A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and The Warhol Factory is director Esther Robinson’s personal inquiry into the truth behind her Uncle Danny Williams’ mysterious 1966 disappearance. Virtually unknown today, Danny was Andy Warhol’s lover, and a promising young filmmaker.
The discovery of 20 never-before-seen films William’s made during his time at the Factory– and whose many subjects include Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Paul Morrissey, Brigid Berlin, Billy Name and what may be the earliest known footage of the Velvet Underground— reveals a luminous talent and a stark gap in the historical record. Combined with Robinson’s intimate interviews of surviving Factory members, the film gets beyond the icons and quietly dismantles the Warhol myth-making machine, allowing a deeper examination of the human fragility on which Andy Warhol’s empire was built.
In 1965, Danny Williams was living at a fast pace. He dropped out of Harvard against his family’s wishes and moved to Manhattan to begin a film career. There he edited two films for Albert and David Maysles. He became a fixture at the Warhol Factory, fell in love with Andy Warhol and moved in with Andy and his mother. He also made over 20 films and designed the groundbreaking Velvet Underground/ Exploding Plastic Inevitable (EPI) light show.
1966 proved a more difficult year for Danny. Right before the EPI national tour, Warhol ended their affair. Three months away from New York and a growing dependence on amphetamines increased Danny’s anxiety. After a Variety review called Danny the “mastermind” of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable show, Factory members accused him of trying to take credit for Warhol’s work and maneuvered for his ouster.
After the tour ended in July, Danny went home to his family in Massachusetts. He brought with him a wooden box filled with amphetamine-fueled journals, lighting diagrams, personal effects and letters. His only other bag was a shaving kit filled with drugs. After a family meal, he left in his mother’s car. He was never seen again.
Thirty-four years later, just after the turn of the millennium his niece, director Esther Robinson, took a job as Program Director at a foundation funded and housed by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts
One day that summer, her grandmother Nadia paid her a visit at work. On meeting the staff of the Warhol Foundation. Nadia casually mentioned that her son, Danny Williams, had lived with Warhol and his mother and then mysteriously disappeared. A stunned silence filled the room. Esther was urgently told: “You need to speak with Callie Angell right away.”
While archiving the Warhol collection at the Museum of Modern Art, Ms. Angell had stumbled upon a strange set of 20 experimental silent films. Shot on 16 mm black-and-white stock, they featured Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, The Velvet Underground and other well-known Warhol subjects. They were also dramatically different from Warhol’s films; highly stylized, clearly personal, and quite obviously conceived by someone other than Warhol. They were all marked “Danny Williams,” and, according to Ms. Angell, were “extraordinary.”
Believing these films might hold the key to the mystery surrounding her uncle’s abbreviated life, Esther asked MOMA to return them to her family. As she engaged the MOMA bureaucracy, she began researching her uncle’s life in New York City. Frustrated by the scarcity of references to Danny in books about the 60’s Warhol factory, Esther was intrigued when her grandmother gave her Danny’s box of papers and journals. They were filled with clues about art-making and Factory infighting.
Curious about how little was said about Danny both by family and Factory members she began to make a film about her uncle’s last year. In interviews with her family, she started to tease out the story behind his disappearance, his complex relationship to his family and their unspoken fears. When MoMA finally released the films, the footage was every bit as remarkable as promised: luminous, intimate, and revealing. A new question emerged: how was this young talent dropped from the historic record?
Esther then started tracking down and interviewing surviving Warhol Factory members. Surprisingly intimate, these interviews began to dismantle the mythmaking machine and allow a deeper examination of the human fragility on which the Warhol empire was built.
A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and The Warhol Factory is the story of her search to uncover the facts behind her uncle’s disappearance and tragically shortened life. It is the story of an extraordinary talent abandoned by two dysfunctional families; one upright and traditional, the other bohemian and legendary. It is a story of abandonment by history itself. And it is a journey into a sea of family, missing histories, and the failings of memory.
Movie parts shot by Danny Williams. Some of those are not in the documentary.
Following my review of Andy Warhol’s biography by Victor Bockris, I was pleased to know that the author himself was kind enough to grant me an interview regarding the book itself as well as the recent deal that was made regarding the making of a biopic involving Jared Leto. The actor Jared Leto, the producer Michael De Luca and Terence Winter are teaming to tackle the life of Andy Warhol, the famed pop art artist whose blend of art and commerce made him a household name. Winter, the ”Boardwalk Empire” creator who wrote ”The Wolf of Wall Street”, will pen the screenplay, using the 1989 Victor Bockris book, ”Warhol: The Biography”, as a jumping-off point. Leto and De Luca jointly acquired the rights to the book, having had a desire to partner on a project for some time now and since it is now a done deal, I thought it was the perfect time for a little chat with the author of the well acclaimed biography which has been published in nine countries since 1989 and remains in print in several.
LAN: Do you remember how, where, why and under what circumstances Andy Warhol caught your attention for the first time?
Victor Bockris: Andy Warhol had a tongue in cheek “Retrospective” at the I.C.A. on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia in October 1965. (Tongue in cheek because he had only started showing paintings in 1962 and it usually takes much longer than three years to get a retrospective!)I had moved from my British boarding school Rugby to Central High School in Philadelphia in February, a week before Malcolm X was assassinated in New York. My transition from the one school to the other was fraught with the most extreme culture shock I had ever experienced in a life of shocks. During my first two months at Central I had a nervous breakdown, which I kept confined to the afternoons at home so nobody else knew about it. The trauma faded as soon as I started making friends amongst the cool kids who were all folkies. They were mad about Bob Dylan and took me to Convention Hall to see him on the early 65 tour he did with Joan Baez. My closet friend, Elliot Fratkin, invited me to go to the Warhol opening in early October.
As we approached the I.C.A that night walking across the lawn at the center of the campus I started seeing people standing around in small groups hugging each other and crying or lying on the ground like the victims of a nuclear attack in Peter Watkins famous film The War Games, which I had seen in the same place the previous week. As we got closer I could see and smell the aftermath of some hideous event such as a lynching or a riot.
I was right about the riot. Apparently when Warhol swept into the gallery with Edie Sedgwick, Girl of the Year and star of eight films Andy shot in six months, Gerard Malanga, superstar stud of the Factory, and Henry Geldzahler, curator of modern art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the ecstatic crowd of students packed like penguins in the small space and spontaneously exploded in a riot that reminded Geldzahler of a Beatles concert. People were screaming and crying “Andy and Edie! Andy and Edie!” This was the moment at which Andy crossed over from being a famous artist to something more akin to a rock star, somebody who has transformed themselves from a person into a magician. Of course I was not there, but Andy Warhol’s essence hung in the air like the acrid smell of machine guns and wild horses.
LAN: What made you decide back then that Warhol was to be the subject of your next bio? Do you have similar reasons for the other biographies you wrote? Is there a link? How do you connect the dots (if any)?
Victor Bockris:I did not decide to write the Warhol biography. My agent, the young and ambitious Andrew Wylie just at the beginning of building his literary agency, suggested it in 1982. I was spending the summer writing ‘‘Negative Girls” into a book in Philadelphia. He called right after the girl who inspired the book phoned to tell me she was getting married, (to a rock star!) which drained all the desire and drive to finish Negative Girls out of my frenzied mind. We discussed the book for six weeks before I decided to take it on. There was much at stake, not in the least my friendship with Andy. I knew nothing about biography, which is a complex form one can only master by learning on the job like The Ramones did on stage. I decided to do it because Andy was the most mysterious figure in the vanguard of the American culture. Nobody knew anything about his childhood or the years before he became a pop artist. He was also a sitting duck for a writer who wanted to grab the attention of the country. Earlier that year Jean Stein had done just that with her bestselling book, “Edie” (Sedgwick). The most powerful part of that book was the long section about Edie’s relationship with Andy. According to Stein He was a verrrry bad man. His nickname at the Factory, Drella, summed up the impression. He was a monster, half Cinderella half Dracula. He never slept, he never ate, he drank blood. He wanted to be machine, he did not believe in love, and that was the tip of the iceberg. I had known Andy for almost ten years and I loved him the way you love a hero, like a comrade in a war. Believe me, stating your alliance to Andy Warhol could still ignite a bar fight in 1983 New York. He was still the most hated artist in America, but he was the most loved artist in France, Italy and Germany.
There are several links between all my books: I never wrote about anyone unless I knew them well enough to see how they got through the day; everyone I wrote about was a remarkable talker; everyone I wrote about played a role in the development of the Counterculture in New York in the 1970s. They were all living in William Burroughs Magic Universe.
As soon as I garnered good reviews for the Warhol biography I wanted to dash off and write my own biography. However my Dutch Uncle and mentor in biography, Albert Goldman, who published a masterpiece, ”Ladies and Gentlemen Lenny Bruce!” as well as first class biographies of Elvis and John Lennon, told me, “You’ve just mastered how to write a biography, don’t throw away what you’ve learned, do at least two more.” Keith Richards was a dream subject and ”Keith Richards: The Biography” was published right before the release of his first solo album. The book has been published in ten countries and stayed in print in the English language since it’s original publication in 1992. The third book in my trilogy of biographies, ”Transformer: The Lou Reed Story” was well received in the U.K. and U.S. in 1995 and did a lot to broaden his audience in the six countries in which it was published.
This biography obviously required an incredible amount of work. So many subjects, so many people! How did you manage to achieve such a complete story of his life without being drowned in archives of all sorts!? Did it require a different methodology than your other books??
Victor Bockris: It required a one hundred percent commitment for five years. At several stages I employed an editor to keep me on track. Writing a biography is quite different from writing the portraits I had previously published of Ali, Burroughs,Blondie and The Velvet Underground. Warhol was by far the hardest book I ever wrote, in fact it almost killed me. I have always been lucky with my timing. My first seven books were perfectly timed. Andy died two and a half years before the book was released. It was the first and remains the only real biography of Warhol. I started it by going to Pittsburgh with Keith Haring and meeting Andy’s oldest brother Paul Warhola, who was a lovely man and became a good friend who helped me out until the very end. Andy did not want me to write the book but he never told anybody not to talk to me. I think he realized that somebody was going to do it and he was in safer hands with me than with some hack who did not know him and would mess it up.
There are by the way two distinctly different versions of my biography. When Andy died in February 1987 my British editor, Paul Sidey, at Hutchinson (Random House UK) got in touch and played a strong role in helping me complete the book. This climaxed with an all expenses paid six-week visit to London during which I was given a full-time editor and copy editor. By the time Sidey gave me the retyped 721 page manuscript of ”Warhol: The Biography’‘ I was in heaven, because it had come out much as I originally envisioned it. The British were planning to publish in May 1989. This euphoria was short-lived. A week after I delivered it to my agent, word came back, or so I was told, from Warner Books that the manuscript was “unpublishable.” I never found out if this was actually true, but the long and short was Warner wanted a re-edit. At this point I was exhausted. I had given it everything I had. Finally Hutchinson published their version ”Warhol: The Biography” in May 89. It received wonderful reviews and was published in paperback by Penguin. Warner Books published their version, on which I worked for six weeks with an editor they had flown in from England, ”The Life and Death of Andy Warhol’‘, in October 1989. It was about one hundred pages shorter and much of the life had been cut out of it.
Whereas the U.K. edition did well and remains in print twenty-seven years later, the Warner edition was a fiasco. Although it was well reviewed it suffered very disappointing sales for the advance they had paid me. Today, the British edition is in print in the U.S. (with DaCapo) and in France and Poland. With the movie coming out in 2017 we are looking forward to seeing it in print in several other countries.
LAN:How do you perceive Warhol’s contribution to the literary world? I know you feel pretty strongly about a: A Novel…?
Victor Bockris: I think it’s a disgrace that Andy Warhol’s books have not been released in uniform paperback editions or in a complete twelve volume set. Starting in 1967 and continuing until after his death Andy published a series of between nine and twelve books. They are as vital to an understanding of his oeuvre as his paintings and films. There is much more interest in his writing in Europe than America. Language is the basis of all Warhol’s work. In his college years his confrontation with the American language distressed him so much it became the root of his artistic drive to portray America as a land of Deaths and Disasters. He is a conceptual artist. His first works like the Campbell’s Soup Can paintings and his first film Sleep were seen by few people, but their names became part of our culture. He published at least three classic books: ”a: A Novel;The Philosophy of Andy Warhol and The Andy Warhol Diaries.”His collected literary works are ignored by the Warhol Foundation because they do not make enough money to warrant even an investment of time. They appear uninterested in developing his literary reputation and have done nothing with the unpublished books in his archives. There appears to be nobody taking care of Andy Warhol’s literary works and nobody to defend the books against people who claim they wrote them. Andy Warhol’s writing is pure Warhol. I hope one day somebody will wake up to the fact that there is actually a goldmine yet to be discovered in the many unpublished volumes in the files of the Warhol Museum. Somebody should write a book called ”Andy Warhol: The Writer”, but they might have a problem getting permission to quote from his writing. There appears to be a determination to keep him down or out of print. I have published six essays about Andy’s writing in various sources, including the current DaCapo version of the Warhol biography.
LAN: You were obviously close to Warhol. What were the most valuable things you learned from him or about him?
Victor Bockris: The most valuable things I learned from Warhol: To grow my ambition higher; to realize works is the most important thing in my life; to simplify; to minimize and to recognize that most growth comes via connections to people who open doors to other people. To never let anybody take your work away from you. To collaborate. To do interviews without questions, to just let them happen. To connect to the power in yourself. To be a very tough businessman. To never lose your self-respect. To treat people well. To not get hung up on your problems. To discipline yourself to not waste your life on alcohol or hard drugs. To believe that you can transform yourself.
LAN:Do you feel you have resolved the enigma of Andy Warhol’s persona through this book?
Victor Bockris: Jared Leto told me my book was the only one who made him feel that he got Andy, got to know him and understood him. My original motivation for writing this book was to reveal Andy so that people could feel as if they knew him and liked him. So, yes I think I succeeded.
LAN: Do you feel that part of the enigma of Warhol persona is whether he was a psychopath or simply an oversensitive person who simply just couldn’t afford to deal with a heartbreak, betrayal or negative feelings of any sort?
Victor Bockris: This question is difficult for me to understand. Andy was not a psychopath in any way. That sounds like the kind of word somebody desperate to write something new about Warhol might come up with, but I can’t imagine anybody who knew Andy saying that. He was, much like William Burroughs, the opposite of his image. Andy was a supersensitive romantic who found it harder as he got older to be alone. He certainly denied his emotional distress, but there is no question that he became increasingly lonely as he got older. At the same time he was turning out an extraordinary stream of great paintings.There is something almost too poignant for words about his final works, The Last Supper paintings which regained the vitality of the Car Crash paintings. And the fact that when he died he had so much work to do but perhaps nobody to look forward to seeing. Nobody he could give his love to. He checked into the hospital under the name Bob Robert. In his last phone call to Vincent Fremont, Vice President of Andy Warhol Enterprises, he was full of energy and humor. Some people called him Superman some called him the Angel of Death. He was an otherworldly figure who gave us everything he had.
LAN: Do you feel Warhol’s works and ideas are still relevant today?
Victor Bockris: Much has been written about the Legacy of Andy Warhol. I think he will be relevant forever in the sense that Shakespeare is still relevant. I wrote his biography and it would be hard for anybody to write a new one because most of the sources on the first thirty years of his life are dead. However, I don’t think anybody has yet put together an understanding of the impact of his collected work, not in the least because nobody has recognized the importance of his writing in his oeuvre. A writer who could show us the overall influence of Warhol’s contribution, without being over influenced by the prices of his art, but saw the art the films and the writing as the triangular base of his huge body of work would be doing us a great service. Andy Warhol may be the greatest artist of the twentieth century because he harnessed the century’s theme of death. But we will not know until somebody emerges who isn’t frothing at the mouth about the money.
Andy’s brother Paul Warhola told me Andy never really changed. Sophisticated art dealers might scoff at that remark, but Paul is right. The Andy who drove his assistants mad by endlessly pushing them with his divine energy was the same Andy who as a child drove his brothers wild in the same way with his insistent, “What are ya gonna do now?”
LAN: How do you feel about your book becoming a biopic next year and Jared Leto with his very talented friends being so enthusiastic about co-producing it and playing Warhol himself?
Victor Bockris: I have seen several opportunities to make the book into a film come and go, starting with Gus Van Saint in 1992. I’m sure he would have made a good film, but I don’t think there was the large international audience for Warhol’s heroism back then. I hope we are going to see a film about a revolutionary culture hero who changed the world with his brilliance and his machine like drive. Something like ”Lawrence of Arabia” but with the desert being the streets of New York. Mind you this comes from a fevered brain in the middle of a hurricane. I am confident that Leto will be Warhol by the time he starts making the film and I imagine he will give us something we cannot even imagine until we see it. Something Magic.
LAN: I wish you all the best!! I hope you will finally get all the credit you deserve for the quality of your books and that the world will remember your name and that the movie will be an incentive to check out the rest of your work as well. You do have a very special place as the witness of an era, an author and as a very special friend, you most certainly had a huge influence on everything that went on since the 60’s. It seems it’s not about to stop…
Victor Bockris: Thank you Tobe for the opportunity to talk about Andy. It went well because you asked stimulating questions and I enjoyed answering them. I wish you all the best with Loud Alien Noize. And I look forward to contributing some of my favorite pieces to you in the future. I hope your readers enjoy with what we’ve come up with above.
It is actually the 4th book I have read that was written by Victor Bockris and the third one about Warhol. I have never been deceived by Bockris in the past but I have to say that this one, written in 1989, must have been a very hard and complex task that he managed to achieve with his usual amazing brio. Bockris has this gift of being able to cut the crap and swiftly reach out to what is relevant. Bockris for sure have learned from the best since it was Warhol himself who taught him how to make an interview. You will get the facts, don’t worry about it but you will also get, and that’s what makes all the difference in the world, all the surrounding facts; friends, events, traumas and personal victories.
Bockris has this ability to be very thorough but also doesn’t make you feel like you are just showered with a timeline of events and facts. It is written a little like a documentary in which you get to hear the people who were implicated in the occurring events in turn, hearing from their mouth what they saw and what were their thoughts at that time, an ongoing non-stop interview in which people take turns to enhance Bockris’ interesting narrative until the very end.
I must say that I thought the book ended a bit abruptly. Still it fits with the whole concept of this as it doesn’t pretend to resolve the enigma of Warhol’s persona and anyone pretending to do so would be a fraud because Warhol precisely was a living contradiction of himself. Being at the same time as authentic, even if detached and minimal, as one could possibly be while at the same time declaring that ”art is anything you can get away with”. This is the perfect example of perfectly working paradox! While some will say on one side he was just exploiting everyone else and letting himself be exploited if he felt it was ok, he clearly must had a very clear path in his mind of what was art and what wasn’t.
Reading the book you can clearly understand as he went through a lot of heart breaks and traumas, and that led him to try to become a machine, a certain robot deprived of emotions and that feeds on pills instead of actual food, well, he certainly made an art of it! That right there is one essential part of starting to understand Warhol. This is why Warhol is such an important keystone in the history of modern art! Warhol made it possible for everyone to become an artist, he was the first to use multimedia coverage for an event, the Velvet Underground was not just a band playing, it was a multimedia event called the ExplodingPlastic Inevitable(EPI).
You get to really know Andy Warhol’s childhood, his relation with his mother, his first love, his first heartbreak, his friends, the ones that remained friends; the ones that became enemies and the ones he simply didn’t care about or apparently so.. Reading this bio, one really get to observe as Andy slowly, inevitably builds a fortress around his heart and his emotions.
How can one manage to never lose it even after anattempted murder. This clearlyhad a huge effect on him, very palpable in the book but he managed to turn it around and live the most prolific happy period of his life. Another thing that is interesting is to be able to see how and why he started to be involved in writing, photography, music, cinema and why he would always come back to painting, his insecurities, why his apparent ”numbness” , you get all the naked truth here. While we’re at it, I would like to do something that only has been done on very rare occasions, (one being done by Bockris) I would like to underline the relevance of his novel a:a novel as well as some movies like Flesh , Trash or Beauty No. 2.
One look at the very essence of the modern USA in a time where everything was possible and more but at the very base of it today, you find the hope given by Warhol that everyone is an artist or in other words that everyone’s life could be a subject of art. Of course, it isn’t literally true but you get the sense reading the bio that if you really believe in yourself, if you work really, really hard, you listen to what others people say, you support some of them, associate with them or if you take some parts that fits with your ideas and/or most importantly if you have the talent, you will have a chance to being seen and/or even better a chance at success. Of course another paradox may be that Andy managed to create the first corporation that became a millionaire by creating an art factory ( literally) and made art a monetary valuable product. Andy worked really hard. He did all that but reading the book it seems the most difficult part is to find some people who were trustworthy and not too greedy. Luckily Andy was very stingy.
Today, you can be your own PR agent, you can create your own window in the world and run it yourself! What an amazing, uplifting thought it is also to know that no matter if you are good enough to have worldwide or even nationwide success, some people will get to know you, some people across the world will like your stuff for what it is, not because they are your friends, just because they like it!! It is such a shame that Warhol died before all the computer revolution he had foreseen… But he knew!!
It never ever took me such a long time to read a book but with experience you realise that reading a very good book for the first time is a very rare and unique experience. I made sure that I didn’t miss a line!! But even if it took me a really long time to read it and make sure I wouldn’t miss a thing, there is so much going on that for sure I will have to read it again. This is NOT the kind of book you just borrow from the library! You have to own it!! I got the amazing surprise just as I finished the book to see that Jared Leto has bought the rights to Victor Bockris’ 1989 book Warhol: The Biography and not only will he co-produce the new biopic but he will also star in it as Warhol himself.
I always felt I had this gift to sense what was to be ”in the air” or anything that is about to get important somehow, but Andy was creating art with nothing, he was only slightly influenced by the beat generation and maybe Dali (according to Ultra Violet) but he wasn’t Dada, It was something different, it was Pop Art, an art that has more or less the same criterias as today’s art. Like I said, reading this book, I also got to know the fragile, heartbroken, insecure artist and human being Warhol was. I could so relate when he tried to be a machine, not showing any emotions, no love, no trust, no friends, no compassion and maybe he managed to pull it off for a while but you can feel that this isn’t working for him, deep inside, I’m pretty sure anyone who knew him felt he was lonely and sad but mainly uncomprehended. So for all the future greedy psychopath-by-choice to be, know that it is impossible to really be happy that way mk? . You will get hurt, you will be betrayed, you will suffer, just like Andy, but you have to keep on going, keep trying, always and until your last breath, something will come out of it. If anything, understand that message he left for us. RIP Edie.
I really am shocked at the amount of people who don’t really know who Andy Warhol is. I’m trying my best to make him known to the present and future generations and this book is an essential part of your culture (including the creation of the magazineInterview). Meet the guy who made the impossible possible to anyone who has the talent and the will. You owe it to yourself to read this book. Of course there are autobiographies but the way this book is written gives you more objectivity I think. Add that to Bockris’ talent to cut the crap and go to the heart of what is happening and you will realize why Leto chose this bookand not another one, not even one Warhol wrote himself, to base the biopic on. This book is a must for anyone that reads and I clearly must mention here the 16 pages of amazing pictures that illustrates key moments in Warhol’s life. Andy Warhol must never be forgotten. I sincerely thank Victor Bockris not only for this book, but also for all his amazing work allowing those who weren’t part of ”it” in the 60’s and the 70’s to feel as if they were, to be able to really get a sense of what was going on back then in such a heartfelt way. In the end I would simply state that even if the biography is, Andy Warhol’s personality still is and always will be incomplete to me.
Just a little update; This is the reaction about my review I got by the author himself! Don’t forget to read the related interview!
‘‘Thank you Tobe. This is the most comprehensive review of the book which has been published in nine countries since 1989 and remains in print in several. I appreciate your comments and insights regarding all of my work”. -Victor Bockris
The artist’s short films have never been shown to the public before, until now.
Andy Warhol will make his presence known throughout May, lighting up New York’s Times Square with silent short films known as Screen Tests. From 1964 to 1966,Warhol created over 500 of these never-before-seen-by-the-public shorts in his Silver Factory studio. During this time, his studio had become a scene for celebrities and artists who posed for short, silent film portraits. At 11:57 pm each night in May, these screen tests will be shown on Times Square’s electronic billboards. These “Midnight Moments” will last until midnight each night. The greatest movie Andy Warhol ever made featured the Empire State Building. More than just a setting, the building was also the starring actor, impassively playing itself while Warhol filmed it with his tripod-mounted Bolex from 8:00 PM until 2:30 AM on July 25, 1963. Screened unedited and in slow motion,Empire is one of the longest movies in existence, made to seem infinitely longer because there’s absolutely no movement. Yet Warhol didn’t need hours to make a movie seem interminable. With hisScreen Tests(1964-66), he managed to compress an eternity into approximately three minutes. These glimpses of perpetuity are masterful movies in their own right. And every night this month between 11:57 and 12:00, a selection of Screen Tests will illuminate one of the fastest-paced places on the planet – New York’s Times Square– screened simultaneously on the electronic billboards between 42nd and 47th Street. Warhol made his Screen Tests by having people act like architecture. Visitors to his studio – including Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg and Susan Sontag – were placed in front of his camera and told not to do anything at all. Some tried to comply by staying perfectly still. Others tried to rebel by melodramatically misbehaving. Almost all were defeated by the second or third minute. (Even the supremely self-possessed Susan Sontag couldn’t stop fidgeting.) Lacking scenery, direction and purpose, Warhol’s sterile setup made time as empty as a vacuum. And while the Empire State Building was impervious, people were rapidly sucked into the void. Through the Screen Tests, each micro-eternity is experienced vicariously. In recent years, some of the Screen Tests have been shown in museums. They’re well worth watching closely, but museums were not Warhol’s preferred milieu. He screened them in endless loops as backdrops for rock concerts. With the Screen Tests (and Empire), he reconceived movies as a sort of temporal ambiance. Their timekeeping dimension has finally been restored this month in Times Square.
Andy Warhol’s sphere of influence defined 60’s subculture in New York. Though most remember Andy as an artist, he should be coined as a collector, collecting characters at The Factory who he manufactured and preserved as icons. His taste was impeccable; his instincts dead on. “Anybody who Andy discovered and found and ‘named’ as his ‘superstar’ became his superstar. Andy had the best taste. I mean, he’s my favorite artist…he knew a good thing”, said Betsey Johnson. From 1965-1967 Andy delivered an explosion, giving rise to three of the most memorable icons of the era. The intersection of Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Betsey Johnson, and The Velvet Underground illuminated a generation, culminating in the most influential icons of the 60’s social scene.
Edie met Andy at a party in January of ’65 and she became a regular at Andy’s studio, The Factory, by March. During this time Andy shot footage of Edie getting ready in her apartment, later used in his film Poor Little Rich Girl. Andy and Edie became quite inseparable, and in April of ’65, Andy brought Edie to an art opening of his in Paris. When they got back to New York, Andy said that he wanted to make Edie the ‘Queen of The Factory’. He had a script written for just for her, resulting in a film called Kitchen, shot in the kitchen of a friend’s studio apartment. Around this time Andy also shot Vinyl, which featured Edie in an otherwise all male cast. By the spring, The Factory hosted a “Fifty Most Beautiful People” party where many celebrities, including Judy Garland, came. It was said that at this party, “the stars went out and the superstars came in; that there were more people staring at Edie than at Judy”. By the early summer, Edie starred in her most famous Warhol film, Beauty No.2, which opened in July. The film showcased Edie lying in bed with a male lover while an offscreen voyeur berated her with personal questions. That same month Edie was named the “Newest Superstar” in the New York Times.
Edie became notorious by age 22, frolicking around the city in heavy eye make up with her hair sprayed silver, donning black leotards, tights, and big chandelier earrings. “Edie ran with the wild horses. Edie was not only ‘the look’, she had the head, she had the body, she had the screwed up background, I mean she’s the perfect candidate. Young, gorgeous, the look of the time, on Andy’s arm, and able to really hold her own, falling down, standing up, or whatever. She was a one in a zillion,” said Betsey Johnson. In November, Edie appeared in a LIFEmagazine feature titled “The Girl with The Black Tights”. After hanging out with Bob Dylan for a bit, Edie got the impression that Bob’s manager would offer her a film contract. She then veered astray from Andy in February of ’66 after he filmed her last Factory role in “Lupe”. Betsey reflects, “We were passionate, tormented kids with visions, stuff to do, and things to make. Edie led a sixties acceptance and love and wannabe population of copycats. She was gorgeous.”
Betsey designed the fashion that defined the look of The Factory. Before being introduced to Andy, Betsey was one of the in-house designers for a Manhattan boutique called Paraphernalia. Metallics, plastics, and minis filled the shop, where all clothes retailed for less than $99. “People would walk into the store dressed in their straight clothes. They’d buy something and put it on. Then and there they’d apply an outrageous make-up, before heading directly to a party. They were buying something to wear tonight and more or less throw away tomorrow” said Paraphernalia’s owner, Paul Young. The boutique itself looked like a minimalist art gallery, designed by Architect Ulrich Franzen, and it sat right next to the Vidal Sasson salon. Paraphernalia and Vidal Sassoon provided the essential components for any woman to transform into a mod mistress, an enormously radical shift from the conservative look of the 50’s. After designing for Paraphernalia for about a year, Andy introduced Betsey to Edie who immediately fell in love with Betsey’s designs. Betsey lent Edie a collection of her signature silver clothing, and Edie became Betsey’s fitting model for the following year.
Edie became a regular at Paraphernalia where she simultaneously established and consumed the notorious look of the 60’s. By dressing Edie, Betsey developed an integral role in The Factory which continued to expand. The Factory was the new master of media, manufacturing film, art, and celebrity status. If that wasn’t enough, in ’65 The Factory began to manufacture music when Andy became the manager for a band called The Velvet Underground. The Velvet underground was formed by Lou Reed and John Cale, two talented 23 year olds who bonded over music and heroin. Betsey was dating John Cale at the time, and she readily began to design clothes for the band once Andy had brought them into The Factory. The web was woven; the stage was set. Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Betsey Johnson, and The Velvet Underground became the incubators of an era, producing a radical wave and cult phenomenon that has yet to be rivaled.
The Velvet Underground:
In March of ’66 Betsey hired Andy to stage a party at Paraphernalia. The Velvet Underground played music at the party, ultimately selling a look, a sound, and a scene. Andy suggested that the band feature German singer, Nico, on several of their songs. Nico was a 5’10”, German born, blonde model who’s stoic beauty and deep, soft voice gave the male band a female offset. She famously sang the song, “Femme Fatale”, which Lou Reed had written about Edie at Andy’s request. Between ’66 to ’67 Andy organized a series of multimedia events called the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable”, also referred to as “EPI”. The series featured musical performances by The Velvet Underground and Nico, showcasing notable regulars from The Factory as dancers. The “EPI” officially began in January of ’66 at a dinner for the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry. Edie and another of Andy’s superstars, Gerard Malanga, danced on stage as The Velvet Underground and Nico sang. Establishing its roots in New York City, the “EPI” roadshow continued throughout the United States and Canada until May of ’67. In April of ’66 The Velvet Underground and Nico album was recorded in New York City, featuring Nico on three of the songs. Andy designed the album cover; a yellow banana sticker with “peel slowly and see” printed near the tip, revealing a fleshy, pink banana underneath. Brian Eno is credited with saying, “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.” The album was named the 13th “Greatest Album of All Time” by Rolling Stone in March of 2003.
Andy, Edie, Betsey and The Velvet Underground had a huge influence on culture during and after their fame in the 60‘s. Each of these icons possessed peculiar characteristics that helped challenge the rigid, societal norms of their time. For instance, Edie suffered from mental illness since she was a child, primarily due to a troubled family life. Though Edie was born into wealth, her affluence only made her more susceptible to dependence on prescription pills and party drugs which ultimately led to an overdose that killed her at age 28. Andy too had his own troubles. He grew up as a hypochondriac and outcast who isolated himself in his room, immersing himself in magazines and radio. Andy was undeniably insecure, and perhaps he surrounded himself amongst his large crew of eccentrics as a way to camouflage his own insecurities. The Velvet Underground frontman, Lou Reed, also suffered from a troubled upbringing. At 17, Lou received 24 electric shock therapy under his parents wishes to “cure” him of his homo-erotic tendencies and mood swings. The dosage of the shock treatment was incredibly high, and it made him feel like a vegetable for the entire following year. Lou was quick to leave home after that.
Many of the regulars at The Factory thought of themselves as misfits, sharing a resentment towards their upbringing and a desire for life anew. The Factory provided an exciting, alternative lifestyle to those young people who had never fit into the box that their parents tried desperately to confine them in. Drugs, particularly heroin and speed, became a common habit amongst The Factory crowd. Though they were popular, the drugs were hardly glamorized due to the drastic consequences they caused. The fame and notoriety of The Factory icons helped publicize the gritty reality of youth that had been banned from media in the 50’s. Andy successfully showed America these beautifully talented and troubled artists as pioneers of a new 60’s generation. These icons broke through the social molds of conservatism, establishing a wave of culture that radically embraced the beauty within the harsh realities of life.