Frameline34: Andy Warhol & 1960s Gay Cinema

by: Ron Gregg
We're bringing Andy Warhol back to the masses with a retrospective curated by Yale film professor Ron Gregg. The series examines the pop art master's earlier queer films and will be capped off with a clips lecture by Gregg.

Andy Warhol seriesAlthough best known for his paintings, Andy Warhol is regarded as one of the most influential and prolific experimental filmmakers of 1960s New York City underground cinema, highly praised for his minimalist studies Sleep (1963) and Empire (1964). But the queer focus of many of his films, such as Blow Job (1963), My Hustler (1965), and Lonesome Cowboys (1967), made his films appeal to gay viewers as well as the avant-garde film audience and meant that Warhol played a key role in the development of queer underground cinema.

Warhol was enmeshed in and influenced by a large circle of New York-based queer avant-garde filmmakers, performers, writers and artists, including playwright Ronald Tavel, filmmaker and performer Jack Smith, underground actor and poet Taylor Meade, and numerous others. He often drew upon the performance and playwriting talent of Greenwich Village performance spaces such as the gay-run Cafe Cino and the Judson Dance Theater, an important center of avant-garde choreography. He also drew on the Times Square hustler scene and East Village queer scene to convey and portray the homoerotics and anti-identitarianism of New York's pre-Stonewall sexual underground.

The five films screened in this year's series – Haircut #1 (1963), Mario Banana #1 (1964), Mario Banana #2 (1964), Vinyl (1965), and My Hustler (1965) – as well as the other film clips and stills shown in the illustrated talk on Warhol, show how Warhol drew upon and filmed the exhibitionist energy of talented performers and celebrities of the queer avant-garde, such as Judson dancer Freddie Herko in Haircut #1 and the Warhol factory "stars" Edie Sedgwick and Gerard Malanga in Vinyl, along with hangers-on, queens, transvestites, dancers, hustlers, rough trade, sadomasochists, and beautiful boys who passed through Warhol's factory. Warhol telegraphed his intention to break taboos and garner press attention with titles like Blow Job (1963) and Fuck (1968), in addition to images of same-sex kissing and full frontal male nudity.

Audiences were often surprised to discover that most of these films are not as erotic as their titles and publicity might suggest. Warhol naturalized – and to some extent de-eroticized – his films through amateur performances, rambling conversations, mundane happenings at the Factory, and unedited long takes. This was a radical act in itself – revealing the queer world to a larger art public while replacing shock and titillation with his portrayal of the mundane and everyday.

Warhol's films legitimized the respresentation of gay male life and desire, breaking the ground for later big budget feature films such as Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Boys in the Band (1970), and set the stage for post-Stonewall gay experimental films and pornography. This series will explore Warhol's film style, queer subject matter and influence on both experimental and mainstream gay cinema.

Learn more about the Andy Warhol & 1960s Gay Cinema series.

Beautiful DarlingEDITOR'S NOTE: Though not part of our official Andy Warhol series, you'll also want to check out our Centerpiece documentary Beautiful
Darling, the Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar
.  The title really says it all!

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