“Edie was incredible on camera—just the way she moved. And she never stopped moving for a second—even when she was sleeping, her hands were wide awake. She was all energy—she didn’t know what to do with it when it came to living her life, but it was wonderful to film. The great stars are the ones who are doing something you can watch every second, even if it’s just a movement inside their eye.”
–From Popism: The Warhol Sixties by Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett
Shortly after making the transition from commercial artist to fine artist in the early 1960s, moving from a successful career in New York City’s advertising world to the even greater success in the confines of high culture, Andy Warhol became fascinated with cinema. Interested in art as an industrial product, he was drawn to the idea of the impersonal and the machine-made, a self-effacing impulse that was the precise opposite of the chaos of Abstract Expressionism. Warhol rose quickly to fame as a painter for his simple and bold canvases of Campbell’s soup cans and silkscreens of Marilyn Monroe, works that blurred the lines between commercial and fine art, the industrial and the personal, between low and high.
Drawn to New York’s burgeoning underground film scene, Warhol discovered cinema as his perfect medium. He loved the simple idea that you can turn on a camera and get 24 images per second. His breakthrough insight as a filmmaker was that the steady gaze of the camera could turn mundane everyday reality into compelling art. To mainstream moviegoers, Warhol’s films—such as his eight-hour Empire, with the camera gazing impassively at the Empire State Building—sounded like a conceptual joke, “boring” and minimalist. In fact, the experience of his films is quite the opposite; they are incredibly rich in detail, and transform the way we see movies—and life.
The mercurial and beautiful socialite Edie Sedgwick was the embodiment of Warhol’s approach, and the greatest of his Superstars. Edie Sedgwick was just 22 years old in her fabulous year of 1965, when she captivated Warhol and became the star of at least ten of his movies. For a brief time, she was downtown New York’s “It Girl” and Warhol’s greatest muse. Warhol and Sedgwick took the art world by storm, and Edie was the primary focus of Andy’s attention—and his camera.
“I always wanted to do a movie of a whole day in Edie’s life. But then, that was what I wanted to do with most people,” said Warhol. In a perfect encapsulation of his approach to cinema, he wrote, “I never liked the idea of picking out certain scenes and pieces of time and putting them together, because then it ends up being different from what really happened—it’s just not like life, it seems so corny. What I liked was chunks of time all together, every real moment.”
After a small role in Vinyl, Warhol’s very loose adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange, Sedgwick was elevated to star status in Poor Little Rich Girl, which simply follows her as she wakes up and does her morning routine, applying makeup and exercising. In this, and all of her Warhol films, you can see what Manohla Dargis described in The New York Times: “an astonishingly animated face, pale as milk, flutter and fluctuate with seemingly millions of micro-movements. She is at once Jean Harlow and Jean Seberg, as beautiful and nervous as a hummingbird, and just as alive.” In her films, Sedgwick is never “acting” in the classic sense, but she is always performing, playing for the camera and keeping us transfixed. Warhol’s and Sedgwick’s collaboration flamed out within a year. Sedgwick complained to Warhol “Everybody in New York is laughing at me.” He replied “But don’t you understand? These movies are art!” Indeed they are; fascinating and alluring cinematic artifacts starring one of the most mesmerizing performers ever to be captured on camera.
David Schwartz, Chief Curator, Museum of the Moving Image
All of the films of Andy Warhol will be shown in 16mm, courtesy of the Andy Warhol Museum and the Museum of Modern Art of New York. The series was organized by David Schwartz.