Andy Warhol

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John Russell Taylor

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 619

The essence of Warhol's art—and by extension that of the Factory he heads—is the straight look at things as they are, and acceptance of appearances as an important part, perhaps the most important part, of the truth. It is the same whether the object is a Campbell's Soup can or the Empire State Building or some people just living, just talking, just being in front of the camera. And if what people are is what they appear to be, what they appear to be is very importantly what they think they are, what they want to be thought….

We all define ourselves to some extent according to our own fantasies; the only difference with Warhol's drag ladies is that the discrepancy between the fantasy and the visible reality is likely to be more evident…. The point about My Hustler or Bike Boy or The Chelsea Girls, is that everything is taken on trust, everything is right there in front of the camera. Inevitably some of the people are more interesting than others, but we decide this fairly and squarely on the evidence; there is no snide angling from behind the camera. The Warhol films play scrupulously fair with their characters; the films do not build myths, they merely record them. They are documentaries, but documentaries of the human spirit, of subjective rather than objective reality. (p. 137)

[Whatever] else may be said about the Warhol équipe, they are sublimely unpatronizing. They accept their "stars" absolutely on their own terms; the stars are whatever they want to be, whatever they think they are, and that is that. They are not representative of anything but themselves. And after all, why should they be? One could no doubt make out a case for seeing most of the Warhol films as parts of a large-scale survey of a certain homosexual/transvestite/drug scene is the margins of the New York art world, but it seems unlikely that there is anything systematic about it, or any intention to generalize, even about such a relatively small segment of the population. Empathy rather than abstraction and comment seems to be the aim. (pp. 138-39)

Warhol and his group believe that the increasing emphasis on the film director as superstar … is putting film theory and, worse, the film itself off on quite the wrong road. Directors, says Paul Morrissey, are all very well in their place, along with hairdressers, camera operators, dialogue coaches, and such, but finally what counts, what has always counted, is the person up there on the screen, the star in front of the camera rather than the exhibitionist itching to get out from behind it. (p. 139)

Logically, therefore, Warhol's own cinema should not be a director's cinema at all. And in some very important senses it is not…. Just as with his graphics he has frequently said that the cult of personality has nothing to do with it—anyone in the Factory could turn out "Warhol" graphics just as well as he, without his ever seeing what they are doing, much less laying hand to it himself—so "Warhol" movies can be made, and have been made, perfectly well when the master himself is nowhere near; "Warhol" is much more of a brand name than an artist's signature…. [It] does seem that the main element which can be identified as Andy Warhol's personal contribution is, paradoxically, the idea of impersonality. (pp. 139-40)

John Russell Taylor, "Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey," in his Directors and Directions: Cinema for the Seventies (reprinted by permission of Hill & Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; in Canada by A D Peters & Co Ltd; copyright © 1975 by John Russell Taylor), Hill & Wang, 1975, pp. 136-64.

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