a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Chelsea Girls (1966, Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey)

Obviously, any complaint you could lodge against this, Andy Warhol's most famous/popular installation-piece-ish film, is fruitless, tanatmount to saying a Beckett play goes nowhere or (to channel some of Warhol's buds) that an early Velvet Underground album would sound better with some production value. That said, you don't want to fall blindly for it, and nor do you want to lazily write it off. As ever with Warhol, it's less a typical film than an experience, even if it's often -- as was a quoteable in Randall Jarrell's Pictures From an Institution -- just an experience in pure duration; the larger the crowd the better, in other words.

Consisting of a dozen thirty-three-minute-long reels projected two at a time, side by side (read: 3 1/2 hours), it's little else but a gimmicky way to spruce up the typical Warholian shenanigans: the images are still People Just Being (or, rather, "Superstars" just acting up), with them forced to come up with things to say or do until, literally, the reel runs out. But, yes, there's more to it, and writing it off as a time capsule can't help but feel like a lazy description. Moving, ever so gradually, from B&W to color (with some over-laps -- you haven't seen anything till you've seen gritty B&W projected right next to radiant color), the fun is in the numerous juxtaposition: Nico's lazy afternoon -- snipping at her bangs, playing with a kid -- placed next to Onidine being a loud-mouthed dickhead; people carping on eachother next to others lounging on or near a bed; and, at what may be the film's sadistic zenith, two Mary Wuoronovs.

As promised by taunting introducer Andrew Repasky McElhinney ("If you absolutely need to run off to the bathroom -- though you're a coward and pathetic if you do -- then do it during the Mary Wuoronov segement..."), the final hour is near-ethereal, not just because it's been so hectic (and sometimes irritating) up to that point and this section is gorgeous, but because it contains the most shy of the Superstars revealing himself, both literally and figuratively, and then the strangely affecting mix of (again) Ondine being a dick (in B&W) and Nico (in color) sitting nervously while the Velvets (presumably) play in the background. It's less a time capsule then a film about tonal response. I still prefer the trance of Empire -- which, truth be told, I only saw three hours of, but during which suffered through a near-religious experience -- over the cacaphony of this one, but I'm not the least bit sorry I made trawled through it. Didn't even go to the bathroom...


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