A part of Warhol's negotiable charm as a modern entertainer is his work as applied art-naiveté. There is something both perverse and violent about pasting the camera eye on a limited field of vision, with limited action inside it, and asking the spectator to paste his eye over that, and just wait. The ensuing charm, I should say, is more than a trifle masochistic. But take the contrary view. A high pulse exists in the modern temper (I mean everybody's temper) for elective affinity with occupations that dissociate themselves from the ugly spectacle of war, and lesser lethal agents, as forms of cutthroat competition. The very peacefulness of just watching a man eat a mushroom (even though, as if on purpose, he takes forty-five minutes to bite, masticate, and swallow it all) has its exclusive charm: an exclusive charm that makes it easy for the watcher to feel both chic and restful. The idea of peace, I mean, is directly related to the ultra-passivity of the pre-conditioned, relaxing filmgoer. (p. 29)
The living organic world we see in Sleep, Eat, Haircut, and Kiss has a visually implosive force whose burden we must bear or else heave off. Warhol's point is exactly that what we see should reveal nothing new in proportion to the quantity of time required to watch it; indeed, his object might be to portray a deliberate "vicious circle": a closed process with no progress whatever, only an "endless" self-engrossment.
Inevitably, all mental interest and visual attention are governed by an economy that establishes a self-sustaining rhythm….
The later Warhol films suggest that he divined in the physical accumulation of screen time a potential hypnotic effect on watchers which nothing else but drugs could guarantee. I think that his primitive films can be called experiments in dragtime which logically predicated an innoculation of the unwinding reel with drugtime. (p. 30)
For all that suspense or expectation is involved, Haircut or Eat might be totally outside time in a vacuum like that of far space. When, for example, we are asked by Empire to watch a famous landmark ("the world's tallest") standing quite motionless, with the camera equally unmoving, while the sun is allowed to take all of eight hours to go down and come up, we are being asked to submit ourselves to an endurance test; that is, to the opposite of an entertainment form … unless (which is, I think, the point) it should occur to us that this quantitative time, spreading out its minutes in a morgue, is merely the abstract proposition for a much more entertaining, specifically psychedelic, time. The latter provides a dramatically decisive change not in the object, but in the one viewing it. Drugtime is the other pole of dragtime….
Narcotizing is very close to Narcissizing. The only distinction is that with drugs, the gazer's own image is not the object of fascination; rather it is the image of the world transmuted by a chemical change in the gazer's perceptive faculties…. Warhol's Vinyl, his first film with "progressive" social action, came along as a documentation of people in the mixed throes of narcotizing and narcissizing; also for the first time, there were credits for the title, the idea-man and the leads; otherwise, as usual, the film was titleless…. We are witnessing a snail-paced fantasy in which familiar homosexual sadism, enhanced by drugtime, is putting on some kind of an act. Warhol still holds up a still, small mirror to nature, but now nature, by all the signs, is narcotized narcissism. (p. 87)
At best, The Chelsea Girls provides some...
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scenes that, properly trimmed, would look like respectableCinema Verite. But that is the limit of Warhol's homage to the film art, with the sole exception of a color sequence where his sliding Velvet Underground lights project the interior of an addict's trance. This sequence has quality but within the context of The Chelsea Girls it is only another form of Olympian self-documentation….
Warhol's invasion of hallucination as promoted by drugs poses a procedural dilemma for his future film making. The formal restrictions super-exploited by his primitive style (the dragtime) imply an almost puritanical detachment from life: reality's fabulous deadpan dream. Now he has chosen to grapple with that peculiar collective secession from normally rational society that implements drugs to achieve its isolation….
[The] primitive Warhol films might function as dialectic antitheses, demonstrating how what is excruciatingly tiresome and commonplace cries out for the right conversion-formula in the witness—not the intermediate witness, the camera, but the final witness, the audience. Warhol may have moved in some mysterious way his wonders to perform—those wonders so filmic and yet not filmic! (p. 88)
Parker Tyler, "Dragtime and Drugtime: Or, Film à la Warhol" (copyright © 1967, by Evergreen Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission of the Estate of the author), in Evergreen Review, Vol. 11, No. 46, April, 1967, pp. 28-31, 87-8.