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arts

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Warhol, Andy (as filmmaker) (1928-1987)  

As a painter Andy Warhol (the name he assumed after moving to New York as a young man) has been compared to everyone from Salvador Dalí to Norman Rockwell. But when it comes to his role as a filmmaker he is generally remembered either for a single film--Sleep (1963)--or for works that he did not actually direct.

Born into a blue-collar family in Forest City, Pennsylvania on August 6, 1928, Andrew Warhola, Jr. attended art school at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. He moved to New York in 1949, where he changed his name to Andy Warhol and became an international icon of Pop Art.

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Between 1963 and 1967 Warhol turned out a dizzying number and variety of films involving many different collaborators, but after a 1968 attempt on his life, he retired from active duty behind the camera, becoming a producer/ "presenter" of films, almost all of which were written and directed by Paul Morrissey.

Morrissey's Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), and Heat (1972) are estimable works. And Bad (1977), the sole opus of Warhol's lover Jed Johnson, is not bad either. But none of these films can compare to the Warhol films that preceded them, particularly My Hustler (1965), an unprecedented slice of urban gay life; Beauty #2 (1965), the best of the films featuring Edie Sedgwick; The Chelsea Girls (1966), the only experimental film to gain widespread theatrical release; and **** (Four Stars) (1967), the 25-hour long culmination of Warhol's career as a filmmaker.

Warhol's filmmaking career can be neatly divided into three parts. Between 1963 and 1964 he made silent films: black and white works shot with a newsreel camera capable of producing 3½ minutes of footage. In these films, movement on the part of his subjects was discouraged. Sleep, Eat, Haircut, and Kiss come from this period, along with the portrait films 13 Most Beautiful Boys and 13 Most Beautiful Women. But some liveliness breaks through in the Hollywood-shot film featuring Taylor Mead, Tarzan and Jane Regained Sort of.

When Warhol secured a 16mm synch-sound camera capable of holding 35 minute-long reels in 1965, the second part of his filmmaking career commenced. Warhol discovered that two continuous shots could make for a feature-length film; and so with different collaborators he set about making them.

Off-off Broadway playwright Ronald Tavel supplied scripts for such deadpan satires from 1965 as Vinyl, Horse, The Life of Juanita Castro, and Screen Test. Chuck Wein, who co-directed the Poor Little Rich Girl series starring Edie Sedgwick, contributed a different approach to cinéma vérité, attempting to use the camera to discover an "inner truth."

Paul Morrissey entered the picture in 1966, contributing a dramatic quality to certain sequences of The Chelsea Girls, which he co-directed. This two-screen-projected three and one-half hour work was hailed as the Greenwich Village answer to La Dolce Vita (1960) in its depiction of a variety of demimondaines.

The third and final stage of Warhol's filmmaking career occurs when he turned to color film. In color, with superimposed reels atop one another during projection, **** (Four Stars) is at once more ambitious and more experimental than the earlier works. Later broken up into several films including The Imitation of Christ, The Loves of Ondine, and Tub Girls, it represents Warhol at the apogee of creative freedom.

The Imitation of Christ is particularly noteworthy as the screen's first epic non-love story: the would-be lovers being too self-involved to take much notice of one another.

Warhol's contribution to gay cinema is of incalculable importance, and it is an artistic tragedy that his works (controlled as they are by his estate and not available for video release) are so little known today. Out before outness was a way of political life, he was looked down upon by more conventionally masculine gays as too swish to "pass."

The casual of Haircut, little-noted at the time of its first screenings, is unmistakable today.

My Hustler is particularly interesting. Part one consists of a conversation on the deck of a Fire Island cottage between acerbic "sugar daddy" Ed Hood, fag-hag Genevieve Charbon, and semi-retired hustler Joe Campbell, as they watch Hood's latest acquisition, Paul America, lie on the beach. Part two is a long seduction scene in a bathroom as the older hustler seduces the younger. Towards the end, legendary wit Dorothy Dean also attempts to woo the younger man.

Shot two years before The Boys in the Band surfaced off-Broadway in 1968, My Hustler is a treasure-trove of gay slang and attitude from the period. Moreover, it is also interesting as a historical footnote in that at the time it was shot, Campbell was being kept by a well-heeled, deeply closeted investment banker named Harvey Milk.

Horse, a western made four years before the Morrissey-helmed Lonesome Cowboys (1969), is far more homoerotic, dealing as it does with gay S&M rituals.

More significant, one of the most striking scenes in ****(Four Stars) finds actor (and Warhol impersonator) Alan Midgette falling in love on camera with a British youth identified only as Dingham. It is an utterly simple affair--like all of Warhol at his best in the years prior to the attempt on his life and his later transmogrification into the first of the Reagan Democrats.

David Ehrenstein

     

 
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arts >> Overview:  American Art: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Prior to Stonewall, most gay artists were closeted, but they were inventive in creating codes for those in the know; after 1945 some adventurous artists developed independent networks for the distribution of works of gay art.

arts >> Overview:  Film

Since cinema began, Hollywood has been fascinated with finding ways of representing homosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Film Directors

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual film directors have been a vital creative presence in cinema since the medium's inception over one hundred years ago.

arts >> Overview:  New Queer Cinema

Independent films that aggressively assert homosexual identity and queer culture, the New Queer Cinema can be seen as the culmination of several developments in American cinema.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Sex Workers

Although art historians have given very little attention to representations of sex workers, images of same-sex prostitution extend far back into history.

arts >> Overview:  Transvestism in Film

Too often cinematic drag is reduced to a mere joke, a harmless tease that tacitly reassures us that people can change their clothes but not their sexual identities.

arts >> Overview:  The Western

A distinctive American narrative genre that has developed over more than two centuries, the Western is now consumed worldwide; characteristically depicting homosocial relationships, it is also frequently suffused with homoeroticism.

arts >> Grinbergs, Andris

Despite the potentially lethal consequences of living as a bisexual and working as a nonconformist artist under totalitarianism, Andris Grinbergs pioneered happenings, body art, and underground filmmaking in Soviet-occupied Latvia from the late 1960s onward.

arts >> Kuchar, George

One of the founding fathers of cinematic camp, George Kuchar made innovative, if engagingly threadbare, epics from 1954 almost until the end of his life.

social sciences >> Milk, Harvey

Harvey Milk, among the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States, was assassinated in San Francisco's City Hall, making him the American gay liberation movement's most visible martyr.

arts >> Morrissey, Paul

Filmmaker Paul Morrissey was the auteur who created many of the "Andy Warhol films," works that unflinchingly document modern urban subcultures, including the lives of drag queens, hustlers, and addicts.

arts >> Reed, Lou

In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, bisexual rock musician Lou Reed, pencil-thin, craggy, and dressed in tough leather or androgynous glitz, came to symbolize the rebellious outsider.

arts >> Robinson, Jack

Photographer Jack Robinson came to prominence as a result of the stunning fashion and celebrity photographs he shot for magazines in the 1960s, but he also created significant images that document the gay subculture of New Orleans in the 1950s.

arts >> Van Sant, Gus

One of the most idiosyncratic talents to have emerged from the independent cinema over the past decade and a half, Gus Van Sant is not only matter-of-fact about his sexual orientation, but in his work he also represents homosexuality matter-of-factly.

arts >> Warhol, Andy (as artist)

The avatar of Pop Art, Andy Warhol expressed desire in his images of celebrities and flouted traditional notions of masculinity by embracing extravagance, effeminacy, and an obsession with surface appearances.


    Bibliography
   

Doyle, Jennifer, Jonathan Flatley, and José Esteban Muñoz, eds. Pop Out: Queer Warhol. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1996.

Ehrenstein, David. "An Interview with Andy Warhol." Film Culture 40 (Spring 1966): 41.

O'Pray, Michael. Andy Warhol Film Factory. London: The British Film Institute, 1989.

Smith, Patrick S. Andy Warhol's Art and Films. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1986.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Ehrenstein, David  
    Entry Title: Warhol, Andy (as filmmaker)  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated June 21, 2012  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/warhol_a_filmmaker.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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