Andy Warhol's Beauty #2: Demystifying and Reabstracting the Feminine Mystique, Obliquely

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The original version of this paper was written in a seminar on Andy Warhol at the University of Rochester in fall 2001. A slightly modified version was presented at the "Queer[ing] Warhol: Andy Warhol's (Self-) Portraits" conference held in January 2002 at the California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside. I would like to thank the participants in the seminar, my colleagues in the Visual and Cultural Studies Program, and those who offered responses to my presentation at Riverside for many helpful comments and suggestions at different stages. Sincerest thanks also to my dissertation advisor, Douglas Crimp, for generously offering me his insights, and to Simon Leung for providing me with discerning editorial advice.

From a fixed angle and focus, the camera in Beauty #2 ( 1965) records Edie Sedgwick and Gino Piserchio-the latter a newcomer to the Warhol world who, we are told as the film progresses, was brought home for Edie's entertainment-- performing.1 As the half-undressed couple smoke, drink, eat, converse, and rather clumsily and woodenly fondle and kiss, much of the screen time is occupied by the voice of Edie Sedgwick's former boyfriend, Chuck Wein, whose absent body is located beyond the right edge of the filmic frame, facing Edie's bed at an angle perpendicular to that formed by the camera and the couple. In the film, Edie most centrally occupies the triangular arena formed by the location of the camera, the position of Chuck Wein, and the bed's headboard pressed against the far white wall. While she inhabits this seemingly privileged site, the glare of a spotlight that seems better suited to an operating table than a movie set threatens to reduce her form to a mere outline, just as the sometimes brutal interrogations performed upon her by the off-screen Chuck Wein threaten to steal her show.

Confronted by the film's painfully unrelenting sixty-six minutes, I am compelled to fill this radiant Edie in and out. Surely there is more to this starring figure than a lacy black bra and panties set that punctuates her body and, when she is threatened with becoming all glowing white light, assures me that indeed someone is there. The moments in the film when Edie Sedgwick slips or erupts from her posing-to dump her drink innocently or not so innocently on "poor" Gino, to throw an ashtray at the off-screen Chuck Wein, and to bolt upright

out of a prone lovemaking posture, puncturing the circle of blinding light that enshrines her in such a way that some of her features are partially and momentarily revealed and some assertion of her agency claimed-assure me that someone is most certainly there. Indeed, these moments assure me someone is and has been there, a someone I may never be able to fully delimit, no matter how many details I know about her life or how carefully I dissect every one of her gestures as I stare through the unblinking eye of a static camera positioned above her bed.

The moments that rupture the presentation of the contained, perhaps even constrained Edie propel me to interpret why and how the film leaves me feeling somewhat horrified, in perhaps a "fascinated-but-horrified manner"-as Andy Warhol would, at times, describe his own reaction to Edie.' Such moments compel me to make matter, to make meaning that matters, out of this presence, which fails to be erased or denied.3 I borrow the notion of making matter from Judith Butler, who proposes, "To know the significance of something is to know how and why it matters, where 'to matter' means at once `to materialize' and 'to mean.'"4 Butler's ideas seem aptly suited for making sense of Edie's troubling performances and the near-dematerialization of her body in the film. Since Beauty #2 ends with Chuck Wein suggesting that a doctor might be necessary for Edie, one who could handle the problems of her body, not her mind, and his voicing the phrase "fertility pregnancy abortion," with the screen going black just as abortion is mentioned, I propose that the film derives much of its force from the oblique view it offers of the limits that constrain the female body, that make it difficult to initiate new possibilities for the female body to matter differently. …