Interviews

Dean Wareham and Eric Shiner

Andy Warhol, Allen, 1964, 16 mm, black-and-white, silent, 3 minutes. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg,  Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso.

Musicians Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips first collaborated with the Andy Warhol Museum in 2008 for 13 Most Beautiful . . . Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. Now, from November 6 to 8, 2014, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Wareham and Phillips continue this work and partnership with the Warhol Museum for the performance “Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films.” Alongside other celebrated musicians, they have created scores for fifteen as-yet unscreened Warhol films from the 1960s. Here, Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner and Wareham talk about the event.

THIS PERFORMANCE comprises fifteen short Warhol films that have recently been digitized by MPC/Technicolor and have not yet been publicly screened. They are fascinating in different ways—some are touching, at least one is erotic, another is erotic but also very funny. We were amazed to see a home movie of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg on the Factory sofa, drinking beer and clowning around with Superstars Taylor Mead and Gerard Malanga.

A major impetus for developing the project around the Warhol Museum’s twentieth anniversary was the timing and synchronicity of both the recent access to these unseen films through the Warhol film digitization project and discussions that began about two years ago among Ben Harrison, Geralyn Huxley, Greg Pierce—curators at the Warhol Museum—Joe Melillo, executive producer at BAM, and Kristy Edmunds, executive and artistic director at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, regarding a new performance/film commission and collaboration. As a follow-up to 13 Most Wanted, which has toured internationally the last five years, we knew there was an appetite for Warhol film in a performance mode and we knew there was much more to explore.

Many of Warhol’s silent films seem to be intentioned for multiple presentation contexts. Not only were they shown at his studio, the Factory, and as short subjects in avant-garde screenings, but also the Screen Tests, for example, were a primary visual component of Warhol’s multimedia happenings Andy Warhol Uptight, in 1966, and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, in 1967. These shows, featuring live performances by the Velvet Underground and Nico, provide a precedent and historic basis for this film/performance initiative at BAM. As early Warhol films, these unseen works differ from Warhol’s more conceptual and stylized series in that some of them are more aligned with experimental home movies or “actualities” that portray some of Warhol’s iconic friends. They have a more “human” and relatable quality than later work.

In addition to Dean, there will be four other main performers: Tom Verlaine of Television; Martin Rev, who pioneered synthesizer music with Suicide in the ’70s; Eleanor Friedberger, formerly of the Fiery Furnaces; and Bradford Cox, who makes strange and beautiful music as Atlas Sound and in Deerhunter. Each performer is scoring three films. We also have a backing band of Britta Phillips on bass, Jason Quever from Papercuts on guitar and keys, and Noah Hecht on drums. We love recording with vintage equipment, but we don’t always want to travel with it. Britta’s Fender Mustang bass might be the only instrument onstage that dates to 1965—and it has the original strings, too.

This is a film-scoring gig, but it has to be approached as a live show also. The main note you take from Warhol is to just pick up an instrument and make music; you might not be trained as a filmmaker, but you can make a film. And you may not be trained as a musician, but you can start a band. Warhol is an important figure in the history of rock ’n’ roll, primarily on account of his involvement with the Velvet Underground, and it’s hard to imagine rock history in the ’70s and beyond without that particular collaboration. You can make the case that Warhol is a father to the punk movement, too. He took commonplace “low” objects and turned them into art, and that’s at least part of what punk was about.

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