PRINT Summer 2010


Callie Angell

Callie Angell on Bear Island, Maine, August 7, 2003. Photo: Felicity D. Scott.

IN JANUARY 2000, Callie Angell, curator of the Andy Warhol Film Project at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, e-mailed me to wish me happy New Year. “I’ve been traveling a lot, out to PA nearly every week,” she wrote, referring to the site of MoMA’s Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, “but I seem to be finished with the films out there for the time being (hard to believe).” She went on to detail what she’d been working on:

I just finished cataloguing the most incredible Warhol film: the 105 Screen Tests he shot of Philip Fagan, his lover, over 105 days, each film numbered and dated in sequence. This film was supposed to be six months long. And was called Six Months, actually, but they broke up after 3+ months. But even in this truncated form the film would be 7 hours long, if assembled! Each 100-ft. film is lit meticulously and slightly differently, with extensive notes on each box about light placements and aperture settings—and it’s quite astonishing how different Philip looks from film to film. Also, the deterioration of their relationship is legible as the film progresses, in Philip’s increasing pissed-off or petulant expressions. SO interesting. It’s the Empire of portraiture, I think, and would make a great museum installation, don’t you think?

I’ve been feeling sort of sad to have no more discoveries like this still ahead of me—although I guess since I’m the only person in the world privileged enough to say that, I guess I can’t expect much sympathy. But I’ve been doing this for such a long time, and discovery has been a great motivation.

Six Months (1964–65) is the subject of chapter 3 of Angell’s authoritative Andy Warhol Screen Tests: The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1 (Abrams Books in association with the Whitney Museum, 2006). The chapter includes a catalogue entry and a frame enlargement for each and every reel—eighteen pages of stills—and a typically concise and informative text with details about Fagan’s biography, other Warhol films Fagan appeared in, and the fact that the sole source for the title Six Months is Ronald Tavel’s 1966 Film Culture essay “The Banana Diary.” Angell explains matter-of-factly that Warhol and Fagan met at a concert in 1964, became romantically involved, and lived together for a while, and she goes on to say that “Six Months is possibly the best example of Warhol’s proclivity for fusing personal desire and artistic ambition into a single film project.” This interpretive nugget follows: “The Six Months project might be seen as a kind of minimalist film noir epic, a series of systematic experiments in black-and-white on the effects of different lighting on the human face. (This experimentation would, of course, have been very important, if not formative, to Warhol’s future career as a portraitist working from his own photographs.)”

Jonathan Flatley, who as a graduate student at Duke University penned one of the finest essays we have on Warhol’s portraiture (“Warhol Gives Good Face,” in Pop Out: Queer Warhol [Duke University Press, 1996]), wrote to me, after learning of Angell’s death:

I met Callie first in 1993, at the conference that became Pop Out. She was incredibly supportive of a queer approach to Warhol, because she knew how important it was to understanding his films. From what we might call a fundamentally scholarly perspective, she encouraged all of us who were thinking about the relationship between sexuality and Warhol’s films and other work, at a moment when that was far from the scholarly norm. We are now realizing that Warhol’s films may be the most important and interesting achievement of his multifaceted career only because of Callie and the work she accomplished.

That realization was slow to dawn, painfully so for Callie, who worked for nearly twenty years against all sorts of institutional biases to bring it about, but she finally began to see the fruits of her extraordinary effort. She wrote an e-mail to fellow Warholian (her term) Marc Siegel about the 2008 “Andy Eighty?” conference at Harvard: “It was very gratifying to me to see the whole conference centered around the films (what a big change from ten yrs. ago!) and also to hear so many papers that drew so heavily from my Screen Tests book. . . . I had fun just listening, but my butt was sore after all that.” The “just listening” quip refers with justifiable pique to the fact that Callie herself was not invited to participate in a commemoration of what would have been Warhol’s eightieth birthday. The slight was undoubtedly no more than a matter of provincialism in certain sectors of American academia. Elsewhere—in London, Berlin, Moscow, Barcelona, Tokyo, Sydney—Callie was lauded as the erudite, affable emissary of Warhol’s most singular and ambitious achievement. Her participation in a number of underground-film events in Berlin over the past several years made her something of a celebrity there, which very much gratified her. After the Jack Smith festival last fall—billed as “Five Flaming Days in a Rented World!”—Callie wrote to Siegel, who, together with Susanne Sachße and Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, was an organizer: “After I got back to New York, I dreamed Jack Smith images for the whole first week! It was such a fabulous event—so many great films, great people, great ideas, great performances. And of course meeting Mario [Montez] was an incredibly memorable experience for me—quite certainly the nicest person in the Warhol films. After all these years of watching Warhol films, meeting him in person was miraculous, like suddenly meeting Edie Sedgwick or Marilyn Monroe.”

Comparing meeting Mario Montez to meeting Marilyn Monroe is the kind of astonishing, seemingly absurd, but ultimately astute remark Callie often made. Some others that come to mind: “I think of The Closet [1965] as Warhol’s version of It Happened One Night” and “Don’t you wish all films could be like Hedy [1966]?” Invited in 2000 to introduce a screening at Rice University of Warhol’s one-reel film Sunset (1967), commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil for a proposed but never-completed cycle intended as a cinematic variant of the Rothko Chapel, Callie mentioned in an e-mail, “I’m trying to get Branden [Joseph] to talk the Menil people into showing Warhol’s ‘Sunset’ actually IN the Rothko Chapel—which is doubtful, I admit.” That Warhol’s films could be the aesthetic equals of Rothko’s paintings was obvious to Callie—as perhaps it had been to the Menils—but she had no illusions that it was obvious quite yet to others.

How would she make it so? By learning everything she possibly could about the films and conveying that knowledge in a fun-to-read catalogue raisonné (she made that description not oxymoronic) on which she worked for two decades. I mean “everything” quite literally. Callie was a Sherlock Holmes of scholars. She tracked down every lead and talked to everyone who knew anything about Warhol—a motley crew to be sure, and countless in number—and then she sorted out all the misinformation. One of my cherished anecdotes about her thoroughness involves going with her to Anthology Film Archives in New York to see Horse (1965), Warhol’s spoof western made with a real horse that stands smack in front of the Factory’s elevator doors. The horse’s name, funnily enough, was Mighty Bird. Throughout the film’s first reel, Tavel, who wrote the scenario, interrupts the action to recite the film’s credits from off-camera, saying, for example, “The sheriff is played by Gregory Battcock,” and later, “Mighty Bird, courtesy of the Dawn Animal Agency.” Callie leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I called them. They’re still talking about the time they rented Andy Warhol a horse.” Sometime later I wrote an essay about Warhol’s collaboration with Tavel, and I sent it, as I did everything I wrote about Warhol, to Callie for fact-checking. As was often the case, her corrections saved me from repeating false “facts” I’d picked up in my own research: “Although I know Tavel recalls that the Horse horse was a ‘giant black stallion,’ I have to say, speaking as a former horse woman, that Mighty Bird looks to me to be just a regular, medium-sized horse, perhaps even a slightly small horse. Of course, any horse in a loft is going to look enormous. But I’ve ridden many horses much bigger than this one. This horse looks to me something like a cow pony (the kind of horse cowboys ride), which is at the smaller end of the scale for horses.” And “Yes that is indeed Larry Letreille with the horse [in the second of Horse’s three reels, where there is no scripted action]. At one point, he even whispers ‘kitchy-kitchy koo’ to him. Poor tired horse.”

It is my understanding that the Whitney Museum is committed to going ahead with the second—and by far the most crucial—volume of The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné. It will now be tragically diminished. Although Callie took meticulous notes and kept complete files on Warhol’s cinematic output, only with her inestimable knowledge did everything fit together to form what she once called “a single prodigious body of work”—a phrase that is equally appropriate for the project to which she devoted the last twenty years of her life.

Callie Angell died on May 5, 2010, at the age of sixty-two.

Douglas Crimp is Fanny Knapp Allen professor of art history at the University of Rochester.