SUPERPOP OR A NIGHT AT THE FACTORY
Reynolds wrap is what hits you. The whole place is Reynolds wrap, the ceiling, the pipes, the walls. They said it was like this, but until you walk in and actually see that it is true, until you stand and look all around and stare at all that foil and wonder how many rolls of the stuff was used and how many man hours it took to pin it to the walls and crinkle it around the pipes and paste it to the ceiling, you don't believe it. And that isn't all.
The floor has been painted silver. All the cabinets stuffed with paint and film and records have been painted silver. The hi-fi components have been painted silver, and speakers are in silver boxes. The sound is incessant. The tape recorder is silver, and the thermofax machine is silver. There is a silver exercycle, two silver fire extinguishers, four cases of coke bottles painted silver, and an old, silver vacuum cleaner. There is a huge trunk like the one Judy Garland says she was born in, painted silver. The TV set has been sprayed silver, and beside it are the upended legs of a store mannequin, silver, of course. The pay telephone on the wall is silver. The odd assortment of stools and chairs are silver. And the bathroom is silver-lined and painted, including the toilet bowl and flushing mechanism.
Andy Warhol's long, straight hair is silver. At first you think it has been sprayed, like the telephone, because there is some black underneath the top layer. It is not real, but Andy Warhol is real. He is stretched out on a red hairy couch, and when people come in he gets up and is very polite and says, "How do you do," when introduced. He has the roundish horn-rimmed sunglasses on like he always does, a dirty pink shirt, black sweatshirt and jeans, and black cuffed zipper boots with medium heels. He is very relaxed, almost sagging. His mouth is sullen. His hand is loose when you shake it. He is skinny, not too tall, and has an anemic look about him.
Two of Warhol's assistants are in the studio with him. One of them, Gerard, with a Beethoven haircut and a weight-lifter's build, is asleep on another couch. The other, tall, thin and shy, is thermofaxing the liner notes of an opera album.
A photographer is there, and he sets up a few lights and prepares a remote camera, the idea being to let Warhol press the button and take self-portraits. This appeals to Andy. "Oh great! Wow, oh yes, marvelous!" He fiddles with the button, clicking off a few frames, and becomes more enthusiastic. He looks up from studying the button and says in his soft, fluid voice, "Why this is really marvelous. I could do my paintings this way, I mean if a person were dying he could photograph his own death." He looks a bit wideeyed as he contemplates this, and his mouth twists ever so slightly into a pleased smile.
Warhol sits on the couch, looks directly at the camera, and presses the remote button. His expression never changes as the camera whirs through 36 exposures. He shoots 10 rolls this way. Then there is a break, and he goes out and buys some bananas and shoots two more rolls of himself eating the bananas because he has made a banana movie called Harlot in which the star of the film eats six bananas in one hour. While the camera is being reloaded, Warhol talks about a recent film he's done, Suicide.
"I found this person, my star, who has 13 scars on one wrist and 15 scars on the other wrist from suicide attempts. He has marvelous wrists. The scars are all different shades of purple. This was my first color movie. We just focused the camera on his wrists and he pointed to each scar and told its history, like when he did it, and why, and what happened afterward."
Someone suggests filming a real suicide, and Warhol brightens. "Ohh, wouldn't that be something," he says. "One of my friends committed suicide recently, but he didn't call me." Warhol's left hand goes to his lips in a habitual gesture. "He was so high he didn't think, I guess. He was a dancer and had been in a couple of my films. He got high and just danced right out the window." Warhol chews lightly on a fingernail and looks thoughtful, pondering with popartistic detachment what sort of film a real suicide would have made. He gets up and moves in a quiet, gliding way across the room to a table stacked with paint cans, and begins trying to match a certain shade of purple.
On the floor, on one side of the room, 17 silkscreen paintings of the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison cover about 20 square feet, drying. There are three orange ones, five bright green, three yellow, one purple, four red, and one brown. Among them also is a bright blue Jackie Kennedy, a seven-foot Elvis Presley pulling a six gun, and one pink, black, green and red Liz Taylor on a pale green background. They were all news photos originally, Associated Press, UPI, The Daily News. Warhol clipped them, sent them out for silk screens to be made, and ran off prints by the numbers in the studio. Mass production art.
Warhol calls his place "the factory." The street entrance is a small green door sandwiched between an antique shop and a parking garage. The elevator is for freight, and the studio itself, pre tin-foil days, was dingy and functional, with dark brick walls and steel beams in the ceiling. But more than that, "the factory" is a good name for Warhol's place because of the way art is produced there. You half expect a ruddy-cheeked salesman with a sample case on wheels to come bursting in from a successful road trip, waving order forms, yelling, "They want 100 more electric chairs in Denver, and St. Louis wants 500 Of the flowers, 500! Imagine."
The flowers, Warhol explains with a smile, came from a fabric that was in a Kodak ad on how to print color in your home darkroom. He gets up from his knees where he has been working on the purple color matching problem, the background of a three-foot square Liz Taylor head, and walks to a cardboard box sitting on a table. He motions to several large different colored flower prints along the way. "These are for my Paris show," he says, opening the cardboard box. He pulls out a handful of tiny canvases, fiveby-five inches, covered with the same flower print. "They come six to a package, and you get six different colors. Each set costs $30." He sounded like he was selling Christmas wrappings, and he must have thought so too, because he suddenly looked up and almost laughed. Someone asks how many he had made, and he says about a hundred. "When should I stop? I don't know how many to make. Should I stop making them?" He shrugs and goes back to Liz Taylor.
Besides the Liz Taylor on the floor is a white canvas on stretchers, the same size as the painted one. Warhol has finally matched the purple to his satisfaction, and begins to paint the white canvas, with a brush! Andy Warhol painting with a brush! The photographer moves in, then stops at Warhol's upraised hand. "No no, please, we don't use a brush anymore. It's just that a blank has been lost, and I have to do an odd one to replace it." Warhol seems embarrassed to be caught with a brush, and blushes faintly. But a blank? "You see, for every large painting I do, I paint a blank canvas the same background color. The two are designed to hang together however the owner wants. He can hang it right beside the painting, or across the room, or above or below it." What does this really add to the art work? "Nothing, really," he says with the same small smile. "It just makes them bigger, and mainly, it makes them cost more." Liz Taylor, for instance, three feet by three feet, in any color you like, with the blank, costs $1600. Signed, of course.
They wouldn't have been signed, Warhol claims, unless the Leo Castelli Gallery, his dealer, which gets a substantial percentage of the take for that privilege, hadn't ordered it. "People just won't buy things that are unsigned," Warhol complains. "It's so silly. I really don't believe in signing my work. Anyone could do the things I am doing, and I don't feel they should be signed." He was asked why he spent a few hours recently signing Campbell's Soup cans in a supermarket if be felt so strange about signing things. He smiled, "That was a big joke. Gerard really signed the cans." Warhol turned toward Gerard who had awakened and was preparing a projector for the evening's film screenings. Tennessee Williams was expected along with some other guests. "Didn't you, Gerard?" Gerard nodded, a curl dropping over his right eye. "We just thought it would be funny to have a bunch of cans signed by me that people would take home and actually open and eat. Gerard didn't copy my signature, even. He just signed my name. It really doesn't matter."
"The Gallery thinks it does, though. Look at these." Warhol goes over to a shopping bag on the floor and pulls something from it neatly wrapped in tissue paper. It is a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup weighing nearly 10 pounds. "The studio had these made for me to sign. They are beautiful, aren't they? Aluminum, I guess, solid. They cost about $50 a can, I guess. What do you think? They want me to sign them all, but I don't think I should. Do you think so? What should I do? I really can't decide whether to sign them or not." His hand goes to his lips again. "I don't think I will."
Someone tells a story of how he once watched Picasso sitting in the square of some village in Spain, drawing on plates with a marking pen, signing each one in less than a minute and charging $100 apiece for them. There was a long line of purchasers, and a cashier had been set up to collect the money. "Really?" Warhol asks. "No kidding, he really did that?" And he may have been reconsidering those soup cans.
Since returning from Paris this summer, where, Warhol said, people "seemed to like the flowers," he hasn't done anything to sign. It's all movies now, at the rate of one a week. As one of his assistants put it, "Andy has been, well, kind of doing 'paint-think' since he got back." "If I do start painting again," Warhol says, "someone else will do it all, I won't touch anything." Except maybe affix his signature for Mr. Castelli. Of course there are also the pillows, various cloud-shaped hunks of silver plastic inflated with helium - the ultimate in mobiles - that Warhol contracted to have made some time ago. But they too are past.
Naomi Levine interrupts Warhol's reverie. She is one of the stars of Andy's silver screen. She came in early to use the phone, and was still there at midnight. She is short, with long black hair and watery brown eyes that plead. She is small-waisted, bosomy and eager. She is the star of one of the many Kiss movies by Andy Warhol, an hour of kissing between Naomi and a guy in front of a camera that never moves. She is also the star of The Couch, an experimental film in which all of Naomi's charms are revealed as she passionately and nakedly squirms on a couch. Her efforts are for naught. The male co-star is more fascinated by his motorcycle, parked next to the couch, which he works on during the entire film. She has been in eight other of his movies. She has made three movies herself, one of which she breathily says is called Yes! and involves people playing with flowers in a country setting, and playing with each other, and just "having fun."
When she gets off the phone it rings for Andy, and while he talked she blew in his free ear and giggled naughtily.
Then the people start arriving. One of Andy's film stars comes in and kisses him on the back of the neck while he is still on the phone. Two girls come in, one a photography stylist around town, with her friend, the dress designer from the Coast, who is wearing a V-neck pull-over mink-toe sweater.
There is a tired-looking, pregnant ex-model, bulging out the front of her white plastic Correges suit, striking poses here and there for a gawky kid with a camera who someone says is her husband. A little 14-year-old girl with long blonde hair ("she runs her own rock and roll group") is doing the jerk with this conformist, long-haired kid ("he blows guitar in her group"). There is the ex-head of a 97th Street and Columbus Avenue girl gang who explains that she has been saved by "urban renewal and Andy Warhol." Instead of bopping heads, she now appears in his films. Three tittle boys, ages three, four, and five, are wandering around, little bugs, playing spooky games among the silver props, oblivious to the rest of the world, underground people in their own small right. More stars come in, male, quiet and morose, along with blonde Edie Sedgwick, the new superstar, in five-inch earrings, net stockings and a leotard.
Gerard and another assistant sweep the floor. Couches and chairs are arranged in front of the silver screen. More people. Someone changes the record and the Supremes are singing again, "Baby, baby, where did our love go ... ?" and some fellow in an Ivy League suit, with a rubber snake around his neck, is frugging with Naomi, who is paralyzing everyone with the way she is moving and jiggling. The fellow with the snake turns the volume up.
"The secret is, it's got to be livable," this copiously sweating Beach-Boys type shouted over the noise. He says he is Chuck Wein, Harvard '60, Warhol's new writer-director. "We have a lot of parties and a good time, but it's what happens between the dancing ...... - and he goes back to the workout he has been having with the ex-girls-gang queen of 97th Street and Columbus Avenue.
Tennessee Williams comes in, small, tweed-sport jacketed, with brown suede brass buckle shoes, a mustache and big sunglasses. Tennessee doesn't say much, he just says, "Hello," and walks around. He looks intrigued by the electric chairs and by one big silk screen of an auto wreck picture Warhol has pulled from a newspaper. The wrecked car is upside down, and people are spilling out of smashed windows. There is some discussion about whether the woman hanging out of the back window is dead or alive. Tennessee says he thinks she is alive, then decides she is definitely dead. Definitely.
Tennessee digs all the Liz Taylors, the red one and the green one and the purple one, then says he likes the red one best. But he is more interested in Naomi and the guy with the snake. They are going hard, arms jerking, hips bumping, and Tennessee Williams doesn't take his eyes off them. Tennessee shuffles his feet in time to the music.
Lights go out and people make for the orchestra seats as Mr. Beethoven flips a switch, and Screen Test, by Andy Warhol the film maker, starts to roll.
The enormous, out of focus head of a sultry, attractive girl flashes on the screen. She is brushing her hair. She brushes and brushes. Then sound. The kind of sound you expect from a very old, used-up army training film, unintelligible, garbled, filled with static. An occasional word filters through. An off-screen voice (Warhol's) is telling the girl that if she wants to become a movie star, she must master the art of saying certain words with the right inflection. The off-screen voice starts drilling her on a word, over and over and over again. The word was "diarrhea." "Die - ahhhh - riiiiii - aaaaaa," the off-screen voice coaches, and her lips form the syllables lovingly and obscenely, her eyes darkened under lowered lids. Tennessee Williams roars. Then someone tells us the girl on the screen is really a guy.
Chuck Wein, Harvard '60, hastens to explain that things are changing. "Andy does more with the camera now. Sometimes he zooms it, and he even turns it on and off occasionally during the action. That creates unusual effects. He still won't cut or edit, but he has agreed to let me put together all these hour and a half segments we have been doing with Edie, things like Your Children They Will Burn, Not Just Another Pretty Face, Beauty #2, and Isn't It Pretty to Think So, which is the last line of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises into a long feature film. We also plan to make a technicolor film called Black and White, about an interracial romance. We call what we are doing Synscintima. 'Syn,' for synthetic, 'scin' for scintillating, and 'intima' for the personal or intimate nature of the films. We have dubbed the whole thing 'reel-real,' or the idea of the reel of film creating the reality."
The lights go out on Wein's discourse and reel-real number two of Screen Test by synscintimatographer Andy Warhol dances on the screen. Going down in the freight elevator someone jokingly wonders aloud if Naomi is really a guy.
The Sunday Herald Tribune, August 8, 1965: 7-9