Anarchic Cinema: Why I Hate Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol. Even those not in the art world has at least heard of this man. Artistically and personally, he was by far one of the more eccentric minds and talents of his or any time. The Warhol Foundation has helped many a starving artist rise to prominence, Warhol’s work is showcased around the world and he is considered one of the fathers of modern visual art and modern visual art theory, forever changing the landscape of how art can be interpreted and created. His art was a mesh of the weird, wired wonders of the human psyche in all its chaotic forms. But now let me explain why I hate the man.
To set this up, Warhol’s film Chelsea Girls (co-directed with Paul Morrissey, who would go on to denounce his relationship with Warhol for the many years of Warhol receiving credit for his elements in their works) was created in 1966. It was a film that broke convention by being two separate screens playing at the same time, leaving the focus of the material to be in the hands of the audience, of which Roger Ebert wrote, “...what we have here is 3½ hours of split-screen improvisation poorly photographed, hardly edited at all, employing perversion and sensation like chili sauce to disguise the aroma of the meal. Warhol has nothing to say and no technique to say it with. He simply wants to make movies, and he does: hours and hours of them.”
Now, before the Warholians get all riled up, I fully understand this to be the central idea behind all of Warhol’s works; making art for the sake of it, without adding on any form of deeper understanding or meaning. This is generally expressed as cinematic nihilism, and its validity has been debated endlessly since the idea was first brought up, and to be quite honest, Warhol’s utter apathy in the face of life, death and art alike is what sets the true grounds for Anarchic Cinema (as much as that is personally disappointing).
Bringing back Nick Zedd from the previous installment; the base of Transgressive Cinema is 200-proof Warhol. Warhol’s vein of filmmaking techniques and philosophies set the standard from which the No Wave movement directed itself, the punk attitudes and renegade personalities set against the world. However, there is a significant divergence between Warhol and transgressive movies; they were completely different breeds of cinematic nihilism. Warhol Film (which included Ronald Tavel) was a school of art with a very passive and apathetic approach. As Paul Morrissey put it, “He's the essence of passivity…he just isn't there.”
Transgressive Cinema was aggressive nihilism. It was reactive, even explosive against the very world that spawned it. However, as the dictionary definition of nihilism would be life without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value, how could one be ‘aggressively’ nihilistic?
Let’s put it like this: Warhol Film is the equivalent of standing in traffic; you are obstructing the traffic of information and persons and you do not care for the consequences of your actions. However, you do not respond to the angry shouts and car horns blaring in your ears. Thus, this is a passive attitude. Transgressive Cinema is the equivalent of the scene in the Blues Brothers where they crash bombastically through a mall without ever once giving a look of concern for the safety of anyone else that may be in their way, or themselves personally. This is an aggressive attitude toward the same concept.
Whereas Transgressive Cinema rejects the tenants of convention and tradition, it still retains structure in a self-perpetuating system giving birth to numerous interpretations that are still being used in practice to this very day. Warhol Film (though cherry-picked almost unrecognizably into many different incarnations such as Remodernist Film and Dogma 95) ceased to exist with the death of Andy Warhol. It was something completely unique to the man and his companions at the time and it drove the intuitions and ambitions of many indie artists. But if I have said so much about how Warhol contributed to Anarchic Cinema, why does the article bear this title? Because I hate the man’s art. His non-purpose of his art is something that is expressed with demigod-like prowess. But it doesn’t mean I cannot find most of his movies downright awful.
Ironically, I do credit his final directorial work Blue Movie, to be his best film. The film is more or less a half an hour of actors Louis Waldon and Viva improvising dialogue and having unsimulated sex onscreen, being the very first pornographic movie to receive any commercial release in the United States (which was immediately stopped and Warhol was arrested for obscenity). Blue Movie would be the direct cause of porno chic, or the Golden Age of Porn, arising with films such as Mona (1970), Deep Throat (1972) and The Devil in Miss Jones (1973). This was the beginning for mainstream acceptance of explicit sexuality in movies and setting the stage for the next evolution in the sexual revolution. Though this possible progression would tragically backfire after Miller v. California in 1973, its effects are felt in the industry and in the art world to this day.
Which leads me to the very next element that has evolved the idea of Anarchic Cinema, also in a very different way than you might expect, which will be covered next time: Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg’s Dogme 95.
Also Published on Community Soul.
Written by Matthew Roe. Published: May 11, 2016