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Andy Warhol's "Vinyl" (1965)


LuckyDan
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"When I met her, she had nothing to do," said Andy Warhol to the New York Post in September of 1965, "and that's what the movie's about. Now she's getting quite busy."

"She" was Edie Sedgwick, and the movie was Poor Little Rich Girl, which Warhol envisioned as Edie going about her daily life, naturally and unscripted. Warhol could have said the same about Edie's part in Vinyl, an earlier work by a few months, to which Edie was added after a last-minute "Eureka!" moment by the director - over the objections of the film's lead player, Gerard Malanga - and in which Edie, being an unplanned last minute addition, had nothing to do. 

And her presence saves the film. I doubt if anyone other than those interested in 1960s bondage-themed homoerotica specifically, or Andy Warhol's filmmaking period more generally, would be interested in this film today were Edie not in it.

In late 1964 Warhol, who had been shooting film for more than a year on a Bolex camera that exposed one hundred feet of film at a time, acquired a larger movie camera, the Auricon Super 1200, that shot 1,000 foot reels and allowed 33 minutes of film per reel. The artist who made his name with silkscreens of soup cans and Brillo boxes, of stylized portraits of Marilyn, Elvis, Jackie, and Elizabeth, might have asked himself, "What's it going to be then, eh?" before his announcement that he would focus on making movies. Within a two-week period in April of 1965, Warhol shot four two-reel films in succession. The last of the four was Vinyl, and it is the only one of the group I can find available in it's entirety on You Tube, where it is age-restricted so you must sign in to see it. It is titled Vinyl 1965 and is posted by Chryz.

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VINYL Andy Warhol s first "non-static" film. Counter-pointed happenings develop a pseudoclinical approach, involving s@dom@sochism, to juvenile delinquency.

An awkwardly written synopsis, that, but a good hint at the source novel, which I will identify presently if you can't guess from that. The play - and Vinyl is essentially a filmed theatrical piece with the set laid out to fit the lens frame - is a compact version of the novel, which was adapted by budding playwright Ronald Tavel at Warhol's request. Tavel seems to have believed Warhol paid the novelist $3000 for the rights. In fact Warhol, famously cheap, paid nothing, and even if he'd wanted to buy the rights, the novelist had by 1965 already sold them to the eventual feature filmmaker for $500. 

Some things to be aware of before viewing. If it sounds like Gerard is reading aloud as he delivers his lines, that's because he is. Tavel's script was not studied by the actors prior to filming. It was written on cue cards and the action was unrehearsed. As it turns out, having to read aloud resulted in Gerard speaking as if he were addressing the hard-of-hearing, which makes him, Bronx accent and all, the easiest actor to understand. Tosh Carillo, especially, speaks too quietly and often over-talks his own reverb, which makes understanding the dialogue very difficult, especially in the second reel, when the actors often have to speak over a record player. 

At different points, each actor will be seen by their expression to be taking off-camera direction, and we sometimes overhear line prompts, which lend a community theater feel. 

Finally, know that they were all, very probably, high. Life at Warhol's Factory was fueled by amphetamines and various other little helpers, so we can assume the actors were AUI, maybe a little tipsy, and definitely buzzed on grass. We will see them variously lighting up and passing joints, drinking from what appear to be beer cans - though whatever Edie is sipping, her tumbler never seems to empty - and eventually breaking open and inhaling deeply from amyl nitrate poppers. 

Note: I watched it so you don't have to. What follows is essentially a viewer's guide, my notes translated into a narrative, and they are detailed. If you'd rather see the film cold and, for now, just read more of the background and impressions, scroll past the dancing gif.

The film opens with a man's face filling the frame, dark uni-brow at the top, square jaw at the bottom, blinking eyes looking squarely into the camera. His head leaves the frame then reappears and begins to turn from one side to the other. He is lifting barbells. The camera pulls back and up until the two minute mark, during which time more of the scene is revealed. The man is wearing a black leather biker jacket over a white T shirt. His hair is a frosty blonde mass, coiffed à la Gorgeous George. He is Gerard Malanga, art school dropout, future poet, and Andy's silk screening assistant since 1962. 

When his head again leaves the frame, with a wider view of the scene, we see that a man has been standing behind him. A car horn honks in the distance letting us know we are not looking at a soundstage. The scene is being played in a corner of Warhol's Factory, located on the fifth floor of a building on East 47th that no longer stands, so-named because it had once been home to a hat manufacturer. We hear a vague whirring sound as if something mechanical needs oil, which might be the object seen flickering in the background, up-screen left, which I think is the mirror ball-looking thing seen below at bottom right.

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At screen right a female hand appears while Gerard continues his workout. When the camera finally settles at the two minute mark, looking downward over the scene, we see all seven actors who make up the cast. The acting credits will be spoken by an off-camera voice at the 28:40 mark, but I will introduce the players now.

 

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At center-screen left is a man in a suit and tie, seated and smoking. This is J.D McDermott, playing the cop. Off center left, a man in a black shirt with matching dark gray jacket and slacks stands with his hands in his pockets, He is Robert Olivo, better known as Ondine, who has the distinction of appearing in more Warhol films than anyone. His character is called Scum, pronounced by the credit reader as Skewm.

Prominent on the right, seated on a trunk, legs to the off-camera side, is Edie Sedgwick, striking a match to light the first of many cigarettes. She will be billed in the spoken credits as one of two extras. She wears a black sleeveless body suit with a distinctive leopard belt. Later we will see that her legs are covered in black tights and boots. A disposable tumbler is beside her, but apparently, no ash tray. (And the more you know about Edie, the more you appreciate what I just did there.) Her hair, like the weight lifter's, is frosted blonde and piled in a beehive do. She wears chandelier earrings.

In the background (and background action is important in Vinyl) others become visible. A man is seated up-screen left, with his body facing away from the action, though he is looking diagonally into the frame. This is Jacques Potin, the other extra. At the top of the screen to the right in a dark shirt, seated with his back three-quarters to the camera, reading a sheet of paper, is Larry Latrae, who is billed as Pug. (I think that's what the credit speaker calls him, though that name makes no apparent sense.) Finally, though not yet noticeable, at bottom screen left, is a young man in a white pullover seated on the floor, possibly because Andy gave his seat to Edie. He is Tosh Carillo. He plays the doctor.

Despite the "non-static" descriptor on the flyer, the camera will maintain this position until a film reload at the 31 minute mark. 

At 3:18, the title credit is spoken. "Andy Warhol's" (pause) "Vinyl."

The first line, delivered by Scum, is a paraphrase of the novel's leitmotif. "What are you going to do, Victor?"

"We'll do whatever comes along, Scum. We'll do whatever comes along, Scum baby." Victor removes a joint from a pack he carries in his jacket, lights it, and passes it to Scum

Pug, or whatever the reading man's name is - I will call him the victim - rises and walks into center frame carrying a stack of printed material. Victor and Scum accost him.

"Excuse me sir. Pardon me sir," Victor says. "It is uncommon to see someone who still knows how to read, sir." 

"I'm sorry but I'm in a hurry," the victim says.

The punks begin tearing the pages. Victor asks, "What does this here page say, prell preggy tell?"

After having fun destroying the man's literature, Victor suggests something more. "Let's have a little of the old Up Yours." Victor and Scum drag the victim up-screen center and bind him to a pole. Scum unbuttons the victim's jeans, exposes his belly, and you get the idea. 

Here we learn, in an exchange that serves as the first example of several awkwardly misread lines, that Scum is subordinate to Victor.

Victor: Okay, Scum. It's your pleasure now, Scum baby. What do you say first? 
Scum: Um, may I?
Victor: "May?"
Scum: Uh, can?
Victor: Can I what?
Scum: Can I please give him, kind sir, the old up yours?
Victor:  Yes you may, Scum baby. 

In what might be the "counter-pointed happenings" mentioned in the flyer, the victim will spend much of the remaining fifty minutes undergoing various forms of sadism, interspersed with a little tenderness, applied variously by Scum, the doctor, and the male extra.

Victor's soliloquy then follows, telling us who he is, what he does, and why he does it. 

"I am a JD. So what? I like to bust things up. And carve people up. And I dig the old Up Yours. With plenty of violence. So it's real tasty.

 "And like, I do not give a hot dam about what is the reason for all the bad I do. Nobody wants to know what is the reason for all the good that the squares do. The squares do good because they dig it. So I do bad because I dig doing bad." 

Here Edie knocks a beer can off the trunk and reacts with a start. She looks down-screen left, where we can assume Warhol is seated off camera, puts her hand over her mouth as if she has just let slip a naughty word in church, and visibly chuckles. Gerard, unable to contain his curiosity, takes a peek in her direction to see what happened.

Victor's speech ends with a word directed at J.D. McDermott's cop character. "I do what I like. Because I like it." McDermott responds, perhaps jumping his cue, with laughter of the kind normally associated with Dr. Frankenstein.

A recording begins to play off-camera of Martha and the Vandellas newly released Top 10 hit, "Nowhere To Run." Those cast members not otherwise engaged begin to dance. Victor, we see, takes pleasure in music. Gerard Malanga had been a regular dancer on a local American Bandstand-type TV show hosted by Alan Freed called "The Big Beat," and he performs some high-energy, uninhibited moves. He rolls his head in 360s, shakes his hair out of place, and, uncool today and bothersome here, occasionally claps, which hits the audio like a popped cap.

Edie, unsurprisingly, is quite graceful. She would tell Vogue that summer that she liked to spend her time dancing jazz ballet and when having to go out would simply put on a jacket without changing out of her leotard, which became her signature look. She performs, while seated, some elegant upper body and arm movement, a bit of stock choreography that I'm sure had a name, where she rolls her arms, one over the other, first in this direction, now that, with her wrists bent. 

After the song, Victor abuses Scum for insufficiently appreciating the music. In the ensuing fight Victor is pushed to floor, at the feet of the cop. Scum implores, "Officer! Officer! Arrest this man!"

Victor's arrest and interrogation follow after he is plopped onto the chair by the cop, a bit of business that tickles Edie, who smiles and laughs audibly. 

"You're baaad!" the cop says. "But we can make you good." Victor agrees to the cure in order to avoid prison and signs consent papers.

Edie, who has been handling a magazine that she has been trying unload on another player finally gets Victor to take it. She hops off the trunk and steps out of frame, probably off to the powder room.

Tosh Carillo has up to this time occupied himself up-screen right, binding the victim with electrical tape, dripping hot wax from a burning candle onto his bare chest, and covering his head with a bondage hood. Now he takes a black medical bag off the trunk and steps to center screen, where he binds Victor's arms to the back of the chair before tearing his shirt open. 

Edie reenters and takes her position on the trunk where she applies lip balm as the acting credits are spoken, following which a cloudy white haze comes over the screen as the first film reel comes to an end.

There appears to be a short splice in which we see just for a second, Latrae, the victim, out of his chair and bent over beside Victor. I suspect this is because the camera operator started rolling too soon after the film change, before everyone was back in position, then stopped. When filming resumes, Latrae is instantly back in his seated position up-screen right. There is also an eighth person now on set, seated in a chair up-screen left.

Doctor: You know you can trust us Victor. We're doing this for your own good. 
Victor: I trust you, doctor. 

The doctor will play "flickers" on an unseen, perhaps make-believe, screen behind Edie and ask Victor to describe what he sees. Victor describes scenes of battery and sexual assault, like those he himself has committed, followed by wartime atrocities, and sundry scenes of gore. One description he gives calls to mind a specific victim of Jack the Ripper. "I see a JD carving a cross on an old lady's face."

Victor: ... When I used to do those things, it made me feel very good. When I carved someone up or ran some poor bastard down in my car, I felt free. Free. But now...
Doctor: ... Your reactions now are the reactions of a normal organism, erasing the work of the devil. You are being cured.

Throughout the cure, Victor's hair is constantly gripped and pulled, forcing him to face the doctor, or the screen. Just as the doctor had done to the victim, he does to Victor, with the binding, the hot wax and the hood. Victor begs for it all to stop, but the doctor tells him,"We're just beginning the cure."

At the 45 minute mark, another records start playing, and more will follow, including the Stones "The Last Time." Victor says repeatedly, "I feel pain!" If Tavel meant for us to see that Victor no longer takes pleasure in music, he does not tell us so.

When the doctor asks Victor, "Do you want to hit me for making you watch these things?" Victor replies, "Yes!" and begins a right hook before his arm stops, mid-swing, involuntarily.

It is known that at some point during filming, the camera, top-heavy on the tripod, fell forward and crashed to the floor. The camera operator cranked the reel forward, past the damaged film, reset the position, and resumed rolling. This may be the reason for the angle change at the 48 minute mark to a jarring close-up of Victor's head covered in the hood.

The dialogue is almost entirely inaudible from here on, but there seems to be some talk about the unfairness of losing free will. Malanga, though, is quite understandable when he turns his hooded face to the camera and delivers one of the more unsettling lines: "I am a good little pig, gone to market."

You almost expect banjo music. 

The final segment begins with the doctor announcing they will remove the mask. He adds, "Tomorrow morning we will introduce..." I don't know what, because Carillo goes inaudible under the music, but I'm sure Tavel wanted us to know that the cured Victor will be presented to a group of important people as proof of the cure's effectiveness. 

In the final minutes, Victor is further abused and degraded during what is probably meant to be the next day, all at the hands of the doctor and the shirtless extra, to the tunes of "The Last Time" and "Tired of Waiting" for which we can be confident Warhol also did not pay. Victor is unable even to take defensive positions as one voice notes that he has no choice but to do good. "I present myself," Victor says, "to make as the carpet for your boot." The entire company, except Victor, begins dancing, including Edie, now on her feet and being pawed by Scum.

The final credits are spoken. "Scenario by Ronald Tavel. Directa, Andy Wah Hole."

The final shot, before the screen goes hazy and then black, shows Victor on his knees, facing the camera, as the doctor produces scissors and prepares to cut his hair. This might be a reference to Samson, or it might allude to a series of Warhol films that feature haircuts in service to a blade fetish.

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Vinyl is quite an obvious adaptation of Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange. Ronald Tavel's script follows Burgess closely and, I think, cleverly given the limited parameters in which he had to work. He avoids the novel's difficult Nadsat slang (Victor's "prell preggy tell" is spoken in perhaps respectful acknowledgement), but he does not include the novel's part three, where Burgess's Alex re-enters society, is cured of the cure after the state has had second thoughts, and grows up to become, as human nature usually has it, bored. Vinyl then is a partial rendering of Clockwork, and maybe a dishonest one, but not due to simple time constraints. There certainly could have been a few minutes cut from the doctor's scene, especially the belabored hooding business, to complete the arc.

Instead, Warhol chose to dwell on the cure and make of it an excuse for a homoerotic BDSM party, or, as MoMA puts it, "casual S/M." Burgess's theme is the cause and effect of free will versus environment on human behavior, and the moral implications of manipulating it. While agreeing with Burgess that bad boys are bad because they like being bad, Tavel and Warhol take a detour on the road to maturity to explore the fun to be had in busting the troublesome little bastards, breaking their will, and enslaving them.

Tavel titled his script, "Leather" which would more accurately fit the central scenes, but according to a 2019 interview given by Gerard Malanga, "Andy thought the word leather was too corny and he liked liked vinyl because it had that modern sound to it." 

Warhol briefly met Anthony Burgess at a party the following year where, according to Burgess, "He dithered at me," maybe out of shyness and maybe out of guilt for having pirated the author's most popular work, though I'm  pretty sure Burgess was at that time unaware of Vinyl. Warhol would in 1970 withdraw all of his films from distribution, and I wonder if he wasn't getting antsy about possible legal action. Vinyl was probably not his only literary heist.

Of the four two-reelers shot in April 1965, the first (you will find sources that differ but I believe this is true) had been a story titled B!tch, about two couples, one pair younger, one pair older. The older couple incessantly bickered and binge-drank and was comprised of a writing professor husband and his painter and filmmaker wife. They were Willard Maas and Marie Menken, playing themselves, and they had been the models for the fictional George and Martha in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." The younger couple was played by Gerard and Edie, and while I have not seen the film, their presence invites comparison to Albee's play.

It was Marie Menken who likely inspired Warhol to start working with films. Warhol began with 16mm film in 1963 when he came into possession of a Bolex H16 Rex, the camera that made filmmaking accessible to students and amateurs. It was a spring-wound camera with which he made, among longer static works, about 500 (again, sources differ) three-minute long "screen tests," as he and Gerard called them, though they were more like moving portraits of people who visited his studio and who he found interesting. 

One of those people was Edie Sedgwick. Andy met her in March 1965 at a birthday party for Tennessee Williams. When the 21 year-old girl, fresh from Cambridge and the Harvard social clique, was pointed out to him among the guests, Warhol said, "Ohh, she's bee-U-tee-ful." For the next several months, having nothing to do, Edie became Andy's superstar.

Edie's glowing presence in Vinyl - and I mean she actually glows - calls to mind an Olympian goddess looking down from above in amusement on the foolish mortals. She watches the action with us, and when she takes part as the music plays, we want to join her.

"She was staggeringly beautiful," her friend and biographer George Plimpton said. "She sort of wafted through this world in this enchanting way and one became very protective of her."

Warhol, for whatever reason, was not so inclined, or at least he lost the inclination quickly. When he was told of her death in 1971, he said, coldly and falsely, "I thought she died a long time ago."

And so, Vinyl remains as a relic of Edie's time as a superstar, before, as Plimpton said, she was extinguished by things she couldn't control. In Vinyl we see her as Andy probably did at that party, and we just want to look at her. 

Of his part Gerard said recently, "I thought I was terrible in my role, but I think over the decades the film has taken on a vintage feel about it. Like a vintage wine, it tastes better with time." 

Apt, I think. The meaning we take in admiring old films, and the reason we are drawn to them, the reason they are worth our while, is partly their history, the vintage flavor they acquire. We know what was to come for those involved. They didn't. In Vinyl, we consider Andy, and Edie, and the passage of time that has brought out the bitter ... 

z5Ujjkj.gif.

... and the sweet.

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Yet another outstanding informative essay, LuckyDan!

I must confess that the fascination and interest in, and the appeal of, the bohemian Andy Warhol crowd eludes me. I knew absolutely zilch about Edie Sedgwick. Her emaciated "beauty" is lost on me -- but then, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Her dissipated lifestyle was a senseless, tragic waste, IMO. She had talent at least as an artist.

Invaluable-Jean-Stein-Sedgwick-670x450.jpg3458986_1.jpg?w=800     1333614.jpg

 

 

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20 hours ago, Eucalyptus P. Millstone said:

Yet another outstanding informative essay, LuckyDan!

I must confess that the fascination and interest in, and the appeal of, the bohemian Andy Warhol crowd eludes me. I knew absolutely zilch about Edie Sedgwick. Her emaciated "beauty" is lost on me -- but then, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Her dissipated lifestyle was a senseless, tragic waste, IMO. She had talent at least as an artist.

Invaluable-Jean-Stein-Sedgwick-670x450.jpg3458986_1.jpg?w=800     1333614.jpg

 

 

I'm glad you found it before the shut down, EPM. Thanks for reading. 

Edie had been studying sculpture with her aunt near Harvard when she decided to skip down to NYC. She had artistic talent, as you've shown, but little experience in healthy relationships, especially with men, and enough mental issues, thanks to an abusive father, to keep her in constant need of psychological counselling. 

I've always found her appealing, even when all I knew was what she looked like in the Warhol period. She was naturally dark haired and doe-eyed, husky voiced, and had by necessity, learned to charm.  And she was, very likely, a pain in the a$$ to love. 

Somebody said (I'd lost the quote by the time I started writing) that her mistake was in thinking Andy was going to be around for her. That was never his intention. She had also hoped apparently for some sort of future involving Dylan. He too had no such intentions. 

(Edit: Found the quote. It was Gerard Malanga: "She was naive enough to take Andy seriously until she got financially cut off by her parents, only to discover Andy wasn't going to be there with the safety net.  He was incapable of making decisions.  He just didn't know how to handle it.  So she started drifting away from the Factory and got involved with the wrong crowd and her life started on a slippery slope and she didn't even see it coming.")

It's a shame she abandoned pursuit of her own artistic talents and neglected her mental health. 

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