MoMA Film Festival: Two films by Andy Warhol

Warhol’s Faces confirms my greatest fear about Warhol: he’s an “experimental filmmaker” who obviously doesn’t understand important rules of cinematography and photography directing. Especially in regard to lighting. Faces attempts to be avant-garde in concept: make a film with no cuts, just a sixty-six minute close up on a talking head, but when viewed closely, is amateur in execution.

 Warhol misses in two major regards: the first (and the most important to someone like myself) is theoretically based — he certainly tries his damnedest to make a film in stark contrast of Eisentstein’s montage theory: to film is to cut, and Warhol is apparently trying to break this rule. In practice he does — but what are we left with? A face. A face can be narrative of course, but in this case — it is purely used in a visual sense. A pretty girl babbling on about the mundane. Forgiveable to some, especially those who can sit through a Tarkovsky piece, but to the experienced cinema-goer, a foolish measure.

The second, and most blaringly obvious one, is something that borders on the un-professional: the massive shadow that sits in frame throughout the entire film. After several hours of consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is nothing useful in this shadow: it adds no depth, and sits there in spite of being an eyesore to the viewer in the first ten or so minutes — even detracting from the face upon the screen. Something that any D.P. could fix with a simple three-point light setup, but something that Warhol obviously didn’t realize. Or chose not to do anything about. In either case I cannot find respect in Warhol the director.

I really haven’t assailed the narrative yet, nor do I plan to — it’s too easy of a target of course, but I will admit that I was genuinely interested to see if Warhol would take the film anywhere, something he did not do of course, but that feeling of unrequited suspense kept me watching, for whatever reason.

The second film, is mostly just a tape of Warhol’s house band, the Velvet Underground doing a show in Boston. It is experimental insofar as it makes use of incredibly fast and disorienting lighting effects punctuated by extremely rapid cuts and variations of focal length. But it certainly begs the question: did it need to be thirty-three minutes in length? More examples of Warhol proving himself as a medicore filmmaker at best. His inability to be responsible with film duration makes the film all the more unbearable.

In Warhol’s case, there is indeed a point where the avant-garde becomes oppressive. The two films screened tonight were certainly proof of that. My final verdict of Warhol is thus: a pop-artist who never really understood what film was and is prior to making them. It reminds me of my freshman roomates: filmmakers with incredible potential who would be able to capitalize upon it if they only took the time to learn something as simple and basic as film rhetoric.

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About Ryan Silva
An American born cinephile writing, making films, and studying in New York City. Festival addict and student Jurist at the 2010 Rhode Island International Film Festival. Hits: moe anime and space operas. Misses: Smelly roommates and Jersey Shore

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