Last week I reviewed Gob Squad's Kitchen for the New York Theater Review, and I didn't much like it (and my darling inamorato positively loathed it). I don't feel like writing much about it here, but it supposedly was a "reflection" and a "deconstruction" of Andy Warhol's films of the mid-1960s. Personally I found it to be a tiresome and airless demonstration of early 21st cenury bubbleheadedness. But, that's not what I really want to write about.
The show put me in a direly bad mood, so I decided to look at some of Warhol's actual films and see what they looked like after not having seen them in a long time. Wonderfully, quite a few are on line. One thing that I think bears repeating as often as possible is something my high school English teacher used to tell us, that what we think of as the 60s didn't start until 1967, and in most places the 60s didn't happen until the 70s. Mad Men is doing an unbelievably wonderful job at showing those of us who are too young to remember, what that era (particularly in NYC) looked like. The most recent season was set in the beginning of 1965, the same time period in which Warhol (and his Factory-ites) made films such as Kitchen, My Hustler, Vinyl, Drunk, Poor Little Rich Girl, Horse, Empire and the first of the Screen Tests.
As my inamorato said, Mr. Warhol has a great deal to answer for in terms of hideously deathless cool and the emptiness of art. So, having not seen much of this work in years and years I was actually really surprised at how human and watchable the few that I watched are. It perhaps speaks to the arch and contrived nature of reality TV (I have a very strong conviction that Warhol would have adored reality) that these films seemed so, almost, touching. The mid-sixties were also an extraordinarily exciting design moment. The films looked purposefully amateurish in reaction to the slick Hollywood product of the time, and what they look like to me is the birth of the post-modern age. He experimented with split screens and multiple projections. Most of them were a mess, but I find them to be arresting, for documentary reasons if nothing else. Looking back, the big geniuses of the 1960s for me were Andy Warhol and Jean-Luc Godard. They very nearly created out of whole cloth the world we currently inhabit.
The screen tests are extraordinary. For a while there in the mid sixties, Warhol asked everyone who wondered through The Factory to do one. He would simply turn the camera on someone's face and he would ask them not to blink. They're essentially portraits and they're all interesting to watch. I'm sure monkeys are endlessly fascinating to each other, and we humans can look at each other's faces pretty much forever.
In a case of perfect timing, MoMA currently has an exhibit of Warhol's films of this period on display. I'm certainly going and will report back when I do. The exhibition runs through March 21. Find information here.