PRINT September 1971

“The Chelsea Girls”

IN 1966, ANDY WARHOL’S latest movie left the Film-Makers Cinémathèque to open in a “real” movie theater—the Regency at 72nd Street and Broadway—and the time had come at last, it was all up there in lights on the big marquee:


But though The Chelsea Girls was Warhol’s first strong step in his drive toward the big world of the feature film’s public—a drive which has grown more and more pronounced with each of his films since Flesh—it remains an experimental work, still tugging at the limits of the spectators’ perceptions, still operating within a certain modernist tradition from which Warhol has since been progressively withdrawing. Much can be said about what is gained and what is lost in this development. But it is not what has to be said about The Chelsea Girls.

For to enter the world of the feature film is to enter the world of imagined time, that arena where film uses the momentary and concrete to seduce the mind into illusions of duration. But The Chelsea Girls does not imagine time. It attaches itself to literal time, and by drawing it into a context of total disjunction, confounds the sense of duration under the suzerainty of the steadily ticking clock. True, like a conventional feature, it concerns itself with the relation between time and event, but it presents both in a state of radical dissociation, a structured but irresolvable disarray in which the life of narrative is disjoined and made a function of the machine.

The machine in question is of course the camera. The Chelsea Girls is composed of twelve reels, each a separate episode in which various members of the then entourage talk, and talk, and talk—playing at being themselves in more or less beguiling ways. Each reel is entirely unedited and of identical length; all have sound tracks; eight are in black and white, four are in color. The camera is invariably on a fixed tripod; its entire movement consists of zooms and swiveling on its stand. Each performer is set in front of the camera and told to stay there playing until the reel runs out. And so they do, pinned by the camera against a wall of time. “Dear God,” Ondine asks at one point, “how much longer do I have to go?”

But the wall of time to which they are pinned is also a split screen. The film is projected two reels at a time, in a phased relationship which separates the beginning of each by about five minutes. Tradition, rather than Warhol himself, has established the standard sequence of the reels; the first time I saw the film (at the Cinémathèque in 1966, when it was presumably under Warhol’s direct supervision) they were in an order which I have never seen repeated since. Theoretically, any arrangement is possible—and since every reel has a sound track, that arrangement would permute with any interplay between sound and silence theoretically conceivable. The sequence of the film freely offers itself to tradition or randomness or taste or invention; playing with it, the projectionist at last has his day as chef d’orchestre.

The screen strikes one first. Entering the theater, one instantly notices its unexpected elegance, its ratio far wider than any in ordinary use except Cinerama, but quite serenely flat. According to what is now established tradition, the film begins in the right half of this space with a sequence in color. Under a lurid red filter (which from time to time sinks so deeply toward the infrared that the print looks almost like a negative), a blond boy (Eric Emerson) slowly toys with his fleshly presence before the camera, lost in a blinking, lip-licking masturbatory trance. He stares at his fingers, sucks at them. He squeezes his lips. He plays with his hair. He twists a flexible mirror between his hands, gazing with hanging lips as his face smears. Filters change; blue succeeds red, and it, too, ranges from a virtual indigo to the metallic electronic brilliance of an arc-light. The sound track is on, but we hear only the steady murmur of its tracking, interrupted by perhaps an occasional cough or the small clatter of equipment outside the visual field. Once or twice, the boy makes some noise somewhere between speech and a moan. We suspect, rightly, that it’s only a matter of time before the narcissist up there begins sliding his clothes off, and losing himself in the vertiginous caverns of exposure. The camera pulls and jabs through the field with nervous, probing, swiveling zooms, but throughout the fleshy stillness of the autistic spectacle drips with quiescence, a kind of sexual waiting. This filmic massage continues uninterrupted for about five minutes.

Whereupon the left half of the screen lights into black and white: the sound of the color sequence on the right is extinguished and replaced on the left. Two sections of a couch have been placed back to back; draped over one of them in a hooded black robe, Ondine, one of the Factory’s most compulsive and amusing talkers, turns directly to the camera and starts speaking through the polished confident grossness of his Bronx accent. He is a priest, so where the hell is somebody to come and confess? Then we hear, edged out of vision by the perverse inattentive camera, the shrill absurd voice of Ingrid Superstar.

And so, in an unequal but contested struggle for attention, silent color vies with sound and black and white, talk with eroticism. (After the sound in his episode is lost, the boy on the right begins his inevitable striptease. He also begins to speak, though, of course, his lips move in silence.) The complete disjunction of the split screen, along with its width, makes any simple composition of its entire surface impossible. One’s eye moves uneasily back and forth, guided in part by the simplest reflexes of primary perception (for example, the tendency to look in the direction of sound and attend to someone speaking, as opposed to the tendency to pick up on color, particularly brilliant color). These operate with or against the happenstances of personality, since a given person is more or less interested in Ondine and Ingrid’s interminable verbal sparring, or Ondine shifting from priest to analyst to gossip to one of the girls. The field of vision is disjoined; the disjunction is compounded by the compositional style on each separate half of the screen. The swiveling of the camera on its tripod repeatedly confounds the sense of a fixed frame suggested by the absence of editing and track shots, and does so most spectacularly in the color episode where Marie Menken assumes the preposterous but beguiling pose of being Gerard Malanga’s mother, railing at him over his equally preposterous claim to have married Hanoi Hannah, who meanwhile sulks in a far corner of the room huddled in mute fury. The room is thus split between logorrhea and solipsism. The camera moves in manic, crazifying agitation, both with and against the structure of visual interest in the room and the flow of conversation, driving its own movements into a thoroughly asserted counterpoint to the field. In other episodes, such as the instance of Brigid rapping in her room at the Chelsea Hotel, the camera is relatively peaceful. But whatever its mood, the style is consistent throughout. Anywhere, anytime, the camera may suddenly swivel and exclude something “crucial” from the field. Abruptly, it zooms. Focus is manipulated, at times bringing the image to virtual obliteration. Yet most of these lunges on our attention create the effect of further decomposition, and would probably be called distractions if we could only define precisely the thing from which we were being distracted. For the framed field is only the nominal point of interest; that sudden zoom may concentrate on an “irrelevant” point in the field’s space or it may dive directly to its logical mark. In group scenes, the speaker may in the midst of his frenzy be edged out of the frame, drawn into a perfectly balanced close-up, or simply passed over by a rapid, unnoticing sweep of the camera eye.

The result of this restless, irresolvable pacing of the imprisoned camera, this drama of disjunction, is to relentlessly set the operation of cognition against the arbitrary. As one becomes aware of this experience, one becomes equally aware that despite the implied mechanistic rigidity of the subdivided compositional field, despite any effort to concentrate on the simultaneous mini-dramas before our eyes, almost every movement of awareness is actually being determined at the outer edges of perception: some sweep of color; a small, quirky, screwball twist of Ingrid’s mouth; an abrupt, irritable, uncalled-for zoom; the silent movements of the boy’s lips as he speaks; a new tone in the muffled Bronx honk of Ondine’s speech. Playing against this are the psychological subtleties of the Warholvian talk performance—about which much remains to be said—as they conflate with the peculiar fascination of silence. Already a matter of major interest in the earlier films, silence here begins to scatter itself in a dialectic with sound. The varied sensory resonance of silence—the contradictory implication of distance and separation; a certain subtle ritardando it exerts over the visual tempo; its spectral resemblance to the operation of the eidetic and memory and, in consequence, a certain look of pastness; its somewhat truncated appeal combining with the intuition that it is more emphatically filmic, more serenely an experience apart—all this begins its long operation quite literally with sound in one’s ears. The result is strange. The relation between what is seen and what is heard seems to be repeatedly gathered together in the mind only to fall apart and be lost. But this is only one dimension of a single effect. The Chelsea Girls is not so much a narrative as a spectacle, but it is a spectacle in a state of perpetual disintegration. As one looks at this cool, wide, virtually complete array of sensory dissociations, one becomes aware that the simple impulse to center one’s attention and then move with time is being incessantly confounded at the outer edges of perception, and that at those edges, duration, the sense of human time, is being broken to bits. And the moment one realizes this, one realizes precisely what the dramatic interest of The Chelsea Girls is all about.

Once again, Warhol has located his work squarely in that arena where perception stands witness to itself. Any one of the twelve episodes of The Chelsea Girls, were it to be shown individually, would ensconce its spectator in merciless clock time, though it would be clock time with a precisely anticipated end, the mechanically defined duration of the length of the reel. Using this rhythmless though timed unit, Warhol sets into motion the absolutely metrical alternating progression of the phased split screen, subsuming the crack-brained conversations of each episode into a stately formality. There are twelve reels, but there might be a hundred. The film’s progress is potentially interminable. No episode “leads” to any other, though in two cases basic situations are repeated. There is no story, no narrative process, none of the events on the screen lead one to anticipate an end. There is no project in time; one is asked never to remember, never presume. One watches, one waits, patiently or impatiently as the case may be, knowing only that the film will at last conclude—conclude literally by closing in on itself—resolving itself into a single image on a single half of the screen. The Chelsea Girls is not a narrative work, but it does move through time in the rhythm of narrative. It does develop, in a strictly structural sense, toward a finality as opposed to a mere termination. But it is a finality which functions only by virtue of bringing the eye to rest. Indeed, it does even better than that: when the final reel at last stands alone, its image vanishes after a few moments, and the sound track continues imageless as the house lights return and the poor pestered senses are released.

The fact is that The Chelsea Girls retains narrative structure while entirely dissolving narrative time, and it does so by literalizing both on the simple device of the split screen. Structurally, the film has a coolly conjugated, recognizable and distinct beginning, middle, and end. But the very device which makes that possible (a kind of substitute, by the way, for the editing process) removes any possibility of filmic, reinvented, narrative time reaching us. By dissociating time, the device makes it submit to the tyranny of the clock. Let us suppose we make some move to escape that tyranny—and we naturally will. The slow trickle of seconds through the tiresome routine of a middle-aged homosexual in bed with a male hustler begins to pall; on the right side of the screen is, let’s say, the icy but beautiful Hanoi Hannah snarling in voiceless sadism at various girls draped around her room. Literal though the movement of time on the left half of the screen has been to some degree one will have entered into the particular quality of the duration that those moments of steadily observed reality induce. The mere movement of the eye from left to right makes one absolutely lose that subtle sense of participation in the film’s time, and, slipping instead into an entirely dissociated temporal realm, one is thrust back upon oneself, upon the beat of the clock and the beat of one’s own darting eye. In this and analogous ways, almost every movement of perception induced by the film has as its effect the disintegration of one’s capacity to dominate or subsume the moment, or for that matter, even to participate in it in any but a very complex way.

The merest horror film or thriller is above all an invitation to participate harmlessly in its violent time. But the way The Chelsea Girls seduces the clock constitutes something closer to a prohibition, a refusal. In this sense, The Chelsea Girls seems almost an act of aggression, though it must be called aggression of a very special kind. A cliché leaps to mind: the film is mind-blowing, an inept cliché that has leapt into a good many people’s minds. The work overloads the circuit of perception. Some may find it a little explosive and shocking, there is a great deal of sadomasochism in it, and a great many needles shooting methadrine. And for its pleasures, the film may seem to fellate consciousness in a contactless voluptuously. Fine, but I dislike the cliché. I feel a certain contempt for it. We should prize our minds more highly and The Chelsea Girls seems to me, on the contrary, mind-defining. That is its special little secret. However deeply involved in an esthetic of disintegration the film may be, it is nonetheless an esthetic. At the risk of sanctimoniousness, Dachau is mind-blowing, the prospect of nuclear war is mind-blowing. Remembering (or hearing once again) the rhetoric praising psychic and social disorientation, the flattery of madness and loss of self in which the sixties specialized, it should also be remembered that the unbearable has as its prime characteristic that of being unbearable—and no fooling. The Chelsea Girls is fooling. Its special characteristic is to flirt with the idea of entirely abandoning any esthetic, stretching itself across the realm of disorientation all the while quietly announcing its coherence.

That coherence is located in the elegance of its refusal, the serene coolness of the way it says no to the conventional experience of devouring filmic time. It is located in the voluptuousness of a spectacle which does not give. The finger of time drifts across the skin just at the point of sensation, and the film operates in that extremely interesting area, the point just before the point of boredom. The film engages us, but engages us in its denial of conventional coherence. As a result, perception is thrown back on itself, and the film becomes an exercise in apperception. The Chelsea Girls is a work in which one must incessantly choose to disregard something, in which every act of attention explicitly involves some withdrawal of attention, in which every assent to the film’s appeal must converge with some refusal, however delicate. Led nowhere, perception must constantly choose to find itself somewhere. Finding itself, it begins to follow itself through the movements of its own changes, witnessing its own scattered conjugation through time; exercising itself within its own willfulness and passivity; shadowing itself like a spy through its own regions of curiosity, amusement, intelligence, eroticism, distaste, sensuality, tedium—all the while running through its repertory of ways of looking at film, unsuccessfully attempting to establish itself in some singular mode of looking until it becomes plain that despite the cool self-containment of the spectacle on the screen, the only undissociated way of looking at this film is to look at oneself. And looking, one promptly finds oneself in a state of dissociation. In that state, one looks back at the devolving, serene spectacle on the screen.

I speak of elegance—elegance in this film, where Ondine swigs from an outsize Coke bottle and loudly belches; where Brigid snaps into the telephone, “Listen, I can’t talk now, I’m on the john,” where an aging queen snipes, “I want my property,” jabbing a pudgy finger into a hustler’s skinny shoulder. Well, let’s say it is the elegance of the sixties. Or let Warhol say it: “People are so fantastic. You just can’t take a bad picture.” Finally, this cinematic spectacle is about the self-containment of a certain elegant discretion, the discretion of Baudelaire’s dandy, the aggressive perfection of a passive nonchalance. The discretion of mutism, of separateness, of perfect placement. It doesn’t matter that at the same time it is talkative, chummy, and in disarray, for this discretion is about an ironic mode of consciousness that perpetually undermines its own means. It’s within that mode (if you can get into it, not an easy matter) that you just can’t take a bad picture. While it plays at disorienting and shocking the senses, it is in fact seducing them with the impression it couldn’t care less.

By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that The Chelsea Girls is so dreadfully elegant that it is not entertaining. In the vulgar sense, it is the most entertaining work I know within its particular tradition of elegance. In any event, every time I see it I repeatedly laugh out loud, though I’m sometimes the only person in the theater who does. As it proceeds from reel to reel, its solemn mechanistic stateliness is repeatedly undermined by the almost ostentatiously charming and repellent freak show on the screen. The film is so deeply involved in its ironic mode that it subsumes everything to it: its use of time, its apperceptive drama, its claim to seriousness, its place in an artistic tradition. The Chelsea Girls seems to flicker not only on the edge of seriousness and of cinema, but on the edge of existence; no work has ever less portentously commanded us to know ourselves.

“Listen. I am too economical an artist to go on with this,” Ondine asserts, his eye fixed on the camera in a steely gaze of mock determination during the middle of reel X. Brrrrrrrrrrrrring! “There’s my telephone, so sit down and shut up.” A very fat lesbian who claims she is no longer able to cross her legs (but who promptly, though with effort, crosses her legs) picks up the telephone. "Helleau?” she says, exuding mock sweetness.

There is a special kind of actor’s presence in which Warhol specializes, and it should be possible to talk about it quite exactly. To do so, we must naturally talk about his actor’s relation to the camera, and the most obvious fact about it is that it is a relation invariably more or less forthrightly acknowledged. “OK,” asks Ondine. “Should I start now?” Twenty years of television have undoubtedly had some influence on the style: from the beginning, television’s unintimidating small screen and absurdly poor resolution of detail have encouraged the close-up and an “eyes-front,” (therefore “frank”) variety of camera presence, causing what in 1939 would have been thought impossible, an even greater accentuation of the narcissistic show-biz dimension in the commercial media than had existed before. Along with this came an endless insistence on comedy; television quickly became the medium of the comic double-take, and in fact very much the same thing which makes us smile at Brigid on the telephone makes us smile at Carol Burnett’s arching eyebrow. Likewise, one can trace to TV’s revival of vaudeville the burlesque idea that one’s role on the stage or screen is too absurd to maintain, that one can’t help breaking up, stumbling out of the posture, kibitzing on one’s own role. Finally, there is the mystique of the star, about which we will have more to say.

But more decisive factors probably are Warhol’s refusal to edit and the use of the stationary camera. They result in a kind of performance otherwise almost never seen on the screen. Each one swims in a shoreless little half-hour ocean of time. Both actors and audience in The Chelsea Girls confront the problem of what to do with the length of that inexorable reel. But Warhol’s almost flawless personal taste stands him in good stead; there is virtually nobody in The Chelsea Girls who fails to have a relation to the camera that works. Everybody is a good talker, except for those like Nico who never talk. Everyone lives with ease in the realm of narcissism in which living and being seen conjoin, and their self-absorption operates in a way that puts it on constant display. They are amusing. They are hip. They are, in short, ideal.

And their acknowledged relation to the camera, whether it is direct or in some way deflected, whether burlesqued or done in character, becomes above all a structured means for playing out a narcissistic self-involvement—while a major factor of fascination in each performance is the specific texture of that relation, that means. Through the actor’s awareness, one perceives the camera’s felt presence as if in a mirror. And within the felt presence of that mirrored structure, the performance comes to life and is forced almost literally to reflect upon itself, driven by the camera into that mode of ironic sensuality and presence which is the Warhol style. It is at this point that the film can lay claim to an almost literary high seriousness. For The Chelsea Girls is haunted, dominated, by the problem of authenticity.

It is sensed through an extraordinarily delicate, though usually comic, exploration of its actor’s presences as their eroticism is sensed through that presence. Everybody has surely guessed that, within the psychological structure of The Chelsea Girls’ esthetic, there is an important link between the whole operation of the film and the exclusively homosexual, sadomasochistic sexuality which pervades it. Unfortunately it is a link so important and complex that it deserves its own, separate consideration. But the film is also an anthology of variations on an almost cautionary style of personal presence, something which has its own little drama, its own story. I would like to discuss only one instance, the most pyrotechnical performance in the film and one which has the advantage of being both exemplary and perfectly linear as it operates at the outer limits of a style.

In it, Ondine loses his temper.

The left side of the screen is once again in black and white. The set is the Factory, where the two sections of the couch are still placed back to back. Once again, Ondine sits down on one, though this time without his black robe. He has with him a paper bag, from which (with much noisy crinkling on the sound track) he extracts a syringe. Using his belt to tie his arm, he proceeds through the methodical ritual of giving himself a shot of methadrine. He releases his arm from the belt; again, with noisy crinkling he replaces the syringe in the paper bag and carefully sets it aside. He has that peculiar relation to objects most often seen in women wrapped up in an almost pampering relation to their bodies, who pick things up and set them aside with a particularly fleshly tactile discretion. Except that this time he is pampering a needle. Ondine then turns to the camera and asks if he should begin. “OK? OK. Well now, let’s see.” He arranges himself more comfortably. “As you are all aware, uh, I am the Pope. And, uh, the Pope has many duties. It’s a crushing job. I can’t tell you. And—uhhh—I’ve come down here today in order to give you all some kind of inside view of my life, and what I’ve been doing with my uhhhhh”—there is a long tracking pause—“Popage? Right, my Popage. Not just the Pope as Pope, but the Pope as a man. Right? First of all, you will undoubtedly want to know who, or what, I am Pope of. Well, uhhh,” a mock faggot groan, running his fingers through his hair. “Jesus! there’s nobody left. Who’s left?”

Time is being filled. The eye drifts to the right where, let’s say, a silent color sequence shows a kind of light show playing on members of the cast. But now, back on the left, a woman walks on; somebody new has come to give her confession to Ondine, as Ingrid Superstar did at the beginning of the film. As she sits down and begins to talk, something seems slightly wrong, slightly off: the woman on the screen has a certain vanity all right, but it is a pedestrian, banal vanity. Worse, she seems faintly intimidated by the situation in which she finds herself. She’s a touch “heavy.” But we know that won’t stop Ondine. The eye drifts complacently back to the right. The light show continues; Ingrid is smoking a cigarette and laughing. After a digression, the conversation on the left drifts back to confession and begins to spar. The girl seems to sense that this sparring with Ondine is part of the game, and so, somewhat smirkily, she sets out to question the Pope’s spiritual authority. She announces that she is hesitant to confess. Exactly Ondine’s meat. “My dear, there is nothing you cannot say to me. Nothing. Now tell me, why can’t you confess?” The inattentive ear hears the remark fall: “I can’t confess to you because you’re such a phony. I’m not trying to be anyone.” Ondine seems at first able to duck this little rabbit punch easily, and still playing for the camera, tosses it back at her, his voice filled with mock music. The girl repeats her remark. Ondine has been holding a glass of Coca-Cola in his hand; he throws it into her face. She is startled; it takes her an instant to remember that this, after all, is only a movie. She pulls her wet hair from her eyes and comes back smiling. “I’m a phony, am I?” snaps Ondine. “That’s right,” the girl replies, and is instantly slapped in the face. The right half of the screen, as it were, vanishes. A sadomasochistic spectacle is by now very familiar—but still. “Well, let me tell you something, my dear little Miss Phony. You’re a phony. You’re a disgusting phony. May God forgive you,” and Ondine slaps her again, more violently, then leaps up in a paroxysmic rage. With his open hands he begins to strike the cowering bewildered girl around the head and shoulders. “You Goddamned phony, get the hell off this set. Get out.” In a momentary lull we see the girl’s eyes again. They are squeezed shut. At last she seems to grasp what is happening to her. “Stop it,” she says. “Stop it. Don’t touch me.” She is unable to move, but her voice is, at last, authentic. Ondine rages on. “How dare you call me a phony. Little Miss Phony, you disgusting fool,” he begins to strike her again. She leaps up and runs.

There follows a torrential, self-righteous, hysterical rage. How dare she, the moralistic bitch. Who the fuck does she think she is coming onto a set and pulling something like that—“did you see it, did you see it?”—she’s a disgrace, she’s a disgrace to herself, she’s a disgrace to humanity, the fool, the moron; she thinks she understands friendship, she understands nothing, she betrays, she insults. Ondine circles the room, hysterical—“I’m sorry, I just can’t go on, this is just too much, I don’t want to go on”—it is the longest camera movement in the film. Her husband is a loathsome fool, she is a loathsome fool, and so it goes. Phase by slow self-justifying phase, Ondine who has been beside himself, slowly returns to himself—that is, to the camera. And as he calms himself, the camera reasserts its presence.

In an ordinary narrative film (that is, one in which the actors play to the convention of an absent camera) such an incident would be thought of as a stroke of personal passion, and it would function as a piece of self-revelation, a moment of truth. At first blush, Ondine’s outburst seems to do exactly the same thing. The point, however, is that the moment of truth begins to function at precisely the moment the cowering girl’s face comes to the realization that this is not, after all, just a movie; at the moment when, understandably enough, the presence of the camera ceases to have any importance to her and she reasserts herself, eyes closed: “Stop it. Stop it. Don’t touch me.” Poor child, she was ill-equipped for her job. Trying to be ironic, trying to be authentic, she could do neither, and she found herself in big trouble instead. For that particular game, she had sat down at a table with pros. And it was exactly her incapacity for the task, subtly evident in her presence from the beginning, which provoked Ondine into his rage. It is interesting that the all-provocative word was “phony.”

Phony? It’s impossible to imagine that Ondine could be so enraged, even with the help of methadrine, merely by this silly epithet. It was the way she was there that set him off. In more or less perfect innocence, the girl provoked the peculiarly angered embarrassment one feels for a person trying to be funny among people with a great gift for wit; or somebody trying to be brilliant among the very intelligent, trying for physical flash among athletes. It was the teeth-searing scrape of the chalk, behavior which, however mortifying for the person doing it, nonetheless seems like an act of aggression. The girl made the mistake of turning her mortified aggression into words. She was not mistreated for a lack of brilliance or wit or grace: she had stepped in front of the camera insensitive to the life it was structuring and which it required; she failed to understand that in front of it she had to live within its irony and that she was among people for whom that irony is life. Phony? One suspects that Ondine would be prepared to be called a phony by anyone, and at any time, provided they did not claim for that particular truth any authenticity whatsoever. He found the girl’s remark judgmental and righteous, and so it was. But Ondine was himself perfectly adept at righteousness; ten full minutes are devoted to elevating his disgraceful behavior into a saintly act. What he called the girl’s moralism was in fact the violation of a style, a style of life, and one which was being made to function at that moment in its most pristine form. Disastrously for her, she had tried to divert attention—ours, Ondine’s, the camera’s—from the mode of consciousness in which Ondine and the other important people in the film locate their capacity to live and act. Trying to be cute for the occasion, she violated the flicker of Ondine’s, and the film’s, life. Revenge was preternaturally swift.

Those for whom selfhood is located in the ironic mode of Ondine and his world are in the habit of calling any violation of that mode—any “heavy”—a “bore.” It is one of the most favored words in their vocabulary. Needless to add, it was of the many epithets Ondine slapped into his wretched victim. Boredom? It is an uneasy boredom. Feeling it, such people hold their breath against the unbearable. What really went wrong? Had the poor girl lacked a certain delicate touch? So what? Had she called Ondine a nasty name? The Chelsea Girls is a 3 1/2-hour parade of nasty names. None of this can have had the slightest importance. As she clumsily faltered within that life style to which The Chelsea Girls is a monument, the girl tried to pick up the beat she’d lost wth a feinting little lunge of mockery. Wasn’t mockery, after all, what everybody else was indulging? She failed to realize that once you’ve stumbled out of the cool, vibrant life of inauthenticity, mockery is absolutely forbidden. Her little ploy turned out to be a little act of ontological aggression, one which confronted poor high Ondine with an unexpected but intense little metaphor for death. Some bore. “You phony! You fool! You moron,” he shrieks, the last remnant of a mind beside itself absolutely fixed on the camera, “you misery, you’re a disgrace, a disgrace to yourself. May God forgive you!”

Stephen Koch