Film persona(lity)


“The great stars,” said Andy Warhol, “are the ones who are doing something you can watch every second, even if it’s just a movement inside their eyes,” as reported by Sarah Boxer in The New York Times.  Back in the ‘60s—between ‘64 and ‘66 to be exact—Warhol shot some 500, black-and-white, 16 mm screen tests of artists, musicians, actors, writers, filmmakers, models, curators, celebrities and hangers-on…at the Factory, his silver-walled studio on East 47th Street in Manhattan.”

Each filming lasted three minutes, but Warhol played them back in four, with the intent of exposing “the mechanics of discomposure and charisma.” Baby Jane Holzer tries to unwrap a stick of Wrigley’s gum with her tongue, eventually uses her fingers, and then her eyes glint as she chews. John Palmer barely moves, is cool, handsome, but boring, Boxer concludes. Mama
Cass Elliott is not beautiful, but she is changeable, and so, compelling.  Dennis Hopper: “One eye is lighter than the other, almost transparent…He smiles, he looks down. A worry furrows his brow…He blinks a lot, turns to the right, looks up, then to the left.” He sings to himself, then stops, looks troubled, then starts humming a new song.

Warhol apparently used these films in a variety of ways, often showing them at parties or using them as backdrops for poetry readings. Some of the screen tests were used in his 1964 films, Batman, and Dracula. He was also apparently trying to create “‘a catalog of human heads,’ a typology of charisma in the tradition of 19th-century police mug shots.” Perhaps most intriguing, it’s said that he had in mind a product, that he “hoped to create and sell the screen tests as ‘living portrait boxes,’ tabletop boxes in which individual film loops would be projected.” The takeaway, says Boxer, is that the typography of charisma “has nothing to do with handsomeness, histrionics, coolness, slimness, trying or giving up….(It) is as elusive as the typology of criminality.” If you’d like to check this out for yourself, a selection of 28 of the Warhol portraits are now “being shown continuously on six screens at the Museum of Modern Art, Queens.”

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