12/12/2016

Kiss/Eat/Sleep/Blow Job/Empire - Anti-Film

Thoughts On: Kiss/Eat/Sleep/Blow Job/Empire

A collection of films by Andy Warhol featuring little more than what their titles offer.

        

I'm not a fan of these movies - not at all. These films are a hallmark, the archetypes, of filmic pretension. This isn't meant as a mere slur on the films, however. The pretense in these movies is in their design as 'anti-film' pictures, and they say a lot about why we actually like traditional cinema. Warhol's films offer so little, yet surround themselves with artistic promise in both their label and length. Empire is a significant example of this. Who dares make a film so long where literally nothing happens apart from a passing of time? Why does this need to be caught on film and shown to people? Yes, there's novelty in the fact that Warhol dared to make these films, to make a statement of sorts, but there is no substance in this - none at all. Such is the epitome of pretension. These films are pointless and unwatchable at best, utterly contrived and ridiculous at worst. However, I only point this out under the guise of 'anti-film'. To shoot these films like the Lumière brothers shot some of the first films ever...




... would be an interesting endeavour. In fact, looking at Blow Job under these terms elevates the film substantially.


In being one of the most significant (maybe the first) non-pornographic films to depict real fellatio, this film holds weight as portraying something no one really has before. For this, I don't mind Blow Job as a singular film unto itself. However, when you look to the likes of Kiss...



... well, we got the first kiss on film in 1896. Whilst we see variation on this in Warhol's picture with different genders kissing, it's little more than a watered down version of Blow Job with its sexual/intimate commentary. The main aspect of pretension in both of these films, however, is in the fact that they're just shorts blown out of proportion. This is my primary reason for dismissing these films as insignificant. You do not need a concept of 'anti-film' to put the commentary of Blow Job and Kiss forward. Building a true cinematic story around the portrayal of a man being blown would render this film so much more expressive, not to mention worthwhile. To build a romance, or some kind of drama up to a third act that contains a long shot much like Warhol's in Blow Job would transform this film into something substantial and watchable. Anti-film is so ridiculous because it holds no purpose or point that true films couldn't portray better.

In fact, what these anti-films really stand as testament to, to me, is an idea of why we like films at all. As I've digressed too many times on the blog; film as an art is about communication, an emotional one. An artist has thoughts, feelings or emotions that they assume others would like to know or feel. They put these thoughts, feelings or emotions down on a page in the form of a screenplay, storyboard or some kind of plan. They then build on that by filming the literary idea and then make that something cinematic in the cutting room. The end result, a film, is thus the refined projection of the artist's (the many artists') inspiration. To validate this, a film is shown to other people, the point of this being that it elicits some kind of response. In such, we see the communication. The artist has made their thoughts, feelings or emotions into something tangible, a device or product by which they may make someone else feel the same things they do. If we take the film touched on in the previous post, de Sica's Bicycle Thieves, we see an example of great cinema. de Sica came to this project (presumably) with the intention of portraying the average man's simple struggle. He must have felt some kind of sympathy for the presented catch 22 in society, one that divides communities, makes thieves out of otherwise honest men. By putting this inspiration, this emotional intent onto film, de Sica built a tangible product that could elicit the same response in others who watch the film. Such is the art of cinema - such is the art of all arts. It's all about communication. What can we assume Warhol's intention was with something such as Blow Job? Maybe to put mundane human sexuality in the spotlight of society where no one else dares to do. Such is a valiant and interesting idea. But, without fear of sounding like a dumb-ass know-nothing, Warhol took the 'modern art approach' to expressing this thought. Modern art, for the most part, sometimes literally, is complete shit. If it is not purely aesthetic, then the vast majority of modern art is vapid and pointless.







What sets cinematic art apart from this modern art nonsense is then the fact that the emotional point of the filmmaker is complex yet directly expressive. What makes these pieces of art so shit is that artists had what could have been interesting ideas about painting, sculpting or art in general, but decided to blurt them out in the form of an empty symbol. To compare these works to the complexity of de Sica's Bicycle Thieves is the true way of assessing their worth. There is actual substance and body given to de Sica's basic idea of honest men turned to thieves by circumstance. The same cannot be uttered with these worthless symbols. Moreover, just look at the ethics of art as a business for a moment. When you sell art in any form, you are selling a representation of little more than your imagination. How do you, as an artist, justify this? You make your projection of imagination, your art, your product, interesting, entertaining, enthralling, captivating, eye-opening - something that gives back to your audience. This is what the cinematic market demands. You have to entertain. At the very least, this is what you must do to make a film. Added to this, your film must have some kind of message or point. It can be as banal as 'be nice to people', but you must have something. If you do not, then there is no narrative movement, there is nothing happening - you may be able to get one frame, maybe one shot or sequence, out of your film and call it modern art, but you won't get much more. In contrast, examples of the most basic films that only really manage to entertain are...

    

I'm sure everyone would be able to list off about 20 movies like this. They're dumb, fun, popcorn movies. But, despite this, they're many times better - more ethical, artistic and worthwhile - than any of the examples of modern art provided--emphasis on ethics. However, there is a major counter-point to my moaning here. There are morons out there with exuberant amounts of money to waste that fuel this modern art nonsense, so, taking money from them doesn't seem too unethical. Nonetheless, to get great cinematic art, you have to add layers of meaning, subtext and technical craft to your film. When you do that in a merely satisfactory way, you get the likes of Transformers and The Expendables. If you do this well, with diligence, dedication and will you get masterpieces such as...

    
    

There's a tonne more movies that exist in this realm of great cinematic art and the reason we like them is because they entertain the senses and they have a point. When you turn to Warhol's anti-films, you see the cinematic art form reduced to modern art tosh. They do not mean to entertain the senses - such would be impossible with such extended inertia - and they manage to make nothing of a substantial, multi-faceted point.

We've touched on this point already, but, there's a question of how you fix Warhol's films. How do you make the anti-film a film. It's simple, you add layers of theme, story, character and technical artistry; i.e cinematic language/devices. The question that follows this is, why didn't Warhol do this? The answer seems to be in his philosophy of art, one surmised by the idea of a 'modern art approach'. He didn't care to flesh out his ideas into stories worth seeing. If you put on your pretentious artist hat, you could easily retort: why would you want to tell stories? Why must you create things by predefined standards? And the only response truly worth giving is: if you don't get it, I don't think I can explain it. Instead of being an asshole about things though, the answer, again, lies in the idea of ethics. Why would you subject people to these films? Sure, there's always an audience to be found, but why would you want to find these empty people? Moreover, the 'predefined standards' of cinema aren't constricting, not so much so that you have to create films that are antithetical to the form. In seeing the sheer artistic diversity present throughout cinematic history in the form of the many, many, many, great films, filmmakers and film lovers alike often find themselves overwhelmed with respect and admiration - we say we love these films, that they teach us something, that they are important or significant to us. This respect comes from the fact that the likes of Kubrick, Bergman, Scorsese managed to add something to the form without wanting to dismiss it. They worked in the sometimes demanding confines of cinema to create something new. With Warhol's anti-films you see a childish means of creating something no one else has as as a flat and contrived attempt to stand out. Anyone could have done what Warhol did--and, no, no, the point is not that he made the films no one else thought to make. The point is that no one rational would act on the impulse to make these films because there's no artistic worth in them.

Though I've found myself repeating things already said, there's one more question worth asking: what's so wrong with film that you need to create an anti-film? The form of Warhol's films suggest that he adheres to a concept of minimalism, of static elongation. In such, we see an appeal to extreme realism. For some reason, Warhol wants to show us the mundane everyday in film, however, not like de Sica would. There's a clear understanding in the form and structure of realist films of cinematics; of creating a story from minimalistic ideas. Though realist forms of cinema are antithetical to fantastical cinema that is escapist and inherently contrived, they do not abandon cinematic form like Warhol does. If you want true realism that doesn't destroy the purpose of filming something, turn to true cinematic realists that know how to make an artistic point like Warhol attempts, but with a respect for an audience, with something to actually say. A great modern example of this can be seen in Hunger.


This is one of the longest shots in cinematic history. Does it work? Kind of. But, its design is nonetheless justified. It is there to allow a theatric tone into the movie, to let a simple conversation play out naturally, unsullied by unneeded cinematic language. Moreover, this one shot facilitates the telling of a good story, a huge portion of it. This is something the worst of Warhol's films fail to do.

I think a poignant comparison to make here on the point of telling a simple story that happens to take a long time to tell, is one to Shia LaBeouf watching all of his movies...


If you click on the image, you'll be taken to a 10 hour YouTube video of him watching all of his films. I don't suggest watching more than a few seconds of it, but, I think that's the point of LaBeouf putting himself through this arduous task. It's him as an artist, a filmmaker and actor, sitting down and putting himself in the seat of an audience member which he has earned his millions from. With this stunt, he is facing the (sometimes shit) movies he made as a respectful nod to his audience. This is why he's given such respect for this. It's the fact that he put himself through something without expecting the same from us. He sat through the however many days of footage, knowing no one else would go the full distance with him. Why? Because he knew the story of the stunt was in the basic point; the telling was his journey - and one not put onto his audience. Warhol is the complete opposite to this. Yes, the complete opposite to this guy...



The point and worth of Warhol's incredibly long and boring films is a task put onto the audience, it is not one took onto his own shoulders. For, if you think about it, the art we respect the most, often causes the most pain to an artist. Look at The Revenant, Fitzcarraldo or Apocalypse Now...




The hours, months and years of pain that went into creating these films is never seen on screen, only represented in mere spirit by the end product. This is the Burden Of Dreams Herzog speaks of, this is the Heart Of Darkness Coppola had to bare. Do you get the same sense of dedication and hard work from this:


Of course you don't. After even thinking about the three films above you can have zero respect for Warhol. This is not even to say that you must suffer to make good art, to be appreciated in this world (though, that is somewhat true). My denouncing Warhol's pictures is just a way of saying that these films should not be of significance, should not be paid attention to.

In the end though, I don't just want to moan about these films. As mentioned, there is some amount of novelty in Warhol's pretense, just like there is some sense of worth in his film Blow Job. But, the true worth of these films is in the filmmaker that watches them and thinks they can do better, who knows they can make a more poignant, worthwhile movie with a more expressive and artistic point. In such, I use these films as a question to you: could you do better and how would you manage that?





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