Andy Warhol is one of the few artists to invoke the gamut of emotions, ranging everywhere from envy to ire to worshipful reverence. But, in all of his incarnations and through all of the varied mediums with which he chose to express himself, perhaps the avenue of film is his most misunderstood. And yet, it was also the medium he seemed to have the greatest enthusiasm for as it allowed him to reinvent the wheel in a manner that no other American filmmaker had dared to. In essence, Warhol was the closest the United States ever got to having a Truffaut or a Godard, the captain of his own version of the nouvelle vague. In honor of his contributions to the channel of moviemaking, New York’s Museum of Modern Art showed an exhibit a few months back (December 19, 2010 through March 21, 2011) exclusively devoted to the moving pictures of Andy Warhol. While most of the exhibit features four minute screen tests with such notable members of the Warhol posse as Nico, Edie Sedgwick, Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed, and “Howl” poet Allen Ginsberg, there is also a small movie theater on the sixth floor of the museum where some of Warhol’s lengthier experimental films were projected, including Kiss, Empire, and Sleep.
Because Warhol was unabashed about showing how transfixed people are with sexuality, but, at the same time, completely afraid of it, Kiss is the ultimate visual study of the inconstant technique of kissing. Some take the sweet, romantic approach, while others are apt to attack the other person’s face as though it were a battlefield. With a running time of fifty-eight minutes, Kiss showcases all forms of the kiss, whether it’s a visceral exchange between a man and a woman or a cautious touching of the lips between a man and another man. Each of the couples kissing (a cast roster that includes “Baby” Jane Holzer, Factory favorite Gerard Malanga, John Palmer, Naomi Levine, and Marisol) displays a diverse execution of the time-honored articulation of affection, accented by the way Warhol chooses to make the transition in between shots using a washed out, fade to white effect.
As for the other films that were shown in the theater, Sleep and Empire, Warhol has been simultaneously praised and reamed for the length of both subjects, one illustrating the banality of the human sleep cycle over a span of five hours and twenty-one minutes and the other an eight hour depiction of the Empire State Building. Additionally, 1964′s Eat, a film with comparable focus in its capturing of an everyday occurrence, is a thirty-nine minute depiction of artist Robert Indiana eating a mushroom at an atypically slow pace, made even slower by the fact that all of Warhol’s films are shown at sixteen frames per second.
While most of the films MoMA selected for the classification of Andy Warhol’s moving pictures are an embryonic example of what he would later achieve as a producer (particularly after meeting Paul Morrissey in 1965 and collaborating with him on Flesh, Trash, and Women in Revolt), it is a significant starting point for anyone who wishes to become better acquainted with the often perverse style of Andy Warhol the filmmaker, as opposed to Andy Warhol the manufacturer of pop art.