- Andy Warhol Screen Tests: The Films of Andy Warhol, Catalogue Raisonné, Volume One
Very few people still associate Andy Warhol solely with his silk screens of Campbells soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe. However, of the many proverbial hats Warhol wore atop his infamous silver wig—as advertiser, pop artist, self-styled media icon, stargazer, starmaker, writer, band manager, magazine guru, collector—his role as filmmaker has been most underestimated. In spite of the fact that Warhol created hundreds of innovative experimental and narrative films between 1963 and 1968, their existence as both cultural artifacts and aesthetic objects has been more mythical than meaningful. Not only were most of Warhol's films rarely screened in his lifetime and almost never commercially, but in 1970 the artist hoisted them out of circulation and pitched them into deeper obscurity, where they remained, unseen and dust-laden, until the artist's death in 1987.
Whatever doubts still linger concerning Warhol's status as the most prolific filmmaker of the twentieth century will certainly be expunged by the long-awaited publication of the first volume of Callie Angell's extensive catalogue raisonné of Warhol's screen tests. As adjunct curator of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum and consultant to MoMA on its ongoing and often painstaking preservation of Warhol's films, Angell is more knowledgeable about Warhol's cinema than anyone around the globe has ever been—including, perhaps, Warhol himself. In this splendid, image-saturated volume, Angell combines the precision of a master archivist with the lucid, insightful prose of a cultural critic without, however, submerging Warhol's films within a particular interpretative agenda.
Between 1964 and 1966, Warhol created more than four hundred black-and-white moving image portraits or "Screen Tests" of luminaries, celebrities, and wannabes from the art, literary, music, dance, film, and modeling worlds. Originally dubbed "stillies" by Warhol for their subjects' uncanny lack of movement in a moving picture medium, these approximately three-minute, 16mm silent films were first inspired by Warhol's discovery of a New York Police Department brochure that contained mug shots of the Thirteen Most Wanted criminals. Ever anxious to eroticize the illicit, Warhol derived an idea for a series of portrait films called the Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys, which would combine the artist's obsession with collection and classification with his emerging fascination with duration. Over the course of two years, far more than thirteen portraits were made, and not solely of boys. In the catalogue, Angell accounts for 472 portraits of 189 individuals with a collective running time of over thirty-two hours.
By 1966, these films came to be known as "screen tests" in spite of the fact that they [End Page 100] were not used to determine the subject's desirability for future film projects. Being asked to pose for Warhol's camera often flattered visitors to the Factory with the lure of fame and glamour, as well as the possibility of screen immortality, but submitting to Warhol's sadomasochistic rules tended toward the unbearable. In addition to mandating the conventions that applied to official portraits like passport photos—the camera should not move, the background should be as plain as possible, and the subject should be well lit and centered—Warhol added a few requirements that were nearly unthinkable in a moving picture format. Before walking away from his Bolex camera and allowing the subject to endure the camera's intractable gaze, Warhol instructed his sitters to refrain from any kind of movement whatsoever, including talking, smiling, and even blinking.
As can be expected, only a handful of individuals managed to acquiesce to Warhol's physiologically unfeasible decrees. Indeed, many of the most evocative portraits are of those conscientious objectors who conspicuously rebelled against Warhol's attempt to discipline and punish them: underground actress Beverly Grant, who entangles herself in her serpentine hair in homage to the histrionics of silent film stars; Pop artist James Rosenquist, who spins around on a swivel chair for the entire time...