Pop goes the Loft!
The Loft Cinema explores the cinematic work of Andy Warhol
The Andy Warhol brand is a curious phenomenon.
Founded on the easy-to-appreciate paintings and prints he produced in the 1960s, with their clean lines and bright colors, it extends into territory for more difficult for the casual fan to access. Warhol's films, for example, are a pointed rebuke to those who regard him as a purveyor of commercially slick pleasures. With their sordid content and sloppy construction, they call into question the idea that he was merely interested in making art that sells.
"Pop Goes the Loft! The Films of Andy Warhol" begins tonight with a screening of "Lonesome Cowboys." The screening will also feature a Warhol costume contest. Every Thursday in March will be part of "Pop Goes the Loft!" Screenings will include double features of "Poor Little Rich Girl" and "Kitchen," "Vinyl" and "Couch," and "Blow Job" and "My Hustler."
“Entertainment” is probably not the word one should choose in describing Warhol’s pre-shooting cinema. Meandering even when they are brief, at times almost perversely ugly, the films featured in The Loft’s series are literally hard to watch.
That doesn’t mean they are not worth watching. The viewer who approaches them with an open mind will be amply rewarded. But it helps to know beforehand that the experience will be nothing like seeing the famous Campbell’s Soup paintings.
"Lonesome Cowboys," which opens The Loft’s series tonight, possesses special appeal for Tucson audiences because it was filmed around here. In a way, the scenes shot at Old Tucson Studios have the same function for us that those shot in The Factory do for diehard Warhol fans. Whether the action captivates us or not, the setting still draws our keen attention.
A silly take on Westerns vaguely based on "Romeo and Juliet," "Lonesome Cowboys" is the funniest of the films screening at "Pop! goes the Loft." Recalling the zany randomness of Richard Lester’s "Help," it testifies to the hold that Southwestern history had on all of postwar American society. These days, the Western may seem like one film genre among many. But in the 1960s it was still the genre, one with which even avant-garde artists felt compelled to engage.
Trying to figure out what Andy Warhol thought of Tucson is one way to pass the time while struggling to sort out the film's rambling anti-narrative. But like most of his cinematic oeuvre, the film’s very amateurishness is its saving grace. Sometimes, despite the exaggerated acting and absurd dialogue, moments of truth force their way to the surface.
The scenes in which Viva and her male companion have sexual relations are a great example. In Hollywood love scenes, characters find their way into each other’s arms with an elegant disregard for the mechanics of disrobing. In "Lonesome Cowboys," by contrast, shoes and underwear repeatedly get in the way, reminding us that the reality of love-making is usually more awkward than we would like it to be.
Many of the pictures released by The Factory prior to his 1968 shooting were literally unmarketable. "Blow Job" may not meet contemporary definitions of “hard core” content, but its title alone was enough to remove it from mainstream circulation. Although audiences today are less likely to be scandalized by sexual material, there’s something about Warhol films that demands they be classified as adults-only entertainment regardless of what they depict.
For people who are already aficionados of The Factory, the film series is a rare treat. Knowing something about the actors, their trials and tribulations, can make the most tedious scene richly significant. Much of "Poor Little Rich Girl" is out of focus, but that won’t stop Edie Sedgwick devotees from marveling at her insouciant glamour. And those who became enamored of Joe D'allesandro after seeing him in Paul Morrissey’s more accessible Warhol-branded films of the 1970s will thrill to see his dreamy good looks in "Lonesome Cowboys," even if he spends most of his screen time looking clueless.
That illuminating awkwardness extends to all of the films showing at The Loft. "Vinyl" may be a poor treatment of its source material in Anthony Burgess’s novel "A Clockwork Orange," but the way Ondine looks imparts a strange realism to the proceedings that Stanley Kubrick’s accomplished “remake” fails to conjure.
Sitting through an interminable head shot of a young man supposedly receiving oral pleasure, as "Blow Job" forces us to do, makes us confront the realization that satisfaction is a lot harder to get than professional pornography leads us to believe.
In a sense, that frustratingly long “short” is the perfect metaphor for Andy Warhol’s cinema. His films examine the difficulty of finding true release in the bondage of consumer society. Choices proliferate, like the Campbell’s Soup line, but that does not mean that any of them will give us what we need.
By making us muse on what pleases us and why, these pictures open our minds to the possibility that permissiveness is ultimately incompatible with freedom.
That might sound like a strange message for a champion of “liberated” sexuality to convey, but anyone who has spent time pondering Warhol’s biography knows that he had enormous difficulty enjoying the easy pleasures that were all around him. Maybe that was for the best, if not for his body, then for his art.
Charlie Bertsch has been based in Tucson since 2000. He has written about music, film and books for a variety of publications, including The Oxford American, Zeek, Tikkun, Phoenix New Times and the pioneering internet publication Bad Subjects: Political Education For Everyday Life, which he helped to found back in 1992. He welcomes your feedback.