Whitney Museum of American Art Celebrates Publication of Big Book of Andy Warhol Films

By Robert Heide

The special December 2, 2021 program and celebration at the incredible Whitney Museum of American Art at 99 Gansevoort Street was in honor of the publication of the important and significant book, the Catalogue Raisonne of the Films of Andy Warhol Volume II —1963-1965. Invited by Adam D. Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown, Director of the Whitney Museum and the Whitney Museum Trustees, the celebrants included museum curators, directors, and even several of the people involved in the films themselves and those who helped create the scholarly 500-page book, copiously illustrated with stills from the films produced and directed by Andy Warhol between the years 1963 and 1965, a period of intense creativity for the artist. The lavish book with a $100 price tag was published by the Whitney, and partially subsidized by the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. It is distributed by Yale University Press and is available at the Whitney Museum bookstore, at Amazon and many other outlets. As a longtime writer for a Whitney neighbor, the West Village monthly WestView News published by George Capsis, I decided to cover for the hugely popular newspaper the December 2 event which began at 7 PM with opening remarks by Director Weinberg (author of the book’s foreword) who then introduced John G. Hanhardt, general editor of the volume and former curator and head of film and video at the Whitney.

Hanhardt spoke about the difficult job of researching, documenting and archiving, and congratulated the over a dozen essayists involved in the project and was then joined in a discussion about the detailed cataloguing, technical innovations, source material, working methods, the examination of artistic and social milieu influences and critical analysis with two of the book’s contributors, the film scholar Bruce Jenkins from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Tom Kalin, professor of experimental film, screenwriter, producer and director of critically acclaimed films including Swoon (’92) and Savage Grace (’07). Jenkins wrote a special introduction in the book to Warhol’s films of 1963 and 1964 which include Sleep (’63), Blow Job (’64) (a still from that film of the young actor DeVeren Bookwalter is on the cover) and Batman Dracula (’64). Kalin wrote the introduction to the films of 1965 which include Camp, Warhol’s film of my play The Bed (the essay on this film by Elena Gorfinkel of Kings College, London is seven pages long and includes 13 stills of Jim Jennings and Larry Burns, the same actors who were also in the play) and Lupe for which I provided the screenplay for Andy and Edie Sedgwick based on the suicide of 1930s movie star Lupe Velez. At one point Mr. Kalin, who also had labored tirelessly researching Warhol’s Lupe, exclaimed, “Ah, the great Robert Heide is in the audience.” I think I blushed.

ACTOR DEVEREN BOOKWALTER in 1964 film Blowjob on the cover of The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne, Vol. II. Photo courtesy Whitney Museum.

Their discussion, illustrated with film excerpts and stills, illuminated Warhol’s film work in relation to its importance to twentieth century art history. It has been written in newspaper and magazine articles many times that the two most famous and influential artists of that century are Pablo Picasso—for the first fifty years—and Andy Warhol for the second fifty years. Warhol certainly seems to be holding his own twenty years into the twenty-first century and with the relationship of his films, examined in this book which is a complement to the Catalogue Raisonne of the Films of Andy Warhol Volume I—it is clear that Warhol’s movies are as important and influential for generations of artists as is the prodigious output of his other media—paintings, silk screens, sculptures and photos—spectacularly displayed by the chief curator Donna DeSalvo in the Whitney’s Warhol Retrospective Exhibition, Andy Warhol from A to B and Back Again, November 12, 2018 through March 12, 2019 which then traveled to San Francisco, Chicago and other major venues around the country. At a Warhol birthday party on August 6th, prior to the opening of the exhibition, I was interviewed by the New Yorker Magazine for The Talk of the Town and Lily Anolik in Vanity Fair picked up my story of working with Edie and Andy on Lupe.

Volume II is dedicated to the memory of Callie Angell, curator, scholar and critic who had an encyclopedic knowledge of Warhol’s life and work, founded the Andy Warhol Film Project and was the senior researcher, editor and writer of Volume I which was published in 2006. That earlier book catalogues Warhol’s famous three minute ‘screen tests’ many of which can now be seen at the Museum of Modern Art, the institution that actually owns all of Warhol’s film oeuvre. In 1984 the Whitney Museum persuaded Andy Warhol to allow the films to be examined, researched, and catalogued. The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh agreed to oversee the transfer of film into digital formats. Callie began work on the project in 1991, working with hundreds of poorly marked film cans and thousands of hours of raw film from unmarked reels pulled from dusty bins and closets, until her sudden and shocking suicide in May of 2010. During these years I visited Callie, the daughter of renowned New Yorker writer Roger Angell, many times at her office in the Whitney Uptown for discussions about the details of my play The Bed and my writing of the screenplay entitled The Death of Lupe Velez, entitled by Andy simply Lupe. Callie also helped jog my memory about my participation in two earlier Warhol films I appeared in as an actor, Batman Dracula with Jack Smith in 1964 and Camp in 1965. In February, 2009 I was invited to participate with Callie Angell and my partner John Gilman by George Chauncey, head of the history Department at Yale University and the author of a big important book entitled Gay New York and his lover, Ron Gregg, professor of film studies at Yale, in a week-long event at the University in New Haven entitled ‘Postwar Queer Underground Cinema 1950-1968’ which highlighted the works of Marie Menken, Jack Smith, George Kuchar, Kenneth Anger, and Andy Warhol. The Bed was performed by Yale actors in a space that recreated the Caffe Cino, decked out in twinkle lights with coffee and donuts served. Large monitors on either side of the stage showed the hour-long soundless film montage of The Bed shot by Andy’s lover and professional filmmaker Danny Williams.

My play The Bed had opened in late Spring 1965 at the Caffe Cino, a tiny theatre/coffee house on Cornelia owned and operated by Joe Cino from 1958 to 1967 which premiered new and experimental plays of Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, myself and many others. Andy saw the play several times there and finally decided to film it at Richard Bernstein’s loft on the Bowery. The hour-long split-screen Warhol movie premiered at Jonas Mekas’ Filmmakers’ Cinematheque before it was locked away in 1970, along with all of his other films; he had decided to remove them from distribution and from public view and, of course, this somewhat paranoid action raised up ongoing myths, hearsay and misinformation about the films, presumably now dispelled with this 2021 publication. The lion’s share of the credit for the book belongs to Claire K. Henry, Callie’s associate curator, and the head of the Warhol Film Project since Callie’s death. Claire, now a curatorial consultant to the Whitney, continued the monumental work and finished what Callie started. Claire was honored and roundly applauded at the Whitney’s December 2 event for bringing the volume to its successful completion.

My relationship with Andy Warhol began in the 1960’s and continued until his death in 1987 although after he was shot and terribly wounded in 1968 by Valerie Solanas (a disgruntled and slightly deranged lesbian writer and the author of the manifesto of S.C.U.M.—The Society for Cutting Up Men) his associations and activities were far more guarded. After his release from the hospital, a pale and visibly altered Andy and I met at the Café Reggio on MacDougal Street. We discussed old times and to cheer him up I told him some of my favorite oft-repeated Warhol stories—see my New School power point lecture with author Thomas Kiedrowski ‘Andy Warhol in Greenwich Village’ on You Tube. The stories included some of the celebrity parties I attended at the Factory when Judy Garland and Tennessee Williams were wandering around. I reminded him that I was present when Bob Dylan made his ‘screen test.’ On his way out Dylan spied a stack of silk-screened canvasses of Elvis Presley-as-a-cowboy, leaning against a wall. He picked one up and, as he entered the elevator with it, said, “I’ll just take one of these for payment, man.” Andy’s face had turned a bright Campbell’s Tomato Soup red. In another story I reminded him about a party we had both attended at Bobo Rockefeller’s house where the guests included Fleur Trujillo, wife of the Dictator, and David Rockefeller. After the party we wound up alone at the Factory on Andy’s big red stuffed mohair sofa. With a drink in hand, Andy, in a pensive, terrified little boy mood said, “Gee, what should we do next?” I thought seriously for a moment and suggested, “Well, you’re into the Campbell soup cans. Just keep repeating that image—only maybe, you could change around the colors.” “What do yah mean?” he replied and I continued, “Well you could change around the colors, like say, a purple and orange Campbell’s can, a yellow and a green can, and so forth.” Andy with a gleam in his eyes said only, “Oh, Gee!” That Autumn Andy had an opening where new color-on-the-can canvasses were being sold—and snatched up quickly. I whispered to Andy, “Now you owe me a canvas” but I never collected. It was hard for him to part with a dollar; and I let it go.

At the glittering after party in the Whitney’s grand marble lobby overlooking the Hudson River, celebrants included Patrick Moore, director of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Warhol stalwarts Vincent Fremont and Fred Hughes, glamorous ladies like Warhol’s youngest superstar Bibbe Hansen (Prison, l965), Penelope Palmer who made a screen test at the age of 16 and was the daughter of Warhol’s first superstar Ivy Nicholson (who sadly passed away last year), the attractive, ebullient Claire Henry, curator supremo Donna De Salvo, Thomas Kiedrowski, archivist and author of Andy Warhol’s New York City, his friends Ernie Garcia a leading communications consultant—wearing a Santa decorated sports jacket—catalogue collector extraordinaire Ben House and so many others, all nibbling on caviar hors d’oeuvres passed around on silver platters and sipping bourbon, vodka and champagne. For a short while it was just like the good old Warhol days of yore, almost.

Robert Heide is the author most recently of Robert Heide 25 Plays and with co-author John Gilman of over a dozen books on Pop Culture subjects including Mickey Mouse, the Evolution, the Legend, the Phenomenon!, Box-Office Buckaroos, Starstruck, Popular Art Deco, Home Front America, O’New Jersey, and Greenwich Village—a Primo Guide to Shopping, Eating, and Making Merry in True Bohemia.

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