Andy Warhol’s ‘Screen Test’ of Bob Dylan: A Classic Meeting of Egos

Yes­ter­day we post­ed John Belushi’s screen test for Sat­ur­day Night Live. Today we fea­ture an alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent kind of “screen test”: Andy Warhol’s unblink­ing film por­trait of an irri­tat­ed-look­ing Bob Dylan.

Between 1964 and 1966 Warhol and his assis­tant, Ger­ard Malan­ga, used a 16mm Bolex cam­era to make 472 short films of peo­ple, both famous and obscure, who came to vis­it his “Fac­to­ry” on East 47th Street in New York. The idea of call­ing them “Screen Tests” was some­thing of a joke, accord­ing to Malan­ga. “None of these screen tests amount­ed to giv­ing those peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to go on in the under­ground film world,” Malan­ga said in a 2009 inter­view. “It was kind of a par­o­dy of Hol­ly­wood.”

To Warhol biog­ra­phers Tony Scher­man and David Dal­ton, the Screen Tests are seri­ous works of art, the prod­uct of Warhol’s “inge­nious con­cep­tion of a mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry por­trait.” In Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, they write:

When movies were invent­ed, their crit­ics claimed there was one thing they could­n’t do: cap­ture the soul, the dis­til­la­tion of per­son­al­i­ty. Iron­i­cal­ly, this turned out to be one of film’s great­est capac­i­ties. Oper­at­ed close up, the movie cam­era lets us read, per­haps more clear­ly than any oth­er instru­ment, a sub­jec­t’s emo­tions. As his hun­dreds of six­ties, sev­en­ties, and eight­ies pho­to-silk-screen por­traits attest, Warhol was com­pelled to por­tray the human face. The Bolex let him home in on flick­er­ing expres­sions and shift­ing nods, a near-instant rais­ing and low­er­ing of eye­brows, a quick side­long glance, pen­sive and thought­ful slow noods, or a three-minute slide from com­po­sure into self-con­cious giddiness–fleeting emo­tions that nei­ther paint nor a still cam­era could cap­ture. Andy’s ambi­tion for the Screen Tests, as for film in gen­er­al, was to reg­is­ter per­son­al­i­ty.

Warhol’s method was to load 100 feet of film into the cam­era, place it on a tri­pod, press the but­ton, and leave it running–sometimes even walk­ing away–until the film was gone. It was like a star­ing con­test he could­n’t lose. Each roll took almost three min­utes. In Dylan’s case two rolls were exposed: one for a wide view, the oth­er a close-up. The short clip above includes footage from both rolls.

The exact date of the ses­sion is unknown. Scher­man and Dal­ton write that it most like­ly occurred in Jan­u­ary of 1966, just before Dylan’s world tour. Some wit­ness­es say it hap­pened in late July of 1965, around the time of Dylan’s his­toric “elec­tric” per­for­mance at the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val. What­ev­er the date, by all accounts it was an awk­ward, chilly encounter.

Dylan pulled up at the Fac­to­ry in a sta­tion wag­on with his friend, Bob Neuwirth. From the begin­ning, accord­ing to Scher­man and Dal­ton, it was clear that Dylan was deter­mined to demon­strate his supe­ri­or cool. “As for Andy’s motives,” they write, “he was clear­ly star-struck, in awe of Dylan’s sud­den, vast celebri­ty. He had a more prac­ti­cal agen­da, too: to get Dylan to appear in a Warhol movie.”

But Dylan was­n’t hav­ing it. After the sullen Screen Test, he walked over to a large paint­ing of Elvis Pres­ley that Warhol had already set aside for him as a gift and, by one account, said “I think I’ll just take this for pay­ment, man.” He and Neuwirth then lift­ed the paint­ing, which was near­ly sev­en feet tall, car­ried it out of the stu­dio, down the freight ele­va­tor and into the street, where they strapped it–with no pro­tec­tion whatsoever–onto the roof of the sta­tion wag­on and drove away.

Post­script: Dylan nev­er liked the paint­ing, Dou­ble Elvis, so he trad­ed it with his man­ag­er, Albert Gross­man, for a sofa. It’s now in the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art. (The paint­ing, that is. Not the sofa.)

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Relat­ed con­tent:

Warhol’s Screen Tests: Lou Reed, Den­nis Hop­per, Nico, and More

Watch Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests of Three Female Mus­es: Nico, Edie Sedg­wick & Mary Woronov

130,000 Pho­tographs by Andy Warhol Are Now Avail­able Online, Cour­tesy of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty

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Comments (3)
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  • Thorn says:

    Dylan is such a pas­sive aggres­sive he could almost be Eng­lish (like me lol)

  • pearl coneell says:

    My opin­ion; Bob Dylan can do no wrong, after lis­ten­ing to him since 1964. Wish he would run for pres­i­dent of the US. HA!!!!

  • dissenter says:

    That is not Warhol’s screen test. That is tak­ing Warhol’s screen test and turn­ing into some­thing else entire­ly, and let’s be frank, pret­ty for­get­table.

    The screen tests are silent, evoca­tive por­traits show­ing how a per­son­’s inner self is revealed just by star­ing at a cam­era and not doing any­thing else for sev­er­al min­utes.

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