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Revisit Bob Dylan’s iconic screen test for Andy Warhol, 1965

Two of the sixties’ greatest icons, Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol made their names in New York City and, for a time, routinely crossed paths as the two figureheads of their fields merged careers on few occasions, despite operating in a Venn diagram of social circles. One such moment came when, recording on a Bolex 16mm camera and 100-feet rolls of film, Andy Warhol set about filming Bob Dylan as part of his growing number of short films.

It’s estimated that Warhol created more than 472 short films between 1964 and 1966 alongside his trusted assistant Gerard Malanga. Of those mass numbers of films, Edie Sedgwick, Salvador Dali, Nico, Marcel Duchamp, Allen Ginsberg, Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed, and Susan Sontag all posed for Warhol at his infamous Factory Studio on New York’s East 47th Street. It seemed only right that the prince of the counter culture was also given his screen time.

Warhol created the film series and labelled them ‘Screen Tests’ as part of an ongoing in-joke. Malanga, his assistant, once said: “None of these screen tests amounted to giving those people the opportunity to go on in the underground film world,” in a 2009 interview. “It was kind of a parody of Hollywood.”

In late July 1965, a time when Dylan had just performed his now historic ‘electric’ performance at the Newport Folk Festival and became the only name worth any weight in the rock world, he strolled into Warhol’s studio and, for a few short moments, became his subject. With two rolls of film lined up for a close-up and a wide shot, Warhol let the camera roll and captured Dylan.

Warhol biographers Tony Scherman and David Dalton, who created the book Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, wrote that “he [Warhol] was clearly star-struck, in awe of Dylan’s sudden, vast celebrity. He had a more practical agenda, too: to get Dylan to appear in a Warhol movie.”

Callie Angell writes of the meeting: “The day Bob Dylan visited the Factory and had his Screen Test shot is a fabled episode in the lore of the Warhol 1960s, most notably as the occasion when Warhol gave Dylan a silver Elvis painting, which Dylan later gave to his manager Albert Grossman in exchange for a couch. Bob Dylan had significant connections with a number of people at the Warhol Factory; he was a friend of Barbara Rubin’s, who introduced him to Allen Ginsberg; he wrote a song for Nico, ‘I’ll Keep It with Mine’, which she later recorded. His manager Bob Neuwirth encouraged Edie Sedgwick’s defection from the Factory at the end of 1965… and he was also friends with Patrick Tilden-Close, the star of Warhol’s 1967 film Imitation of Christ.”

Rumour has it that once filming had finished, Dylan walked over to a large painting of Elvis Presley that Warhol had just completed and said: “I think I’ll just take this for payment, man,” but Warhol had arranged to hand it over to Dylan as a gift anyway.

Here it is:

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