by Kevin Ott

Dean and Britta and their band brought their live show, “13 Most Beautiful…Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests” to the Emery Theater, Friday, December 9th. In conjunction with the CAC’s FotoFocus show of Andy Warhol’s photography, the musically accompanied screen tests demonstrated the remarkable results of the melding of the arts across disciplines: the slow motion photo-realism of Warhol’s spectacular screen tests, the atmospheric and tone perfect music inspired by the tests, the CAC’s live programming and the revitalization of an architectural gem, the 
Emery Theater.

Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, husband and wife, have performed “13 Most Beautiful” 75 times in recent years. The Warhol Museum originally commissioned them to create this project. Both were members of Luna, one of the 90’s and early 2000’s most consistently interesting bands. Wareham also founded Galaxy 500 in the 80’s, a band that capably mined the same musical territory as the Velvet Underground, Warhol’s house band at the Factory in the mid to late 60’s. Dean and Britta’s music is an elegant blend of guitars, synths, bass, drums and voice: Dean’s, weathered and croaky at times, Britta’s, sweet and high.

Thirteen songs were coordinated to thirteen screen tests, the music timed to the length of the films and linked to the subjects of the films and their emotions. Between songs, Dean, and sometimes Britta, gave short anecdotal biographies of the subjects of the screen tests—most tragic, yet told with some measure of irony.

Screen Test 33: Ann Buchanan, also known as “The Girl who Cried One Tear” is almost a still photo, her face unmoving, not even a blink, until a very slow moving tear rolls from her eye, down her cheek. The music builds in slow motion to an emotional peak. You can’t take your eyes off this. The Screen Tests were not intended as tests, but were stand-alone works of art that Warhol referred to as “stillies”.

Screen Test 4: Paul America, a handsome guy whose name seems perfectly apt. According to Dean’s short biography, Paul America left the Factory scene, spent a short time in the Army, was broke and unemployed when he was killed by a car as he walked home from a dentist appointment.

Screen Test 308: Edie Sedgwick. The beautiful socialite Edie Sedgwick’s test is accompanied by the song “It Don’t Rain in Beverly Hills”. It is a beautiful but simple and repetitious instrumental that lends a somberness to Sedgwick’s unemotional but sad test. Once a girlfriend of Bob Dylan’s, she died of an apparent overdose in 1971.

Screen Test 137: Freddy Herko. Among the most tragic of many tragic lives that intersected with the Factory, Herko was an accomplished musician with a taste for hard drugs. ”Incandescent Innocent”, another instrumental, percolates along, the guitars shimmery, then building with rhythm, the bass pulsing forward, as the music builds to a psychedelic conclusion that seems to stop in mid-sentence: like Herko himself. Wareham informs us that Herko took a bath at a friends’ house and upon hearing his favorite piece of music, Mozart’s Coronation Mass, he danced through the party, naked, spinning in circles, ever closer to the open window, until, as the music climaxed, he leapt through the fifth floor window to his death.

These are just four of the stories. The nine other screen tests included Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed and Nico, all fascinating. Hopper seemed to morph from sleepy to charming to menacing. Reed slowly sipped from an old fashioned Coke bottle, his face half covered in large sunglasses. Nico was coolly distant.

The screen tests, of which there were hundreds, were all about 2 ½ minutes at full speed, but Warhol slowed them down so they are near 5 minutes in length. Each is mesmerizing in its own way, much like a great black and white photo that slowly comes to life, emotions or the complete lack of, becoming more apparent over the minutes. Off screen, Warhol’s cool aloofness is felt and then becomes more poignant with the tragic history of many of the “actors”. Did Warhol’s emotional distance, his use of his subjects, contribute to their troubles?

The era of the Factory was brought to life by this great production. The intersection of near still visual art and performance art embodied Warhol’s multi-discipline Pop sensibility. This show should have been seen by a bigger crowd—which begs the questions: where was the crowd? And, why weren’t they there?

—-Kevin Ott


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