John Wilcock on Andy Warhol's Coolness

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

May 6, 1965, Vol. X, No. 29

The Detached Cool of Andy Warhol

By John Wilcock

Andy Warhol makes movies with the same unruffled objectivity that he looks at life. His usual procedure is to set up the action -- often a group of people interacting -- point the camera at them, turn it on, and step back. The camera makes the movie: whatever happens, planned or not, is the film. Sometimes in the studio (which he refers to as "the factory") there will be interruptions: telephone calls, people going up or down in the elevator, somebody dropping something or walking inadvertently in front of the camera. All is recorded. No trace of surprise or annoyance registers on Warhol's face.

He is totally cool or very uptight, depending on your point of view. The latter school says: "Andy's been trained in Madison Avenue. He's like a high-powered executive who doesn't show his feelings, but he's seething inside." Personally, I think it the height of coolness to regard everything with a detached eye and rely on intuition to make instant decisions. Warhol's intuition is usually correct.

He is the subject of intense curiosity and heated discussions. What does he DO, people ask, that gives him such a reputation? His public work is more a subject for humor and wisecracks than for serious study: representations of soup cans, silkscreen reproductions of famous faces, multi-colored lithographs of flowers, murky six-hour movies of a man asleep or Henry Geldzahler smoking a cigar. Maybe his true talent lies in provoking so much argument about whether he's an artist without doing any of the recognizable things that the public accepts as "art." Warhol is an artist, a catalyst, a perceptive observer of contemporary life whose comments are sometimes astute by being no comment at all.

There are very few words wasted around the Andy Warhol milieu, little idle conversation. Andy himself sizes up situations instantly, and his instructions or comments are brief. Most of his closest friends are as laconic as himself, their thoughts presumably having taken them beyond trite responses. Andy is cordial and willing to converse but wary of cross-examination. He sometimes seems slightly surprised that you have not reached the same conclusion as himself. I have never seen him "rude," but people who believe that artists must justify themselves in words (if an artist could explain his point of view by words alone, why would he need to do anything but talk or write?) sometimes choose to put him down because he doesn't always respond according to the accepted canons.

He is a provocateur by his mere presence -- the silvered hair, the dark shades (lately he has not been wearing them much), the slightly enigmatic and faintly expectant look of an amiable polar bear. "I didn't expect him to look like such a twerp," said a girl at one gallery opening. She was provoked by just the sight of him as many people are provoked. "I bet he's wearing a wig; I'm going to pull his hair and find out," she said. Andy smiled, with nervous embarrassment, and ducked into the other room to escape. Does he wear a wig? Does it matter?

...For the past few months Andy Warhol, assisted by poet Gerard Malanga, cameraman Buddy Wirtschafter, script-writer Ronnie Tavelli, and the ubiquitous photographer Billy Linich ("foreman" of the East 47th Street "factory") has been making at least one full-length movie per week. There is usually a current "superstar," the present one being Edie Sedgwick, a slender, beautiful East Side chick who played herself in the 70-minute feature "Poor Little Rich Girl." Warhol did a revolutionary thing in this epic: he moved the camera, swinging it around to follow Edie into the kitchen, completely oblivious to the fact that two sightseers were in the line of fire.

Much of the movie -- like most of his works it was filmed one day, processed the next, and screened the day after -- is out of focus, but nobody knows better than Warhol that this merely increases the mystique...

[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. John Wilcock is still going strong at his website, Ojaiorange.com. And at Amazon, you can order his new autobiography, Manhattan Memories.]

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