Andy Warhol

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Andrew M. Lugg

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 642

[Warhol's] early "epic" films are similar in many respects to the paintings. There is not much difference between a man sleeping—Sleep (1964) and a corpse. Neither even requires much manipulation to translate it into an artifact. In Sleep, which is more of a record than anything else, the "cinema" element is almost irrelevant. It simply provides an environment for the event.

Empire came shortly after Sleep. Differing from the earlier film, it is not completely descriptive. The daytime sequence is hurried along, compressed, to give the main focus of the record, the coming of night, more emphasis. Here, Warhol shows that he is willing to interfere with the natural order of things. Whereas in the paintings he seemingly strived to present the total event, in Empire he selected, albeit "marginally", parts of the event for display. This interference might be dismissed as trivial if it were not for the earlier work. Empire points to future developments. During the switch, [from painting to film-making], two new elements crop up in Warhol's work. Instead of beginning with the ikon, the well-known, and proceeding to the ordinary, he started with the unknown and built this into an ikon, a symbol, which later may be identified with the notion of a "superstar." That is, he no longer showed how a single possibility produces many alternatives, but how, starting from a many-faceted situation, a single "point" event can be refined. (pp. 12-13)

Second, and this is not unrelated to the first point, Warhol makes us aware of his own point of view. You do not have to know much about film-making to know exactly where the camera was placed.

What do these two elements signify? If editing is defined as the cutting away of parts of the whole, then Warhol was no longer an editor; he had become an assembler. Perhaps this is the fundamental difference between sub-division and gathering….

In The Life of Juanita Castro (1965), Warhol shows us a "family portrait" of the Castro family. As usual in Warhol's films of this "era", the camera is stationary throughout the full 70 minutes and the actors perform within this portrait space. A few months later, Vinyl was made, but this time the camera is moved considerably between the two reels. Now, it would not be true to say that this film marks the point at which Warhol starts to move around. Even before The Life of Juanita Castro, he had finished Camp, a film resplendent with bad camera work. Nevertheless, Vinyl is the first indication that his "portraits" are to become more mobile; that direct representation will give away to a "theatre" with a variable point of view; that artificially imposed by the milieu, by the actors. Instead of staying on the outside, Warhol attempts to take the outside and put it on the inside or to take the inside and put it on the outside.

Sleep and Empire are films made with one eye shut. In this respect, they are like the "110 Coca Cola Bottles." Since [then], his development has been in terms of moving nearer (My Hustler—the zoom), moving across (The Chelsea Girls—the pan), moving around (Bike Boy—editing). ∗∗∗∗ is the work of a mobile film-maker, with both eyes open. Gradually, a complex cinematic rhetoric is being put together. Each film relates to the previous one, yet each film extends the previously laid down vocabulary.

As for the switch: it is the product of a peculiar sensibility. Frustrated by editing, Warhol made the choice to construct "mystery" from surfaces rather than to pare away the mystery to reveal the surface. But, in spite of all this, a concern for the things themselves and for an objective representation of these, untouched by personal fancy, still remains. (p. 13)

Andrew M. Lugg, "On Andy Warhol," in Cinéaste (copyright © 1968 by Gary Crowdus). Vol. 1, No. 3, Winter, 1967–68, pp. 9-13.

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