Andy Warhol

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David Denby

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The dramatic action of [Viva and Louis, also known as Blue Movie and Fuck] consists of the two characters struggling to find enough to say and do to fill up the time it takes for the film to pass through the camera. (p. 42)

Several shots have been lyrically "composed" in silhouette, and something approaching a rhythm, or at least a punctuation, has been established by alternating long static takes in the classic manner and machine-gun clusters of frames…. The scene in which Viva and Louis screw (from start to finish) has been deliberately overexposed, and the unfiltered daylight floods in on the sheets, the air, and the interlocked bodies, changing them all into a heavenly pale blue—copulating cherubs, lit by Hallmark cards. (pp. 42-3)

Warhol has produced a scene of sexual intercourse that is [totally] cold…. Of course love or feeling of any kind is Warhol's greatest enemy, and by no stretch of anyone's imagination could Louis and Viva's making it together be called the result of passion. (How could Warhol's people experience "passion"? They do maintain a certain disinterested tenderness for each other, though.) It's plain old screwing, and a pretty lowkey performance all around. Norman Mailer has expressed his uneasiness about actors actually fornicating on camera, on the grounds that such deep personal engagement, dedicated to creating art, would tend to debase personal engagement and the sexual act itself. I think I understand what he means, but the problem just doesn't arise here. The act is technically complete, but not much happens; there's no intimacy, no lust, no climax, and no satisfaction. The act hasn't been debased because it hasn't been fully represented; and it probably can't be fully represented, thank heaven, because the presence of the camera destroys nearly everything that makes sex a different experience than eating or taking a bath….

Is it pornographic, then? Yes, by most legal definitions. But subjectively, it's not pornographic. It's lewd, and rather cold, and quite dull, but it has nothing of the solemn, impacted, fantasy quality of movie pornography….

We may live our lives in constant reference to movie stars and talk about them in the most familiar terms. But as long as they are actors, as long as they are playing roles and trying to create illusions of some sort, there is a measure of respect, of reserve, and distance in our relations with them. In Warhol's documentaries, however, the people are always playing themselves, and because of this and what they do (taking off all their clothes), the saving distance is annihilated, we are brought disastrously close, and we can only respond with the full cruelty of personal evaluation. We judge their intelligence, their imagination, their sexuality, their nakedness, and so on. (p. 43)

Warhol's output is of no value, but great interest. This paradox might be resolved by reminding the reader of Warhol's dubious relation to an important aspect of modern culture. An earlier generation of dadaist creators announced its blasphemies and negation in a series of furious manifestos. Warhol publishes no manifestos. In fact, he doesn't think of his output as a negation at all: he's just doing what he knows best and what comes easiest. He's not reacting against anything. (p. 44)

David Denby, "Reviews: 'Viva and Louis'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1969 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXIII, No. 1, Fall, 1969, pp. 41-4.

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