Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

An Invisible Cinema

Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

An Invisible Cinema

Article excerpt

In 1978, film theorist Paul Arthur had never seen Andy Warhol's Empire. Neither had many of the critics and filmmakers who took this and other early Warhol films as inspiration. Yet Arthur claimed that Empire was so influential "precisely due to the manner in which it is missing." The film was "so immediately open to paraphrastic statement" that to merely hear it described was to share in its conceptual impact.1 Difficult to see, yet impossible not to think about, Warhol's cinema served as a rich site of projection and imagination for the avant-garde throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Warhol had pulled his films from circulation in the early 1970s. While a half-dozen of his films remained a part of Anthology Film Archives' "Essential Cinema" series, and stray prints showed sporadically in other locations, the majority of Warhol's films remained in storage until after his death in 1987.2 Arthur's discussion of Empire, published in issue number two of Millennium Film Journal, shows that Warhol's films still exerted powerful influence at the dead center of this dormancy; or the idea of his films exerted influence, rather than the films themselves. For the mainstream, Warhol's films had represented decadence and sexual perversity. Filmmaker and critics Peter Gidal and Malcom Le Grice, founders of the UK Structuralist-Materialist movement, bracketed Warhol's content and emphasized the uncompromising fixity of his form. Meanwhile, books like Stephen Koch's Stargazer (1973) provided many with their sole accounts of Warhol's films - understandably, the book was riddled with errors.

Andy must have loved it. He adored rumors, especially as they regarded his own social circle. What better way to savor the strange insights gossip reveals than to set up the ideal conditions for its propagation? The porous production and exhibition space of the Factory was a veritable gossip-generating machine. A sensational proposition (say, a long film about a man sleeping) and a scarcity of information (few of those who'd had a chance to see the film in the 1960s actually watched it) were two components of it. Accounts of Warhol's Sleep from the 1980s are accordingly diverse: its length swells to 10 hours in some references, or contracts to one in others.3

The stoic and the sensational are the twin poles of Warhol's aesthetic, and both have always had a presence in the reception of his films. But while reception of the Factory films divided into several camps (the mainstream emphasized their decadence; the avant-garde, their stmctural aesthetics), a growing queer film scene remembered the way that Warhol's erotics and aesthetics interacted. The subsequent decades saw several high- profile film retrospectives, including The Films of Andy Warhol Part I and Part IT (in 1988 and 1994, respectively) and a series of gallery installations organized by Mary Lea Bandy of the Museum of Modern Art. It was only with the reemergence of Warhol's films - concurrent with the rise of academic queer studies - that the rest of the world caught on. Though Warhol's fans had always known he was gay, art-historical discourse had not incorporated the idea of a queer sensibility' into readings of Warhol's work until after his death. Arguably, it was the films that brought Andy out of the closet definitively.

Andy Warhol, Empire (1964), film still. All images ©2013 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved. Courtesy The Andy Warhol Museum.

Warhol scholars tend to blame Paul Morrissey for the temporary disappearance of the Factory film archive. Morrissey - generally considered the bad conscience of Warhol filmdom - embraced Andys commercial drive while discarding his aesthetics. By 1972, the young director had taken over Factory film production and persuaded Warhol to shelve his earlier films. "Morrissey thought they were pretentious and boring," Douglas Crimp recalled in 2008, "and I think he wanted the attention for his own films. …

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