Dean and Britta’s Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Culture Lust blogger and arts producer Angela Carone's story featuring the music of 13 Most Beautiful as well as interviews with Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips.
13 Most Compelling Reasons to See Dean and Britta's "13 Most Beautiful…Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests"
1. The Cred.
Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips are the talented husband and wife duo, Dean and Britta. They used to be in the influential 90s band, Luna. Before Luna, Dean was in a band called Galaxie 500 (which influenced many indie rock bands to come). They now make music together, along with moody film scores for movies I love, like "The Squid and the Whale."
2. The Project.
They spent the last year researching Andy Warhol's Silver Factory for "13 Most Beautiful," which involved selecting 13 of Warhol's 500 screen tests and writing music for them. I mean, can you think of a cooler project?
3. The Hot Factor.
They are both outrageously good looking.
4. The Tour.
Dean and Britta are touring the country performing their music (mostly originals, and a few covers) accompanying the actual screen tests, which are projected on a large screen behind the band.
5. The Screen Tests.
Silent, black-and-white film portraits of Factory regulars, guests, street people and anyone who captured Warhol's interest. The Silver Factory was ground zero for New York's avant garde throughout the 1960's. Artists, critics, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, socialites, hustlers, petty thieves and junkies made the Factory their home. In 1964, Warhol started documenting them in the screen tests, which are addictive, especially when you know the individual stories.
6. The Slow-Mo Effect.
Warhol created almost 500 of these 2 ½ minute tests and when he projected them, he did so at 16 frames per second (they were shot at 24 frames), giving the films a slight slow motion effect. This means every facial gesture and tic is exaggerated and stretched. As a result, the films are floating and dreamlike.
7. The Tear and the Smirk.
Ann Buchanan (a sometime poet who hung out with the Beat crowd) slavishly follows Warhol's directions and stares at the camera for almost 3 minutes straight. Towards the end, a single tear falls down her cheek, because she hasn't blinked. The tear trickles in glorious slo-mo. As the film spool runs out, you see a slight smirk develop on Buchanan's face, as if to say, "I did it!" This was supposedly Warhol's favorite screen test.
8. The Coolest Coca Cola Commercial That Never Was.
Lou Reed's screen test is – as Dean put it – "bad ass." Reed wears a black leather jacket, black shades, and defies the camera to intimidate him. Throughout, he drinks Coke from one of those old school glass bottles. Dean and Britta covered a lost Velvet Underground song called "I'm Not a Young Man Anymore" to accompany Reed's test. The song was discovered last year when someone posted a bootleg recording of the Velvet Underground performing the song on the internet. The band never recorded this song in studio.
9. Lovely Nico and Britta.
For Nico's screen test, Dean and Britta cover the Bob Dylan song "I'll Keep it With Mine." Supposedly, Dylan wrote this song for Nico, but there are rumors he also wrote it for Joan Baez and Marianne Faithful. If he heard Britta's version, he'd no doubt say he wrote it for her.
10. Freddy Herko.
Herko's story is so tragic. He was a dancer – went to Julliard and danced with the Judson Dance Theater – and appeared in a number of Warhol films. Over time, Herko grew more and more addicted to amphetamines, which were the drug of choice at the Factory. He eventually broke his foot and couldn't dance, which was soul-crushing. Herko's roommate eventually kicked him out. One evening in October, Herko, strung out and homeless, ran into lighting designer Johnny Dodd on the street. Dodd invited Herko up to his apartment where friends were gathering for drinks, to give him a chance to clean up. Herko drew himself a bath, and put perfume in the bath water. Dodd and friends put on Mozart's Coronation Mass, which happened to be one of Herko's favorite pieces of music. He got out of the tub and walked into the living room naked, and began to dance for the assembled guests. As the music crescendoed, Herko danced toward the window and lept off the fifth floor balcony, landing on the sidewalk across the street. When Warhol heard of Herko's suicide, he said he wished he'd been there to film it. Herko's screen test was recorded one month BEFORE this happened. It's a dark and haunting portrait of a troubled man. Dean said writing the score for this screen test was the most challenging.
11. Teeth Brushing and Brushing Teeth.
Heiress and early Warhol Superstar Jane Holzer brushes her teeth during her screen test. Her nickname was Baby Jane.
12. Edie Sedgwick's Big Dopey Eyes
Troubled, drug-addled, pleading and vulnerable, the eyes have it.
13. The Number 13.
Warhol used to present his screen tests in series of 13, like The 13 Most Beautiful Boys or the 13 Most Beautiful Girls. Whitney Museum curator Callie Angel wrote the definitive work on the screen tests and she suggests that Warhol was inspired by a police bulletin titled 13 Most Wanted.
13 +1. "Factory Made"
I'm reading "Factory Made," which came out last year and is a terrific cultural history of the Factory, chock full of biographies of all the Factory regulars.
13 + 2 "Better Than Anvil??"
This could be one of my favorite events of the year – right up there with Anvil performing live at the Ken Cinema after "Anvil, The Story of Anvil!" That's really saying something.
Dean and Britta's "13 Most Beautiful…Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests" takes place tonight at 8pm at The Loft on the campus of UCSD.