October is the month of the essential international art fairs Frieze London and FIAC in Paris – an occasion on which Le Cinéma Club is honored to host the online premieres of three of Andy Warhol’s “Screen Tests”. Shot silent and with very simple setups half a century ago, the films are still striking for their modernity and the power of their imagery.
In the first, Edie Sedgwick, one of Warhol’s most glamorous and iconic “superstars”, smokes beside Kipp Stagg, a fellow Factory regular, while the second test features poet George Millaway and “Archie”, another recurring Warhol actor – plus a Coca Cola bottle, in a nod to commercial iconography typical of the artist. The last is of Lou Reed, then about 24 years old and still in The Velvet Underground.
Originally inspired by police mugshots and personal photobooth pictures, Andy Warhol’s monumental “Screen Tests” project involved the production of around 500 snapshot-like films of his friends, acquaintances and collaborators. They were made from 1964 to 1966 on a nearly daily basis, involving almost every visitor to Warhol’s Factory, and have been described by the critic Amy Taubin in Artforum as “the most subversive investigation of portrait-making in the history of visual art.”
“That screen magnetism is something secret. If you could figure out what it is and how you make it, you’d have a really good product to sell. But you can’t even tell if someone has it until you actually see them up there on the screen. You have to give screen tests to find out.” ANDY WARHOL
After setting up his 16mm Bolex camera and lighting, Warhol would run through an entire 100-foot roll of film, sometimes playing with the framing or zooming, sometimes chatting, and sometimes walking away, leaving his subject alone with the camera (as can be seen in a short 1965 BBC doc covering the shooting of Susan Sontag’s screen test). Filmed at 24 frames per second, they were then projected at 16 or 18 – lending them their hypnotic slow-motion quality.
Warhol, one of the most innovative, successful and well-known artists of the 20th century, restlessly explored every medium he could get his hands on. His filmmaking phase was relatively brief – from 1963 to 1968 – but often radical and staggeringly prolific. In addition to the screen tests, he made over 60 other films, many of them features, including the multi-screen Chelsea Girls (1964) and the 8-hour opus Empire (1964). He remains a figure of profound and continuing influence for experimental and arthouse cinema.
These screen tests come from the collection of Andy Warhol diarist Pat Hackett, as represented by Hedges Projects. Special thanks to James Hedges for making this screening possible, and to Christopher Messina for his technical assistance.
- Credits for
- Three Screen Tests
- Archie, Lou Reed, George Millaway, Edie Sedgwick, Kipp Stagg