I recently had the rare joy of being able to score a free ticket to something I gladly would have paid full price to see: Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips playing their (mostly) original score to 13 Warhol screen tests, which were commissioned by the Warhol Institute in Pittsburgh.
I’ve loved Dean and Britta in pretty much all of their incarnations (for at least the first track, “Night Nurse” on their 2003 album L’ Avventura, for their work in Luna, for Dean’s work in Galaxie 500, and for Britta being Jem’s singing voice (truly outrageous!!!)). Clearly, I would have paid good money to see them without the face-melting hotness of having Warholian screen tests projected behind them. And let me tell you, my face is completely melted. There’s nothing left. I’m writing this as Skeletor.
Spiderman made me gay
Warhol’s screen tests were shot between 1963 and 1966, and are all black and white, on 100 ft rolls of film (2.75 minutes), which in Warhol slowmo means that they’re four minutes each, just the right length for a song. They weren’t actually screen tests in the Hollywood sense, I think, but yet another way for Warhol to capture the fleeting beauty and sensuality of his cast of characters.
The 13 picked by/for Dean and Britta are especially fantastic. Among others, we have Lou Reed, Nico, Edie Sedgwick, and Dennis Hopper. A shitty picture taken with my phone:
Wareham (and occasionally Phillips) gave brief bits of information before or after a lot of the screen tests. A few folks are still alive, but a lot died or disappeared not too long after their filmings. Speed seemed to be involved in several of the stories, unsurprisingly.
What I liked best was the ways in which the music and film interacted, some literal and some more sweetly subtle. A lot of the songs are lyrically related, either chosen because they thematically relate to the life of the subject, or are covers of a song by the artist. Lou Reed gets a cover of a recently discovered VU song, “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore,” and for Nico a very moving rendition of “I’ll Keep it With Mine,” originally penned by Dylan.
Beyond the literal, there was a frequent phenomenon that I like to call the “Jets to Brazil” effect, named after the poster in Breakfast at Tiffany’s that says “Jets to Brazil,” which will recall to many modern viewers the contemporary band. Filmed over forty years ago, many of the screen test stars appear to be smiling at or bobbing their heads to Dean and Britta’s melodies. In the Dennis Hopper piece the music builds to an emotional crescendo that breaks loose just as Hopper breaks into a wide grin, nodding his head in time. Ingrid Superstar strokes her face with her fingers, moodily mugging at the camera, but her sleepy grin seems to conspire with the faint rockabilly twang of her song on the soundtrack.
I’m looking forward to finding the DVD and hearing the songs again, but I’m thrilled that I got to see this live and in person. It exceeded all expectations, and with any luck I’ll spend tonight dreaming of Jane Holzer brushing her teeth.