John G. Hanhardt’s (ed.) The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné Volume 2: 1963-1965 / Tom Day

Photo from the cover of The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné Volume 2: 1963-1965

The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné Volume 2: 1963-1965. Edited by John G. Hanhardt. New York: The Whitney Museum of American Art/New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2021.

A cypher, a myth, an alien being. An ultimately unknowable and cryptic figure shrouded in a public persona that enraged and baffled interviewers, profilers, and biographers, Andy Warhol is often touted as an under-known and even unknowable figure. For an artist of his stature and prolific engagement with a plethora of media—many of which were radically redefined by his interventions into them—Warhol is commonly noted as difficult to pin down. Part of this unknowability emerges from his own off-hand, coy, and ambivalent attempts to define or give substance to the meanings of his work or the subjects to which he was drawn throughout his oeuvre: sex, death, capitalism, consumption, self-image, mass culture. This reticence to articulate firm lines or pitch conclusive remarks about his work and life has fuelled the ever-growing industry of commentary on Warhol both within and outside the academy.1

Some of the most innovative recent scholarship on Warhol has proposed revelatory ways to thinking about Warhol through expansive and politically astute frameworks orientated around the cultural politics of class, race, queerness, and nonhuman animal life.2 Alongside such comprehensive readings of Warhol’s life and career recent work has also established the often neglected arenas of photography and publishing as central aspects of the artist’s aesthetic engagement with the world, especially as these endeavours feed into narratives of the collapsing of boundaries between media— that is, creating artworks which combine and juxtapose the aesthetic effects of different media—that the artist did so much to propagate and popularise.3 Much of this recent scholarship has been aided by the groundwork laid by George Frei, Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero and their exhaustively researched Catalogue Raisonné of Warhol’s output as a painter and sculptor.4 The authors of many recent examinations of Warhol have noted their indebtedness to the work achieved by the cataloguers. I note all of these recent interventions into Warhol studies to state that they will be joined in coming years by a raft of further work that will be made possible thanks to the unbelievable feat of scholarship that is The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné Volume 2: 1963-1965.

The overwhelming feeling one gets from perusing the catalogue for the first time is of discovery and (re)introduction. Despite being a filmmaker considerable stature in experimental and underground cinema circles, Warhol’s work has never really been a fully known quantity. Early attempts at mapping his moving image corpus proved infamously patchy.5 While there have been some excellent historic and recent anthologies and monographs on the films, these have, for the most part, concentrated on works that have remained in circulation (legitimately or not) since their creation (a large number of these titles, from well-known films like Sleep [1963] and Empire [1964] to less exhibited but latterly iconic works like Couch [1964] and Taylor Mead’s Ass [1964], have attracted astute commentary by a range of writers thanks to their availability through the Museum of  Modern Art’s Circulating Film and Video Library).6 Vol.2 opens a door onto an entirely new set of Warhol works that invite further research and scholarship.

The book represents the second in a planned series of three volumes that presents an in-depth examination of the production context, content, and exhibition details of Warhol’s copious cinematic output (some 100 films are covered in the volume under review alone). Operating under the banner name ‘The Andy Warhol Film Project,’ a collaboration between the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the endeavour has been ongoing since 1984 under the guidance of John G. Handhardt, a pioneering curator and historian of film and video art. The first volume, authored solely by Callie Angel (1948-2010) (the Project’s first fulltime curator, to whom the present book is dedicated), compiled and examined the Screen Tests. Considered as an incubation chamber for all manner of artistic strategies, there are 372 of these oftentimes oneiric, distended portrait films (Warhol labelled them ‘Stillies’) and they index intermediality, one of key concerns that I will anchor my consideration of the new volume to. On intermediality, Angel remarked:

Balanced at the borderline between moving and still image, part photography and part film, part portraiture and part performance, the Screen Tests are conceptual hybrids, arising, like much of Warhol’s work, from the formal transposition of idioms from one medium to another.7

This notion of intermediality and Warhol’s omnivorous mixing of art forms comes through in the non-Screen Test work assembled here, be it in the documenting of dancers and performers (Dance Movie [1963], Jill and Freddie Dancing [1963], Paul Swan [1965]); the exploration of the durational potential of cinema to approximate paintings (Empire [1964], Henry Geldzahler [1964]); or using the camera to generate and reflect upon visual ideas for use in other media (Elvis at Ferus [1963], Sarah—Soap [1963]). We are fastidiously and oftentimes poetically guided through Warhol’s early filmography with exactitude and a keen feeling for his work as a haphazard stylist, cinematic iconoclast, ur-modernist, and lyrical documentarian of the early queer Downtown Avant-Garde.

The catalogue is split into three sections, each dedicated to a year of production with a detailed and illuminating introduction for each 12-month period preceding individual film entries. The intros and essays for each film in the 1963 and 1964 chapters are all handled by curator and historian Bruce Jenkins. In a magnificent feat of attentive and precise scholarship, part historical reconstruction and part novel illumination, he breathes new contextual detail into our understanding of the making of Warhol classics like Sleep (1963), Kiss (1963-1964) and Eat (1964) and introduces a raft of unknown early experiments in documentary, portraiture and still life, underscoring from the start Warhol’s interdisciplinary commitments.

Previously absent from accounts of Warhol’s film practice, early efforts like Country (1963) or Bob Indiana Etc. (1963) (both shot in rural Connecticut while holidaying with the art dealer Eleanor Ward and various artist and writer friends) are illuminated by Jenkins and shown to be daring playful works in which Warhol is beginning to learn his craft while ensconced in intimate and bucolic surroundings. Deploying framing not dissimilar to that of landscape or still life photography, Warhol’s early intermedial film grammar can be seen as having developed due to his inclusion in a larger cohort of experimenting compatriots, each making their own artistic advancements in Pop art and conceptual poetry contemporaneously. Figures such as Wynn Chamberlin, Robert Indiana, Marisol and John Giorno feature heavily. All are artists with whom Warhol would collaborate on later films, highlighting them and using his camera to document their work. Jenkin’s exhaustive account of the production of Sleep, Warhol’s nearly five and a-half-hour paean to repetition and his then lover Girorno lays to bed mysteries about the film’s composition (did Warhol edit the film? How much repetition really constitutes its total running time?) and Sarah Dalton’s (Warhol’s teenage neighbour) role in the postproduction process that have puzzled commentators for decades. Equal care and attention is paid to the serial film Kiss whose many actors are identified and the project’s transmedial afterlives (as sculptures, flip books and magazine covers) are integrated into the narrative of its production, distribution and reception.

One of the great discoveries for the reader of Jenkin’s section will doubtlessly be the rescuing of two private portraits of Warhol’s close friend and later biographer David Bourdon. The works, Banana and David Bourdon Being Beaten (both 1964), depict playful and erotically provocative performances by Bourdon suggestively engaging with the phallic yellow fruit and indulging in a session of light S&M, respectively. The films, Jenkins notes, have never been publicly screened and as such they are seen as being in concert with Warhol’s early erotic drawings of cocks and feet, composed and amassed privately during the artist’s first years in New York in the 1950s. Jenkin’s level of meticulous detail achieved in these accounts is clearly the result of decades of research. Jenkin’s efforts alone would suffice but the book continues to cover Warhol’s embrace of synchronised sound, scripts (or better still scenarios) and experiments in multi-screen projection, pushing his intermedial concerns even further to create works of cinematic sculpture and proto-installation intermingling these categorical explosions with a documentary veracity.

1965 is split amongst a group of art, film and media historians including Elanor Gorfinkel, Jonathan Flatley, Claire Henry, Homay King, Ara Osterweil, Marc Siegel, Juan Suarez and Gregory Zinman who each write about either a single film or a handful of titles. The lion’s share of 1965 and its introductory essay is covered by the New Queer Cinema pioneer Tom Kalin. Kalin’s prose and attitude to Warhol’s film is less detached than Jenkin’s, it of course still historically driven, but there is a more overt advocation for seeing the queer aspects of the films and in the wider milieu of sexual dissidence on display in the Factory scene. This is less about subtlety reading the films, than plainly describing their content in a precise manner. A major aspect of Warhol’s films’ radical queerness from 1965 onwards was the matter-of-fact way that the artist simply presented the actions and activities of those around him: queer icons, hustlers, disaffected dropouts and proto-punks as part of the furniture of his world. This world is tapped evocatively in Kalin’s scene-setting introductory essay.

Some of the best essays in the 1965 section are on underknown, or even completely unknown works. Elena Gorfinkel takes on The Bed (1965) an undistributed (due to lawsuit) and ambitious adaptation of Robert Heide’s one-act play, one of the first openly gay off-off Broadway productions first staged the same year at Café Cino in Greenwich Village. The film was co-directed by Warhol’s boyfriend at the time, Danny Williams, and was one of his first efforts to employ dual-screen projection. Jonathan Flatley examines the much written about My Hustler (1965), Warhol’s ‘anatomy of hustling’ but also examines in detail its unseen sequel entitled My Hustler II (Ingrid in Apartment) (1965). Some films which have gained notoriety through fleeting descriptions and accounts in existing literature are finally given a fuller accounting here. Titles include: Drunk (1965, which was recently restored and screened at MoMA), a portrait of filmmaker and friend Emile De Antonio imbibing and demonstrating the profound effects of way too much whisky (the film is pointedly described by Kalin as eliciting a ‘palpable sense of abjection [and] of the dissolution of the self before the pitiless stare of the camera [285]); Suicide (1965) a long-unseen meditation on mortality starring Rock Bradett, who recounts his own multiple attempts at the titular act as Warhol’s unblinking camera focuses on his scarred arms; and Prison (1965) one of Warhol’s many leftfield forays into genre filmmaking where he offers up an absurd and risqué riff on the women in prison film and acting as a preview of sorts of the kind of exploitation-orientated fare he would take up with his sexploitation cycle of 1967.8

With this publication, a compelling light is shone upon Warhol’s— that tantalisingly unknowable and ambivalent figure at the centre of post-war art history— cinematic output, complicating and vastly expanding what was previously understood of the artist’s engagement with celluloid film (one hopes that Warhol’s capacious experiments with video and television will also be accounted for in the forthcoming Vol.3). The catalogue ultimately fuels the paradox of Warhol, opening up what is arguably his most important body of work to further scrutiny and investigation and productively complicating the lines of demarcation that govern the genres of his art. In coming to know his films better we will ultimately come closer to unpacking and comprehending Warhol’s confounding and monumental achievement as one of the most astute diagnosticians and theoreticians of life at the at the dawn of late capitalism—and of the moving image as a means to explore it.

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  1. The opaque nature of Warhol’s persona has been tackled in works including Kelly Cresap, Pop Trickster, Fool: Andy Warhol Performs Naivete (Urbana, IL and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004) and Nicholas De Villiers, Opacity and the Closet: Queer Tactics in Foucault, Barthes and Warhol (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).  The recent Ryan Murphy-produced Netflix documentary limited series on the artist ran with the idea of unpicking the knots of his personal and professional life by dramatizing his highly-performative diaries and taking their contents at face value. A helpful overview of Warhol and his performance of himself as a mediated creation can be found in Brandon Joseph’s recent essay, ‘Something One Recognizes Yet Can’t See: Andy Warhol in and as Media’, Grey Room, vol. 77 (2019), 6-37.
  2. See Anthony Grudin, Warhol’s Working Class: Pop Art and Egalitarianism (Chicago and London: University of Chicago press, 2017); Jonathan Flatley, Like Andy Warhol  (Chicago and London: University of Chicago press, 2017) and Anthony Grudin, Like a Little Dog: Andy Warhol’s Queer Ecologies (Berkley, CA and London: University of California Press, forthcoming).
  3. Peggy Phelan and Richard Meyer (eds.), Contact Warhol: Photography Without End (Palo Alto, CA: The Cantor Arts Center/Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2018) and Lucy Mulroney, Andy Warhol, Publisher (Chicago and London: University of Chicago press, 2018).
  4. George Frei, Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero (eds.) The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and Sculpture, 5 vols. completed (New York: Phaidon, 2002).
  5. See both Jonas Mekas and Stephen Koch’s early Warhol filmographies which have always taunted Warhol film scholars as tantalising, inaccurate and incomplete. Stephen Koch, Stargazer: The Life, World and Films of Andy Warhol (New York: Praeger, 1973) and Jonas Mekas, ‘The Filmography of Andy Warhol’, in John Coplans (ed.), Andy Warhol (Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1970), 146.
  6. See the catalogue here: Key publications include: Michael O’ Prey (ed.), Andy Warhol: Film Factory (London: British Film Institute, 1989); Douglas Crimp, “Our Kind of Movie”: The Films of  Andy Warhol (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2012) and Glyn Davis and Gary Needham (eds.), Warhol in Ten Takes (London: British Film Institute, 2013).
  7. Callie Angel, Andy Warhol Screen Tests: The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné Volume 1(New York: Abrams/The Whitney Museum of American Art, 2006), 7.
  8. For excellent account of these films and Warhol’s often confounding relationship to genre see Glyn Davis, ‘Bike Boy and Warhol’s Sexploitation Cycle’ in Glyn Davis and Gary Needham (eds.), Warhol in Ten Takes (London: British Film Institute, 2013).