New York

Andy Warhol

Marilyn Monroe’s 1962 suicide reverberates not only in the serial “Marilyn” paintings Andy Warhol began making days afterward. Her death also echoes through all his movies featuring tinsel-haired Factory angel Edie Sedgwick—ending appropriately enough with Lupe, 1965, in which the drug-addled Superstar imitates the “Seconal suicide” of ’40s star Lupe Velez, eerily anticipating her own Hollywood Babylon-style overdose.

As spectacularly beautiful as it is a fascinating spectacle, Warhol’s spatially dynamic and dramatically lit film-and-video portrait of Sedgwick, Outer and Inner Space, 1965, is perhaps his most brilliant articulation of the schism between private self and public image, as well as a further exploration of the serial imagery in his paintings. Shot during the summer of 1965, publicly screened in 1966, and recently rescued from oblivion, this was his first double-screen film—The Chelsea Girls would follow in September 1966—and his initial foray into video. Given the chance by Norelco to experiment with a prototype home-video recorder, Warhol used the camera to create a half-hour portrait of Sedgwick (as well as other Factory denizens). He then shot two thirty-three-minute 16 mm reels of the actress sitting in front of a television playing her videotaped image. In the final product, the two reels are shown side by side.

Luminous, unmodulated, and slightly larger-than-life, Sedgwick’s rapt profile in the videotaped sequence suggests a silent-screen idol, recalling the familiar observation that Warhol’s movies recapitulated the history of cinema. In the film footage, the “real” Edie, conversing with someone offscreen whose voice is inaudible, makes a valiant effort to maintain her composure as she is forced to confront her own crushing narcissism, her recorded dialogue pouring into her ear like a voice from the dead. Bathed in the glow of her videotaped image, she looks touchingly frail and startlingly lifelike-giggling self-consciously in the midst of her effervescent chatter, stopping to take an occasional puff on a cigarette. This quadruple portrait is also a complex articulation of materials: Striated scanning lines disrupt the videotaped sequence (rhyming with zebralike shadows cast on Sedgwick’s neck by the huge chandelier earrings she wears in the crystal-clear filmed image); while in one of the reels. bar rolls on the video monitor appear when a Factory member adjusts the vertical hold.

Warhol was a regular attendee at screenings of experimental films during the early ’60s (his reciprocal impact on avant-garde filmmakers has been well documented), which leads one to wonder whether the uncharacteristically elaborate title of this work might parody that of Robert Breer’s 1960 abstract animation film Inner and Outer Space. Perhaps Warhol was slyly poking fun at the cliché of the avant-garde film as an interior vision. In conversation, Warhol reportedly referred to his film simply as Space, a title that itself has intriguing implications in the context of an oeuvre so often merely credited with rendering the surfaces of commodity culture.

In a review of the Whitney’s 1994 Warhol film retrospective, Amy Taubin hazarded that the artist must have seen Joseph Cornell’s late-’30s collage film Rose Hobart, in which he projected footage of the star from a 1931 B movie at a slower speed through a piece of blue glass. The comparison is apt—Cornell and Warhol both distill celebrity to a critical essence. Cornell, however, by eliminating narrative causality and rescuing the heroine from physical threats in the original story, transforms what he spoke of as cinema’s “prison of silver light” into a magical realm protected by a veil of hyperfetishized stardom, whereas Warhol exposes the psychic and emotional disintegration of his star as she vanishes into her own deathlike image. When someone shuts off the video monitor near the end of the second reel in Outer and Inner Space, Sedgwick stops talking—she seems finally at a loss for words. She stares off-camera, her eyes dark, anxious pools, her disorientation excruciatingly palpable.

Kristin M. Jones