower speed; drugs, sex, and violence lingered just outside, and later squarely within, the frame. From the beginning, his films expressed a dual interest in commercial filmmaking and the avant-garde, and his influence has now expanded into both genres. Below are 9 Warhol films that serve as a collective ground zero for the artist’s enduring reach in moviemaking.
1. Sleep, 1963
One of the first things Warhol filmed with his new 16mm camera was this just under five-and-a-half-hour film of the poet John Giorno sleeping in the nude. Like many of his early silent films, Sleep takes a basic function—others included Kiss, Eat, and Haircut—and stretches it out to mimic watching in real time. That it was boring was the point. Warhol himself, in his memoir POPism, talks about walking out of the film when it first screened after a few minutes.
2. Empire, 1964
The pinnacle of Warhol’s durational experiments, Empire is an eight-hour static view of the Empire State Building with very little change. The effect is of delayed satisfaction, the process of waiting, and waiting some more, replaces the traditional viewing experience. In the end, nothing happens. It’s hard to imagine more recent time-based works such as Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho and Christian Marclay’s The Clock existing without Warhol’s magnum opus.
3. Screen Tests, 1964–1966
The longest film project Warhol worked on was the series of Screen Tests he made of various artists, celebrities, collaborators, or whoever happened to walk in the door of his studio. In front of the camera, the subject was told to sit still, not blink; often they disobeyed. Together, the series serves as a kind of mission statement—a celebration of the destruction of high-low hierarchies, placing Susan Sontag next to Edie Sedgwick, Duchamp next to Taylor Mead.
4. Vinyl, 1965
A condensed adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, predating Stanley Kubrick’s version by six years, this marked the beginning of a move toward scripted films—via a collaboration with playwright Ronald Tavel—and a greater use of Warhol’s growing entourage. There’s also an amplification of chaos, with an uneasy slippage between real and fake violence. Gerard Malanga, his assistant, played the lead role, which mostly consisted of getting tortured on camera, but Edie Sedgwick who commands attention, demurely posing at the side of the screen for the duration.
5. Poor Little Rich Girl, 1965
Sedgwick, a fashion model and actress, would soon become a primary feature of some of Warhol’s films. But it’s this portrait, shot in her apartment, that best captures her attraction. The closest Warhol ever came to a traditional documentary, the camera watches Sedgwick as she dresses, exercises in bed, and smokes. The first half of the film is deliberately out of focus, a buffer to the implied intimacy. When it does snap into focus in the second half, she does her best to elude the camera, confused or too stoned to be manipulated by voices directing her off-screen.
6. Outer and Inner Space, 1965
Warhol’s first work of expanded cinema and his first use of video, this double-screen portrait of Sedgwick marked another turning point. Using video’s capabilities to multiply and layer images, he presents the actress in a conversation with herself, a mock interview. This experiment would be one of the last films to feature the actress, and directly lead to Warhol’s live projections for The Velvet Underground and later his most successful film, the double-screen epic Chelsea Girls.
7. Chelsea Girls, 1966
The one that broke it all open. Warhol’s portrait of the goings-on in various rooms at the Chelsea Hotel—some of which was actually filmed elsewhere—consists, in its original form, of two movies, projected simultaneously next to each other with the sound alternating. Here you find the apotheosis of Warhol’s moving-image work to date: portraiture, duration, fiction blending into frightening reality. It became a sensation on the underground circuit and would push Warhol, with the help of new collaborators, to attempt to replicate its success with varying results.
8. Lonesome Cowboys, 1968
In the late 1960s, Warhol began to transition to what is commonly called his “sexploitation” period. Lonesome Cowboys, a campy western where all the characters are trying to sleep with one another, appears to be filmed on an abandoned Hollywood set. The scenes are frantic, with little sense of succession, built around improvised or half-acted scenes. It introduces a style that would be explored further in the next decade and anticipates the early work of John Waters.
9. Blue Movie (Fuck), 1969
Filmed four months after Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanas, Blue Movie is commonly thought of as the final film the artist made. His subsequent works, including a string of films with higher production values, such as Flesh, Trash, and Heat, were produced by Warhol and directed by Paul Morrissey. Despite the implications of its extended, parenthetical title, the film is more conversational than sexual. It’s also the most directly political film Warhol made, including discussion of Vietnam and Richard Nixon. With most of the action taking place in bed, it’s also the perfect endpoint of his film career, coming around full circle to Sleep.
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