It’s difficult to hear the name Warhol and not immediately conjure up images of Campbell soup cans, screen prints of Marilyn Monroe’s smirking face and the tragically beautiful public persona that was Edie Sedgwick. Whoever could forget the notoriously evocative shot of Sedgwick’s doe-eyed gaze — both world-weary and strangely innocent — boring into Warhol’s camera as she ever so blithely blinked and licked her lips?
Warhol’s fame, however, did not rest solely upon his provocative and often absurd artistic works, which were a sure sign of the times and the sentiments of the society he produced work for and about. In fact, Andy Warhol was also quite the avant-garde filmmaker, well received by some but dismissed by most critics as a slightly demented poseur with no cinematic or artistic talent whatsoever.
These little-known films were removed from the public eye in 1970 when Warhol refused to distribute them, but 10 years later the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City collaborated on the Andy Warhol Project in order to bring the artist’s films to the public once again in what was one of the largest archival projects for any avant-garde work. With the purpose of showcasing the multifaceted talents of one of the most progressive American artists of his time, the Carsey-Wolf Center has teamed up with UCSB’s Pollock Theater in hosting the Andy Warhol Film Series.
Co-Director of the Carsey-Wolf Center, Professor Constance Penley was responsible for proposing Warhol’s films as a series. Penley decided to feature Warhol when she noticed that students in her Experimental Film course were often engaged with the material surrounding the persona of Andy Warhol. It was Warhol’s role as such a highly known public figure — one that still has great influence on contemporary society — which prompted Penley to explore his films and give students the opportunity to do so as well.
“Everybody thinks they know Warhol: He was this crazy guy who seemed as if all his work was a big prank, painting these soup cans and calling it art,” Penley said. “But my students are so astounded to discover the scope of his innovation and influence, and they don’t realize that he worked across so many mediums, that he blurred the line between commercial art and fine art. Because he’s so ubiquitous and because they think they know what Warhol’s about even though they haven’t seen any of his work or any of his films, they think they know it, and once they go deeper into what he’s done, they want to study it.”
Warhol’s films are provocative, yet also rich in style and technique — something that most critics and artists of his time dismissed because his films were seemingly inaccessible. Many people who wrote anything about the films at the time had not even seen them but made judgments based on hearsay. Penley stressed the great historical opportunity of even being able to screen the films at UCSB.
“The films had been completely misdescribed as unengaged, impassive films by a man who just turned on the camera and walked away,” Penley said. “But now that scholars and filmmakers have been able to see the films through the Andy Warhol Project, they describe completely different films. Warhol turns out to be a very focused, engaged filmmaker, and the films turn out not to be documentary-like at all: They are lit, edited, framed — just as he cared deeply about all of those elements in his drawing and painting practice.”
The opportunity to screen these films is a rare and lucky one indeed.
“To be able to show them, you have to rent the films, but you also have to have an archival projectionist. They [the
Andy Warhol Film Project] will not let you screen the films unless you have an archival projectionist, so one is coming up from L.A. for the screenings,” Penley said.
The films chosen are those which highlight the phases of Warhol’s filmmaking career. The series will debut on Oct. 10 with “Screen Tests” — from his early silent films — followed by his more minimalist films which include “Kiss” and “Blow Job” (screening Oct. 17). The series will progress to his multiscreen features with “Chelsea Girls” on Oct. 24 and end with “Lonesome Cowboys” (screening Nov. 7), which details the later period of his Sexploitation films. Though Warhol created over 500 films (including film portraits) throughout his career, Penley’s choice was limited in what she was able to screen. Depending on the success of the series, there could be another opportunity to screen more films in the future.
“Anyone interested in politics, queer politics, art, sex or religion should attend this event,” Penley said. “This is all about the power of studying something where you think you already know it, and it just takes what you think you knew and tosses it right out the window.”
To take this rare opportunity to see Warhol’s strange and beautiful art films, visit http://www.carseywolf.ucsb.edu/pollock and get your tickets now.