Oral History


Left: Andy Warhol, Blow Job, 1964, still from a black-and-white film in 16 mm, 35 minutes. Right: Andy Warhol, Kiss, 1963, still from a black-and-white film in 16 mm, 58 minutes.

“[WARHOL] PUT DESIRE forward more explicitly at the beginning of his film and fine-art career than he would virtually ever again have the guts to do,” Wayne Koestenbaum writes in the slim but invaluable biography Andy Warhol, with a particular interest in two early odes to oral pleasures: the classic Kiss (1963), which grants viewers the opportunity to observe the smooching prowess of several different couples, and Blow Job (1964), featuring a thirty-five-minute close-up of a man’s face as he is fellated below the frame.

Kiss, shot as a series of short films from September through December 1963, was, as Steven Watson notes in Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties, the first of Warhol’s movies to be publicly shown; each three-minute segment played at the beginning of screenings organized by Jonas Mekas at the Gramercy Arts Theater. Girls kiss boys and boys kiss boys (sapphic bussing is absent), some osculators displaying aggressive tongues, while others simply lock lips. Among the more ardent kissers are Naomi Levine and Jane Holzer, two of Warhol’s earliest Superstars, though the technique of each participant, no matter how bashful, never fails to captivate as erotic ethnography.

We cannot evaluate the techniques deployed in Blow Job, only their effect on the handsome recipient, named by several sources as DeVeren Bookwalter, a Shakespearean—and occasional porn—actor. (In his memoir of the sixties, POPism, Warhol remembers, “We wound up using a good-looking kid who happened to be hanging around the Factory that day, and years later I spotted him in a Clint Eastwood movie.”) Consisting of nine three-minute rolls with white leader in between, Blow Job, like Kiss, runs at silent-film speed, or sixteen frames per second. Time is extended: Our hero fidgets, his pleasure seemingly deferred (Watson identifies the fellator as Willard Maas, the experimental filmmaker and poet; in POPism, Warhol says five different boys performed the act). And then, climax: Bookwalter’s face contorts into grimaces of agony and ecstasy, and it is at this moment that the movie becomes, in Koestenbaum’s words, “a film of almost unbearable intimacy.” Moments later, he appears to zip up and rebuckle before lighting a cigarette. He is the precursor of many butch Warhol studs to follow: Paul America, Joe Spencer, Joe Dallesandro. But none would ever display such naked vulnerability.

Melissa Anderson

Kiss and Blow Job, accompanied by live sound tracks from Carl Craig and nsi., screen at the Walter Reade Theater in New York on February 5. For more details, click here. Blow Job is also on view in “Denim,” a show curated by David Rimanelli at 80 WSE Galleries in New York. For more details on the exhibition, click here.