If you haven’t watched HBO’s classic show about the 70s music scene, Vinyl, then you have missed a great portrayal of the the iconic artist Andy Warhol. Through the lens of Martin Scorsese, Warhol's diminutive brilliance is personified. He is the ultimate visionary and the Godfather of pop culture. His list of muses, from models to tomato soup cans, is the stuff of legend, but perhaps nothing has stirred as much bizarre controversy as his personal passion project: Pork.
That maestro of the monotonous, Andy Warhol, is no longer satisfied with what most would regard as the substantial achievement of making a bore out of sex. In Pork, described by London's Daily Telegraph as "the nearest we have yet come to a theatrical emetic," he manages to debase it as well, with a treatment that puts it on the same level as a bowel movement. A stage play ostensibly depicting incidents in Warhol's personal life, Pork was originally written to last no fewer than 10 hours. Mercifully, director Anthony J. Ingrassia persuaded the czar of somnambulism to trim it by eight hours or so. The surviving scenes show a wheelchaired Warhol (Anthony Zanetta) listening to and questioning a number of people whom Ingrassia describes as "like everyone else." They include Amanda Pork (Kathy Doritie), a plump frustrated girl with a mother problem; Vulva (Wayne County), a hideous bushy-haired transvestite with a Southern American drawl; and Josie (Geri Miller), a topless dancer with a penchant for peeing in plastic basins. Real familiar, next-door, friendly neighborhood folk.
In its dialogue, Pork contrives to present sex, not as the joyful and uplifting experience it is but as something obscene. There's a dissertation on the mechanics of a "plate job," illustrated by a girl defecating on a glass platter while a man lies watching underneath. There are discussions on the nature, color, and texture of excrement. What there isn't is any hint of beauty in physical processes or of anything to set the supreme human pleasure apart from obscenity itself. There is mild relief in the antics of Geri Miller, a one-time co-star of Cassius Clay, and protagonist in Warhol's celebrated Trash. Her piping-voiced descriptions of sexual experience, as she expertly pushes pink phallic vibrators up between her legs, have a certain Candy-like humor, and the bit where she gets her breasts to revolve in opposite directions is an improvement on Andy's nine-hour movies of people asleep.
But it is not long before we are back in the Black Warhol of Calcutta, groping our way through gabbled profanities and hypnotizing juvenilia, and Miss Miller's attempt to save Pork's bacon is hamfistedly thrown away. With this production, many underground enthusiasts are going to be asking where Warhol is at these days, what he's gotten into. The truth of the matter is that he's into boredom. "I like boring things," he has said, which suggests that he must be inordinately pleased with Pork. With its unique blend of excremental obsession and blatant nudity, it transmogrifies the wholesome, exciting process of sexual stimulation into a degrading version of amateur night at the sewage works drama society. Beyond Pork, his obsession with the cross section of sexuality and art extended to a plethora of stimulating but more often than not, like the man himself, bizarre and unique.
The 1963 film Kiss was a Warhol experimental film that runs for slightly under an hour. It is essentially individuals of all sexualities sensually kissing for three minutes a piece. Kiss stars include Johnny Dodd, Gerard Malanga, Naomi Levine, Ed Sanders, and Rufus Collins. Kiss evolved into Warhol's 1963 films Sleep and Eat, and finally Blow Job in 1964. Kiss was one of the first films he made at The Factory in New York City. Everyone is kissing. Do the math on how many variations of men and women, each with their own sexual identity, can be portrayed kissing. There are dozens of possibilities.
Kiss is a bit too repetitive, but its tempo leads to a meditative state. The film clocks in at a bit over 55 minutes. The only African American person in the film is Rufus Collins. He grazes, ever so delicately, the mouth of the beautiful woman under him, Naomi Levine. Rufus Collins went on to be cast as a hot vampire in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Naomi Levine is seen regularly, throughout Kiss with with multiple men. Also paired with multiple men is Gerard Malanga. Is Kiss love? Is it just fun? Is it love? Is it acting. Andy Warhol saw a kiss as somewhat of a social transaction between two people. His film is social commentary, but more important a voyeuristic glimpse at an intimate activity.
Blow Job was a deep experiment into facial expressions during a blow job. Warhol directed it in 1964. The face belongs to uncredited Warhol superstar DeVeren Bookwalter. Though shot at 24 frames, he preferred it be be projected at 16 frames, thereby slowing it down a bit. Sometimes the man looks bored, sometimes as if he is thinking, sometimes as if he is aware of the camera, sometimes as if he is not. What might have been pornographic becomes an extended examination of the passing of time and the materiality of film.
In his ground-breaking book, Roy Grundmann provocatively claims that Andy Warhol's famous underground film is an allegory and suggests metaphors for post-war culture and society. He argues that the film exemplifies the highly complex aspects of cultural acceptance of homoerotic visuals.
In another examination of Blow Job, Peter Gidal explains a concrete view of Warhol's and which made the film intentionally abstract. The use of close-ups and camera movement create a sense of theatrics around what might generally bee extended mundane act of sexuality. Gidal was himself an experimental filmmaker, and had retrospectives at the Pompidou in Paris as well as the London Film Co-op and Institute of Contemporary Arts, London.
The unresolved and ambiguous nature of the film is captured in the movement of the actor himself. Each facial expression is a clue to a narrative within the subject's mind. The way he leans back, head tilted back, and often avoiding direct eye contact with the camera's lens draws the viewer deeper into the story. The possibility that it is acting and the blowjob is fictitious has drawn viewers to scrutinize every movement of the face and shift in body. Like Warhol himself, the film is an enigma.
In 1966, Warhol created what was originally titled Blow Job Number 2, but was changed to Eating Too Fast. At 67 minutes it featured a new face. Art critic and writer Gregory Battcock was the star of this one, and his face shows it.
The British Film Institute describes the film bluntly, "the first half of the film is a still shot." The subject, Gregory Battcock, is seen "eating an apple, taking a phone call all while apparently receiving a blow job." The film was made in Battcock's then Greenwich Village apartment with Lou Reed and Andy Warhol on camera and direction.
The small movements of Battcock’s head reframe what are elegant and quite tight close-ups. The effect creates a symmetry of light and shadow on the subject's face, begging further questions of the surreal scene. Halfway through the film, at 35 minutes in, there is a pan down to the back of another man's head. After a few minutes, one can hear another person is in the room. There is a bit of coughing, a moment later what sounds like someone taking a drink. The story is there but the viewer seems just one puzzle piece away from the apparently simple narrative. Perhaps its just a guy stoned in his apartment. While on the phone, the conversation is animated yet one sided. The ambiguity is left for the viewer as the subject himself goes back to sitting in his chair and gazing into the camera's lens. Quickly, one is drawn back to the subtle movement and facial expressions of Battcock. Seventy minutes seems like a long period of time to watch what is seemingly a very mundane setup, but it is the very essence of the debate as to the brilliance of Warhol. Who is the genius, and who is merely making you believe in their genius and abstract views? Perhaps they were one in the same for the one-time advertising executive, Andy Warhol.
His 1972 classic Heat was actually directed by Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol had production credit. Somewhat of a parody of the 1950 classic Sunset Boulevard, Heat starred Joe Dallesandro, Andrea Feldman, and Sylvia Miles. Morrissey said, in some way, all his films were remakes of Sunset Boulevard.
There are two women who really do steal the show. The first is Sylvia Miles, who was nominated by the academy for an Oscar. She portrayed the prostitute in the classic film Midnight Cowboy. The other is Andrea Feldman, who gives a bizzarre performance talking on the telephone. Her shrill monologue makes you wonder if the voice itself is an act or defines who she really is.
The movie is compelling because of the outrageous group of people Morrissey parades through the film. He assigns them insane situations and dares them to both participate and act their way into and out of the set ups. Both Warhol and Morrissey defined their passions through the actions of others, from the unknown corporate designer to Campbell's Soup to the actors moving through the mundane in Heat.
Less simple than the original title, Fuck, Blue Movie was Warhol's 1969 explicit sex film. It did in fact have a wide cinematic release. Warhol is believed to have paved the way for the iconic erotic masterpiece starring Marlon Brando, Last Tango in Paris. Starring Viva and Louis Waldon as themselves having sex, Blue Movie is the bizarre soundtrack of Vietnam protestations combined with daily mundane noises. Warhol explained that it was a film that makes you visually explore the mantra "Make love, not war."
Warhol had a knack for becoming involved in the various controversies always spiraling around him. From freedom of expression to censorship and the redefining of sexuality, all roads would cross Warhol's path. Throughout the 60s, Andy Warhol would constantly push the boundaries of what society deemed both socially and legally acceptable. Blue Movie was perhaps his boldest statement, and would shape perspective on the debate of erotica vs porn for decades. In retrospect, Blue Movie may seem like a social commentary of one of the most important decades in cultural evolution, but to Warhol, every day of his life was a reflection and ongoing commentary of whatever moment, day, or year he was living in.
Explore the Films of Andy Warhol
While these films represent the most erotic of Warhol's work, they don't scratch the surface of his portfolio as an artist. Whether you wish to delve deeper into Warhol's erotic films, or experience his other works, these two books will draw you into his abstract and artistic world.
The Black Hole of the Camera is the first comprehensive study of Andy Warhol's films. In this volume, J.J. Murphy discusses Warhol's early films, sound portraits, involvement with multimedia, and sexploitation films. He also explores the more commercial works that Warhol produced for Paul Morrissey in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This book demonstrates how Warhol's camerawork transformed the events he filmed, and how his brand of psychodrama created the dramatic tension his work is so well known for.
During the 1960s, Andy Warhol produced hundreds of "Screen Tests," or three-minute cinematic portraits. These short films are rarely screened today, but captured such icons as Edie Sedgwick, Bob Dylan, Salvador Dali, and Susan Sontag. In Andy Warhol Screen Test: The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne, Callie Angell examines all 189 people that were captured by Warhol's lenses, showing stills from many of the films for the first time.