As Art Basel Miami Beach looms, the Miami Beach Cinematheque is cuing up the films of one of the 20th Century's greatest, most iconic artists: Andy Warhol. The retrospective "Warhol's Silver Screen/Silver Factory" began this month.
The films, dating from 1964-66, all explore famous starlets of a by-gone era and their scandals, from shoplifting to suicide, recreated by Factory luminaries such as Edie Sedgwick, Billy Name, and the Velvet Underground. You may have already seen or missed Harlot (1964), an interpretation of Jean Harlow's story with Mario Montez playing the actress improvising to off-screen narrators and climaxing in "a frenzy of banana erotics and a burst of Swan Lake."
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The retrospective continues with three other films, Lupe (1965), More Milk Yvette (1965), and Hedy (1966). Of significance is Lupe because it will be screened during Basel, on December 4, in its original intended screening format: two 16mm projectors playing two reels of film simultaneously, projecting dual images. But before the films continue, the Cinematheque will host a panel discussion with notable experts on the films of Andy Warhol: experimental and feature filmmaker/producer Tom Kalin (Swoon, Savage Grace and I Shot Andy Warhol [producer]) and Claire K. Henry, Senior Curatorial Assistant and project manager of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The discussion will be hosted by Miami culture/music/film critic Alfred Soto.
The films in the retrospective are from the Collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA., a museum of Carnegie Institute.
As part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-supported "Speaking In Cinema" series, the discussion should be as interesting as any of the films. Cultist caught up with Kalin and Henry via email ahead of their visit to Miami Beach for the panel discussion, which will also feature clips selected from the films.
New Times: What do you think is a common misconception about Warhol the filmmaker?
Claire K. Henry: The most common misconception about Warhol's filmmaking is that it is static, minimalist, entirely in black-and-white, and boring. While it is true that his films such as Empire and Sleep have long running times and are devoted to a single subject (the Empire State Building and a man sleeping, respectively), across the body of his work as a whole, there is tremendous variety, camera movement, color and (in-camera) editing. Already in the first weeks of his filmmaking in July 1963, Warhol is shooting in color, utilizing in-camera edits, and moving the camera in a sophisticated fashion.
Tom Kalin: That his work is all the same or that it's dull. Warhol's films explore a lot of territory, actually, and are rewarding viewing. Funny, sexy, intimate, boring, scary -- real. Like life.
I've now seen dozens of his films and still have only seen a tiny portion of this little known body of work. Because Warhol withdrew his films from circulation, he increased the mystery of the films but also the misconceptions. They mostly lived on in rumor or bootlegged 16mm copies during the '70s. I first saw a really crappy print of Vinyl sometime around 1980. It wasn't until the late 1980s that I saw films like Kiss or Blow Job.
What do his films mean to you?
Henry: What I find fascinating about Warhol's films -- especially when you spend as much time with them as I do -- is that you can actually see and experience Warhol's thinking when you view them. It's an experience in itself to witness the aesthetic and technical decisions he is making, or not making, and to examine the product of those decisions. When considering his film work together with his painting work, one can then find instances of the cross-over of these sorts of decisions -- subject matter, use of positive and negative space, allowing the particular medium to assert itself, etc. It becomes apparent that one cannot separate his film work from his work in other media: They are intricately linked.
Kalin: My first feature Swoon was very influenced by Warhol -- in its visual style, in its close gaze on small daily gestures or objects, on its love of watching people sleeping or kissing, among other things. And as a member of the AIDS activist collective Gran Fury, I can certainly say that his film Kiss played a part in one of our most famous projects, Kissing Doesn't Kill.
Of the Warhol films showing at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, is there one film people need to see and why?
Henry: All four are terrific films, but if I had to appoint one my favorite, it would be Hedy. Hedy was made in early 1966 after Hedy Lamarr's arrest for shoplifting was splattered all over the tabloid and mainstream newspapers. It stars the legendary drag performer Mario Montez as the titular character and features a soundtrack by the Velvet Underground, who played off-screen live during the filming. Hedy is a technically complex film in which Warhol utilizes sophisticated formal compositions and camera technique (zooms, pans, throbbing focus pulls) to create tension in the narrative and in the mise-en-scène.
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Kalin: My personal favorite of the four in this group is Hedy. It has an amazing narrative and it's perfectly cast. Mario Montez is sharp, funny and beautiful as Hedy and the ensemble cast indelible. I love the way Andy photographed and staged the film, using an old furniture store above the Factory as the set. And there's an electrified live score by The Velvet Underground that comments and sometimes competes with the action.
On Thursday, November 20, at 7 p.m., Tom Kalin will join Claire K. Henry and Alfred Soto panel "Speaking In Cinema" to discuss the film. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. "Warhol's Silver Screen/Silver Factory" continues through December 18 at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. Visit mbcinema.com for screening dates and times.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.