Idol Chat: The Films of Andy Warhol

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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. …