Andy Warhol

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Richard Schickel

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[Ernie Kovacs's comment, "Show me a cowboy who rides sidesaddle, and I'll show you a gay ranchero"], which I heard the late great comedian throw away one time, is as accurate a summary of Andy Warhol's new movie, Lonesome Cowboys, as one can make. But the point of one of his films is never to be found in its content, but simply in its existence, whether it happens to be twenty-four hours long, as one of them is, or twenty-four minutes, as one of them might perfectly well be. None of the matters usually brought up when we talk about films—story, style, technique—has any relevance to his work. Indeed, I have no hesitancy in admitting that I left Cowboys ten minutes before it was over, on the grounds that since it had no beginning and no middle it probably didn't have an ending either. It seemed to me at least as important to get to my lunch appointment on time as it did to hang around and see whether Viva, his current superstar, got debagged one more time. (p. 229)

To be sure, Cowboys was shot in thirty-five millimeter (a first for him) and had an unprecedented four-day shooting schedule, but he remains firmly rooted, technically and aesthetically, to a point in film history around 1904–1905, when the first American story films were being shot. Like the primitives, all he does is borrow a real setting, place amateur actors in front of it, and instruct them to improvise dialogue and action based on a rough outline. A genius can stretch this technique to master-work lengths (e.g., [D. W.] Griffith's The Birth of a Nation), but Warhol cannot or will not….

[His] works in all media are repetitions of a single simple juxtaposition…. Warhol's virtue, if he may be said to have one, is that in his essential stupidity he makes the contrast between the [mindlessly banal and the haphazardly corrupt] very stark, stripping away the platitudes and hypocrisies with which we customarily attempt to unify these contradictory elements. (p. 230)

[Let] me be very clear. I don't think Warhol or Lonesome Cowboys is any good. I don't even think he is an artist, avant-garde or conventional. He is just very, very important—too important to go on mindlessly denigrating or trying to ignore as if he were just a fad like hula hoops. He may, like them, quietly disappear. But like his soup cans he is endlessly replicable in this culture of ours. (p. 232)

Richard Schickel, "'Lonesome Cowboys'" (originally published in a slightly different form in Life, Vol. 66, No. 23, June 13, 1969), in his Second Sight: Notes on Some Movies, 1965–1970 (copyright © 1972 by, Richard Schickel; reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, a Division of Gulf & Western Corporation), Simon & Schuster, 1972, pp. 229-32.

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