Jonas Mekas Raves About Andy Warhol's "Rich Girl"
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
April 29, 1965, Vol. X, No. 28
By Jonas Mekas
Here is another column of ramblings. My head is rambling because I have seen a beautiful movie and I have plenty to think about. My readers, particularly those who think that I am out of my head anyway, I hope will not mind my ravings.
Much has been said about truth in cinema. We even have the so-called "cinema-verity," the "cinema of truth." I have written much nonsense about truth in cinema myself. There was a time, four, five years ago, when we had too much of one kind of cinema: pale tired Hollywood cinema. The avant garde, the independents were sleeping. There was a need to stir things up, to exaggerate things, to talk about "cinema truth," about "spontaneous cinema," plotless cinema, slice-of-life cinema, New York cinema. "Shadows" and "Pull My Daisy" came like a blast of fresh wind, they made us breathe easier; Leacock came; soon the avalanche of the "underground" started rolling.
But now, I feel, the cinema has been freed from the Hollywood "regime."
The film-maker is free from "professional" techniques, from Hollywood subject matter, from plot routines, from Hollywood lighting. I have a feeling that now, at this juncture of cinema, the independent, "underground," experimental film-maker is free not only from Hollywood cinema but from the "underground" cinema techniques as well. What I mean is that during these last four years, often through anarchy, often through his nuttiness, often through conscious rejection of "Hollywood," the film-maker has gained a new freedom. Now he can use any technique he wants. His vocabulary has increased from a Lilliput to, at least, a Webster. If he wants, he can swing his camera around his head; or he can lock his camera down to a tripod; he can overexpose, or use a balanced lighting; he can use 8mm or he may use 16mm or 35mm or any other size he feels like. Don't be surprised at all if within this coming year you see the underground movie-makers going into all possible sizes of cameras and screens. Hollywood has remained frozen and therefore it is dying, it cannot be revived even with fresh blood. The "underground," however, is coming up, free, strong, and kicking.
What made me think about all this, really, is the last two films by Andy Warhol, his two sound movies, "Vinyl" and "Poor Little Rich Girl." I will come to "Vinyl" some other time -- but "Poor Little Rich Girl," in which Andy Warhol records 70 minutes of Edith Sedgewick's life, surpasses everything that the "cinema verite" has done till now, and by that I mean film-makers such as Leacock, Rouch, Maysles, Reichenbach. It is a piece that is beautiful, sad, unrehearsed, and says about the life of the rich girl today more than 10 volumes of books could say. It was an old dream of Cesare Zavattini to make a film two hours long which would show two hours from the life of a woman, minute by minute. It was up to Andy Warhol to do it, to show that it could be done, and done beautifully. Miss Sedgwick happened to be the most suitable person for such a film, with the proper personality: with a rich, complex, and very open personality, able to relax in front of a camera and be free and not to hide anything and to reflect everything. It is not an easy part to play, it is not an easy film to make. Nothing much really happens in the film, if we want action. Miss Sedgwick goes around her make-up business, she listens to rock 'n' roll music; she answers a telephone call which disturbs her; she dresses up; she keeps up a continuous conversation with a man outside of the frame; she strolls around in the room. That's it, more or less. But you have to see it -- and it was a privilege of those 30 or 40 people who stayed at the City Hall Cinema last Monday, after most of the audience walked out on Andy Warhol, expecting another "Empire" -- it was the privilege of those few to see, with amazement, how beautiful the film was, and how much could be read into this unbelievably simple film -- how rich it really is.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. Go here to see this article as it originally appeared in print.]