“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”—Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol is world-famous for his artistic achievements in the medium of painting but in the 1960s, he took a break from his role as a painter and focused on other outlets for his creative talents. Warhol managed the then up-and-coming band, The Velvet Underground, even becoming their producer.
However, most of his creative attention was devoted to film during this period. Between 1964 and 1966, Warhol shot a staggering amount of short films, close to 500, of his celebrity friends and models, calling them “screen tests”.
After shooting these short pieces, Andy Warhol moved on to longer works that challenged the conventions of cinema. The mark of any great artist is their curiosity and that is certainly the case with Warhol. Even though it was a relatively unfamiliar medium for him, he immediately found ways to redefine what a work of cinema really means. He called these longer pieces “anti-films” because, true to their name, they subverted and frustrated the voyeuristic expectations of the audience. Their very existence felt like an act of defiance.
Below, we’ve broken down the three projects which solidified Warhol’s role in cinema.
Andy Warhol – Sleep (1963)
For the first “anti-film”, Sleep (1963), Warhol wanted to feature the famous Brigitte Bardot. However, he went ahead with his idea for the film with his friend John Giorno as the star.
The title of the film does not keep the viewers guessing because it delivers exactly what it promises, five hours of Giorno sleeping. Maybe it’s not exactly compelling cinema but it certainly draws our attention to the superficialities of the medium that keeps an audience engaged.
Andy Warhol – Kiss (1963)
The next addition to the trilogy, if it can be called that, is Kiss (1963).
The 54-minute footage is a collection of shorter works which features couples kissing, depicting heteronormative as well as homosexual couples. It challenged the sensibilities of the audience of that time by asserting that same-sex couples were equal.
Kiss is an important part of the gay pride narrative because it is a product of the political as well as the aesthetic vision of one of the most influential artists of all time, Andy Warhol.
Andy Warhol – Eat (1964)
The final “anti-film” was called Eat (1964) which featured a starving pop artist, Robert Indiana, chewing on nothing but a raw mushroom for 40 minutes.
Warhol certainly knew how to put the “anti” in his “anti-film”. Warhol’s works are a fascinating evaluation of the cinematic medium, conducted by one of the most fiercely talented artists.