WAYNE KOESTENBAUM TALKS WITH BRUCE HAINLEY
FOR YEARS BRUCE HAINLEY AND I have been antically conversing about literature, theory, art, film, porn, fashion, food, and Andy Warhol. Hainley, a contributing editor of Artforum (his beat is LA), is one of my favorite writers, and his sensibility has had a huge influence on my work: I count on him to be the first to notice and valorize (to understand the profundity of) any aesthetic manifestation that channels the strange, the obscene, or the quiescent. He's always a decade ahead of us--our cultural learning curves a belated simulation of his quickness. Highly stylish, his writing combines the Continental sullenness of Lydia Davis, the jump-cut eroticism of Dennis Cooper, and the analytic ingenuity of Avital Ronell.
Now Hainley has curated a comprehensive survey of Warhol films at LA's Museum of Contemporary Art (where he will be screening more than forty of the hundreds Warhol made). The festival, concurrent with the huge Warhol retrospective that originated at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, runs from May 31 through August 28, 2002, and will trace the development of Warhol's cinematic enterprise from his earliest efforts, such as the rarely seen Elvis at Ferus (1963), through his entertaining nudies, including my favorite, The Nude Restaurant (1967), starring Taylor Mead and Viva. (Warhol essentially stopped making films in 1968, with Blue Movie.) In addition, Hainley has curated (in conjunction with the American Cinematheque) a run of double features titled "Andy Warhol Does Hollywood," which explores Warhol's variations on Hollywood themes by inventively pairing (among others) Warhol's Poor Little Rich Girl (1965), starring Edie Sedgwick, with the 1936 Poor Little Rich Girl starring Shirley Temple; and Warhol's My Hustler (1965) with John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. These juxtapositions show Warhol's debt to Hollywood but also prove that, in some cases, Hollywood recycled liberties first taken by Andy. (A highlight of this series is the long-overdue American premiere of David Bailey's 1972 documentary on Warhol.)
Hainley's curatorial efforts at MoCA provided the occasion for another long talk about Warhol's cinema, with Artforum's readers as welcome eavesdroppers.
WAYNE KOESTEN BAUM: Shoulder(1964) is one of the only Warhol films I've not seen. (Or maybe I've seen it and forgotten it?) Does it fascinate me because of Andy's oblique allegiance to dance?
BRUCE HAINLEY: Shoulder, a portrait of dancer! choreographer Lucinda Childs showing only her shoulder doing its dance in a striped tank top, is barely four minutes long. It's going to be shown on a program with the sexy, silly Mario Banana (nos. 1 and 2) as well as Harlot and the revelatory, dirty Couch, all of which Warhol made in 1964.
WK: Now I remember: I did see Shoulder. Warhol permits amnesia.
BH: Because of how much Andy produced, there's always more than can be remembered.
WK: Andy anatomized. He was very thorough in his work about listing and picturing the various body parts and organs. Ass. Cock (drawings). And faces galore. Noses. Lips. Innards.
BH: Ever since I first came across it in one of the time capsules, I've been mesmerized by a little note drawing Andy made: Within a filmic frame he's drawn a stick figure, perhaps in "thinker" pose. The words above it declare: LIVING SIGNS.
WK: "Signs" Is a verb, here, right?
BH: Yes. Living--being--signs, signifies. Andy liked to capture bodies alive, in action, even if that "action" was sleep. Any living body was erotic.
WK: How odd that films criticized as boring are in fact turn on Hasn't boredom always been our grail?
BH: Paul de Man wrote: "Rather than being a heightened version of sense experience, the erotic is a figure that makes such experience possible. We do not see what we love but we love in the hope of confirming the illusion that we are indeed seeing anything at all." Andy's drive to scoporhea
WK: Great word!
BH: --might be seen in light of his intense eroticism, which is why even boredom, nothingness, and automatism are figured as erotic.
WK: I wonder about private viewing versus public viewing of Warhol. Gertrude Stein matters because she's hidden. The more Stein gets colonized and claimed (especially by academics), the less necessary she seems. Some of the appear of Warhol's films is their hiddenness, their unavailability--like Garbo's premature retirement. Withdrawn, they teach. invisibility is their lesson. A public display of the films brings a joy shadowed by the knowledge of what is lost with publicity--a paradox, given Andy's wholehearted love of outcomings.
BH: Before I had ever seen a Warhol film, I thought they were never shown because they were "obscene." I don't know what I was expecting, but My Hustler, my first time with Andy, was one of the funniest experiences I'd ever had. The camera's lingering, leisurely looking at Paul America was also deeply sexually exciting. No film I had ever seen spent so much time not only looking at male flesh but having everyone in the film talk about that staring. The films are strangely oscillating things: intensely private and yet, like any film, public. What's strange is that their privacy has remained private.
WK: We can learn, by watching Warhol films in bulk, how to (a) love the unlovable, (b) cherish the stupid, (c) eroticize the blank, (d) postpone sexual "satisfaction" because sexuality has already been spread over the entire available atmosphere, an ambient high. Perhaps the films were not meant as private compositions to be parsed and studied, but as public ambience, like Satle's "furniture music."
BH: Satie's ambient experiments caused some bodily effect, even if unconscious; he would have been interested in "brown sound," an infrasonic frequency first used by the French police on '68 rioters, which makes people shit themselves. Of course, I want Warhol's films to be seen because I want to see what they induce. What's the high or trip of the hit of the Warhol film drug? Does it have both emetic and laxative effects? Does it cause babbling, language to slur?
WK: Male nudity's hotness, 1963 nudity hotter than 2002 nudity: Why? Why is John Giomo's nudity (nearly all revealed) in 1963's Sleep more of a stunner than an equivalent spectacle today? Because we can imagine the rupture it (the 1963 nudity) created? I'm still trying to puzzle out the intensity of my erotic response to the early Warhol films. Blow Job (1963) and Couch and Kiss (1963) and Sleep--among other films--teach the sacrosanct nature of waiting. I count those hours spent watching Warhol porn at the MOMA Film Study Center as among my life's most intense sexual experiences.
BH: Even as late as 1972, when David Bailey made his extraordinary documentary on Warhol, it was banned (eventually shown on British television but never in America): Anything associated with Warhol was condemned as obscene and at the same time, paradoxically, boring.
WK: I saw a guy driving a Pontiac on the Taconic Parkway on Sunday. He looked exactly like Warhol, but thicker. Andy's doubles pop up everywhere: consoling revenants.
BH: Likewise, Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life (1959)--which closes the "Andy Does Hollywood" program--is an important Pop manifesto, showing imitation to cause strange ruptures in family, gender, sexuality, race. Andy doubled himself with girls and boys, some "prettier" than he was, some not. His doubling techniques remain his greatest solution: to represent the body (his own) with another body. Sturtevant was the first artist to get the philosophical implications and put Andy's doublings and repetitions into action.
WK: Warhol's films are conversation prods: Our conversation, Bruce, is a necessary answer to the films, which are often silent, still, open-ended. Wasn't their silence a sublimated conversation?
BH: Warhol's films need to be talked about--after they've been seen, not instead of being seen (as is so often the case). They demand watching and transform watching into waiting. After watching and wading through as many Warhol films as are available--and, of course, many remain unrestored and unavailable--the notion of there being one or two "central" films (masterpieces, I guess) is ridiculous. Chelsea Girls (1966) is a special case; and look how little has been said or written about it, about its physicality, its objecthood, its impossibility. Don't you think writing about Chelsea Girls would have to be formally as innovative as the film itself?
WK: I'd been thinking about Frank O'Hara's "Second Avenue" as a parallel to the Warhol filmic enterprise: a poem that no reader In its time could assimilate; a poem that took nearly forty years to make sense. The "Second Avenue" effect, like the Empire (1964) or Couch effect, Is the time lag built Into an artwork--the time required (years of waiting) for it to detonate. Warhol's films provide a delayed explosion, a lag that was part of Warhol's "time" project (as in the time capsules): The films were constructed not to be understood or seen in their proper historical time but were meant to be boxed away, stored, for later delectation. Warhol's beauties, too, have a built-in time lag, so that the thrill of seeing Gerard Malanga's 1963 beauty revealed now, in 2002, or the thrill that you experience seeing Tom Hompertz's mute physical eloquence unveiled now, just for you, is a "time" sculpture. The real artwork (Duchampian) is not merely the film, but our belated erotic response to it.
BH: Warhol's drug: Time is distorted, slowed down and sped up. Outer and Inner Space (1965): Edie on one drug on video, on another in the film watching herself on video. As much as any drug she's on, Warhol's project necessitates that it is understood that video is a drug, that film is a drug; watching it, we're on it (looking as the most addictive substance). I'm not speaking analogically, since I don't mean to simplify the experience by providing theoretical Dramamine to smooth or stay the turbulence of the Warhol trip.
WK: I know your devotion to Tom Hompertz exceeds bounds.
BH: Of all Warhol's doubles, he performs Andy's supposed muteness while presenting golden blond surfing muscle. Hompertz's "golden shower" ends San Diego Surf (1968).
It's the last movie Andy made before he was shot (which has something to do with why it was never finished and still is never publicly shown). Viva complains about surfers' homo tendencies; Little Joe takes surfing pointers from Taylor Mead, comically the best surfer in the film, who tries in one scene to get Tom, who's waxing a board and was the only one who could actually hang ten, to give him a golden shower. It turns out to be beer poured all over a wallowing, antic Taylor. Warhol wrote the words GOLDEN SHOWER in his own handwriting on the top of the editing notes for Jed Johnson.
WK: Screening these films in LA is a time/space conceptual piece: You are returning the films to Hollywood, collapsing Andy's response to Hollywood with the undead place that Hollywood now seems to be.
BH: Long before the Venturi-Scott-Browns learned from Las Vegas, Andy was learning from Hollywood and, just as Debbie did Dallas, did it. Sunshine, palm trees, bougainvillea, plastic disposable contemporaneity, bare bodies, and Hollywood glamour. LA is a point of origin for Andy: His first film, Elvis at Ferus, documents his breakthrough solo gallery show; his second, Tarzan and Jane Regained, Sort of... (1963), puts Andy and his cohorts at the Beverly Hills Hotel, on the freeway, at the Watts Towers, frolicking with Dennis Hopper. Often Andy pondered Hollywood via specific star being and what happens when stardom (being?) fades. Hedy (1966)--with Mario Montez as the has-been, kleptomaniacal Hedy Lamarr--considers the blurring criminality/fascination/beauty of stars no longer just stars. (Hopefully, to be screened with the long forgotten The Female Animal , in which a liquidated Lamarr attempts a Sunset Boulevard-type turn and, well, fails.) Andy made genrefilms: Horse (1965) and Lonesome Cowboys (1967) are his westems, Kitchen (1965) and Beauty No. 2 (1965), two of his melodramas. LA was the site of the first Duchamp retrospective and of major early retrospectives for Joseph Cornell and Andy. I'm still trying to figure out the meaning of Andy's LA retrospective being shown when the other exhibition at the museum was of Atget photographs.
WK: Earlier you mentioned Imitation of Life. We've been talking for months--years--about the connection between Lana and Andy.
BH: Douglas Sirk and Lana Turner are crucial points of Warholian confluence (he made his version of the Turner-Stompanato murder, More Milk Yvette , a Sirkean melodrama bathed in acid). But perhaps a more obvious example: Andy and Marilyn. I like to think of Andy selecting his first wig as a private performance called Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Marilyn Monroe understood the heartbreaking performance called identity. In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she performs its musical comedy (in The Misfits, where not even wild horses give her solace, its tragedy). Howard Hawks and Jane Russell knew the complexity of this performance. In the climactic scene, a courtroom scene--being, identity, is a trial, judged--Jane Russell performs Marilyn, the burlesque version. It's the most uncanny drag scene ever filmed, Russell doing Monroe doing Lorelei Lee. (Perhaps it should be read as lesbian drag.) I'm convinced Warhol learned all the lessons-- theoretical, philosophical-Marilyn (and Hollywood) had to offer. Wearing a dark fur that emphasizes her blondeness and her beauty, Russell in Marilyn drag says to the judge that he should just tell her the words to say and she'll just repeat them. Sound familiar?
WK: I love your notion that Warhol's films cause writers to "babble."
BH: Babble may be as close as a writer can get to tit jiggle, to flaccid-penis jiggle, actions copyrighted by Jack Smith in Flaming Creatures (1963), to drugged stupor. I love that tape of Andy on the rooftop of the Factory releasing the Silver Cloud prototypes with Billy Kluver: Andy's so happy. The sight of those "paintings" floating away gives him an orgasm--you can hear it. Kitchen, Tarzan and Jane..., many of the films show Andy on screen having fun. How infrequently critics mention his happiness, the pleasure he took in doing what he did.
WK: In the time capsules I found many poignant and serious letters (Including head shots and nude shots) sent to the Factory by young trade or young gay boys (some very femme) who wanted to be cast in Warhol films. Warhol's imitation of the Hollywood studio is like porn's imitation of it (porn stars are happy simulacra of Grauman's-worthy divinities).
BH: Paul America and Joe Spencer have that "born for porn" look, too. To get back to silence--babble's twin--one of the things that continue to astonish in My Hustler and Bike Boy (1967) is the trade between silence and sound around male bodies. Those pix of boys sent to Andy, many shot in bedrooms where some stance could be struck between flex and vamp, need to be spoken of because they resonate such silence; their strange self-presentations make me speechless. The silent opening stare at Paul America on the beach (My Hustler) and the silent stare at Joe Spencer in the black-tiled shower (Bike Boy); the unbelievable discussion of male toilerte between America and the Sugar Plum Fairy, between two hustlers, and Spencer's negotiation of the clothing boutique, its apparel and queeny clerks. How fluid, how soapy slippery, simple categories of heterosexual/homosexual, Hollywood/porn, silence/ sound, reality/performance become. In fact, the inability to separate what's "real" from what's "performance" is a central dynamic of Warhol's filmmaking.
WK: Why must filmmaking be difficult? Why shouldn't it be as private, easy, and immediate as writing, as sketching, as silk-screening?
BH: Not that it's simple, but how disconcerting for any writer the simple provocation of display, the visual. I remember the first Richard Hawkins piece I saw: Droopily pinned to the wall was a blue piece of felt, blanketlike, with a cute guy paper-clipped to it. That was it. It was so obscenely simple. Art wasn't supposed to look like that; the consideration it invited and permission it gave were hard to believe. Looking at Blow Job or a Liza painting, I still am overwhelmed by all it does by presenting and not saying. I want any writing--my own, the writing I admire--to channel that Warholian (O'Hara-like, Lana-like) directness.
WK: Taylor Mead's Ass (1964): the importance of the not-special ass. (The film is seventy-six seriocomic minutes of this poet/actor's buttocks absorbing light, attention, debris.) Am I suggesting anatomy--anyone's--is the upped ante to every theoretical debate and to art history's forward motion?
BH: What I love is that all of '60s culture is pulled out of Taylor's sagging buttocks--the Beatles, Life magazine, the Burtons, philosophical texts--and then rammed back up there. This is how many years before Guy Hocquenghem?
WK: The Impossible, undramatic bulk of Warhol's film work presupposes--demands--one devoted life in which to see and then articulate it all. Each minute of a Warhol film gives the same lesson as the minute before, but the ultimate lesson is that you need to see every minute to earn the wisdom of the single minute. No Warhol film can be understood or appreciated in isolation from the entire bruising spectacle, the durational force-fed mass.
BH: Despite all that Warhol did, people have not reckoned with the disturbance he caused aesthetics. Warhol demands all. He fists aesthetics.
WK: The shamelessness of the wish-to-be-a-superstar in Warhol's productions! Star greed is often veiled in the "real" Hoilywood by the fiction of talent, of acting. Warhol's theorem: Why shouldn't any drunken sleaze be just as good as Sarah Bernhardt? His films offer a democratic (or optimistic) argument for the ubiquity of "talent."
BH: Warhol took advantage of youth's desire to produce and be a part of moviemaking's (and to a somewhat lesser degree, artmaking's) big-time glamour, even when it is just the Factory's version of that glamour (at the time not big-time at all, since before Valerie Solanas anyone could get into the Factory). One of the biggest time bombs is how fabulous, how glamorous the Factory denizens still look to us today. They worked, essentially, just to have a spotlight on them. It's not unlike how Bob Mizer's Athletic Model Guild (AMG) or Bruce of Los Angeles got almost any cute guy--straight, gay, whatever--to drop trou.
WK: Warhol, despite his famous reticence, was remarkably open to interested interviewers, bystanders: How willing he was to display himself, his quirks, his indirect nakedness, if the interlocutor had the patience to understand his tempo, to close-read his hesitations and elisions! Imagine if he had been ballsy enough to make any interviewer see all of his films before pontificating about them.
BH: Well, Warhol believed in greeting his public: That's part of a star's job description. He knew, like Joan Crawford, how important fans and public were to a star, how they should be permitted brushes with the star. Now too many stars are just products--products that push other products (Britney Spears, Pepsi).
WK: Think, if Warhol were alive, what he would have stooped to by now! He'd be way ahead of us in self-down-grading.
BH: The downgraded, the ignored, the abused, the forgotten, the ridiculed, the stupid, the debased: Was this not always his lodestar? Consider, after AbEx, how swish, how absurd what he proposed to be art was.
WK: The most exciting invitation the Warhol films present, and that most of us are simply not imaginative or unfatigued enough to accept: the "why not do it yourself?" of art, if you like a painting, why not paint one yourself? Why not (a) be a star, (b) be a filmmaker, (c) waste film, (d) alienate your audience, (e) sex up the atmosphere to an intolerable extent, (f) impose your vision on the world, (g) trash authority, (h) make money, (i) monopolize the attention of beautiful boys and girls. Why not steal time? No one is guarding it! It's free! Michel de Certeau called stolen time la perruque: the wig. Now we're (almost) back to Lana.
BH: As John Waters showed in his 1994 photographs of the star turned away from the camera in some of her greatest films, Lana situates a particular erotic site and drive: Lana backwards. Warhol got Lanality.
Wayne Koestenbaum is a poet and the author of Andy Warhol (Viking, 2001). Bruce Hainley is a contributing editor of Artforum.…