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

Artist Andy Warhol shot over 500 silent, black-and-white screen-tests in his famous Fac­to­ry between 1964 and 1966, doc­u­ment­ing the beau­ti­ful youth who were drawn to the scene. Some­times he would chat with the sub­ject before­hand, offer­ing sug­ges­tions to help them achieve the type of per­for­mance he was look­ing for. More fre­quent­ly he took a pas­sive role, to the point of leav­ing the room dur­ing the film­ing.

The oppo­site of a peo­ple per­son, he pre­ferred to engage with his sub­jects by scru­ti­niz­ing the fin­ished screen tests, pro­ject­ing them in slow motion to imbue them with an added ele­ment of glam­our and ampli­fy every nuance of expres­sion. As Warhol wrote in The Phi­los­o­phy of Andy Warhol:

That screen mag­net­ism is some­thing secret. If you could fig­ure out what it is and how you make it, you’d have a real­ly good prod­uct to sell. But you can’t even tell if some­one has it until you actu­al­ly see them up there on the screen. You have to give screen tests to find out.

The screen tests are less audi­tions for roles in Warhol films than pieces of an ongo­ing project. Warhol played with them, assem­bling and reassem­bling them into col­lec­tions which he screened under such flu­id titles as 13 Most Beau­ti­ful Women and 13 Most Want­ed Men. Some of his test sub­jects went on to achieve real star­domLou Reed, Den­nis Hop­per, and Bob Dylan

Oth­ers’ fame is for­ev­er tied to the Fac­to­ry.

Edie Sedg­wick, above, one of his best known mus­es, was a trou­bled girl from a wealthy fam­i­ly. Unlike some of the mood­i­er screen tests, Sedgwick’s is ful­ly lit. She dis­plays a gen­uine movie star’s poise, bare­ly mov­ing as the cam­era drinks her in. Her beau­ty appears untouched by the addic­tions and eat­ing dis­or­ders that were already a dri­ving force in her life.

Actress and painter Mary Woronov emerged unscathed from her time at the Fac­to­ry. Like Sedg­wick, she seemed com­fort­able with the idea of being observed doing noth­ing for an extend­ed peri­od. Recall­ing her screen test expe­ri­ence in an inter­view with Bizarre, she made it clear that the sub­jects were far from the cen­ter of atten­tion:

Andy put you on a stool, then puts the cam­era in front of you. There are lots of peo­ple around usu­al­ly. And then he turns the cam­era on, and he walks away, and all the peo­ple walk away too, but you’re stand­ing there in front of this cam­era.

I saw Sal­vador Dali do one, it was real­ly fun­ny. It’s a very inter­est­ing film, because it’s a way of crack­ing open your per­son­al­i­ty and show­ing what’s underneath—only in a visu­al way, because there’s no talk­ing, noth­ing. You just look at the cam­era. Sal­vador made this gigan­tic pose with his mous­tache blar­ing and every­thing, and he could­n’t hold the pose. Not for five min­utes. And so at about minute four, he sud­den­ly start­ed look­ing very, very real.

The cam­era loves still­ness, some­thing mod­el and singer Nico was unable to deliv­er in her screen test. Per­haps not such a prob­lem when the direc­tor has plans to project in slow motion.

As he stat­ed in POP­ism: The Warhol ’60s:

What I liked was chunks of time all togeth­er, every real moment… I only want­ed to find great peo­ple and let them be them­selves… and I’d film them for a cer­tain length of time and that would be the movie.

Fac­to­ry regular/interior decorator/photographer Bil­ly Name told punk his­to­ri­an Legs McNeil in an inter­view that the screen tests served anoth­er pur­poseto iden­ti­fy the fel­low trav­el­ers from among the poor fits:

… it’s always cool to meet oth­er artists, you know, to see if it’s some­body who’s going to be a peer or a com­pa­tri­ot, who you can play with and hang around with or not. Andy was doing a series of screen tests for his films, and we want­ed every­body to do one: Dylan, Nico, Den­nis Hop­per, Susan Son­tag, Donovan—everyone famous that came up to the Fac­to­ry. We’d just film 16mm black-and-white por­traits of the per­son sit­ting there for a few min­utes. So our pur­pose was to have Dylan come up and do a screen test, so he could be part of the series. That was enough for us. But Dylan did­n’t talk at all when we filmed him. I don’t think he liked us, ha, ha, ha!

Revolver Gallery, devot­ed exclu­sive­ly to Warhol, has a gallery of screen-tests on their YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Vel­vet Under­ground & Andy Warhol Stage Pro­to-Punk Per­for­mance Art: Dis­cov­er the Explod­ing Plas­tic Inevitable (1966)

Andy Warhol’s 15 Min­utes: Dis­cov­er the Post­mod­ern MTV Vari­ety Show That Made Warhol a Star in the Tele­vi­sion Age (1985–87)

The Big Ideas Behind Andy Warhol’s Art, and How They Can Help Us Build a Bet­ter World

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

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 24 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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