Andy Warhol, The Connection and The Brig
gary comenas (2011)
Ad for the opening of the Living Theatre's production of The Connection
that appeared in the May 20, 1959 issue of The Village Voice
Jonas Mekas: "Nothing happens in The Connection (at the new D.W. Griffith Theatre). They talk, they goof, they play jazz. No ideas arise, no dramatic climaxes occur - or, if they occur, they are of little importance, they don't change nothing. That is where the meaning (or one of the meanings, one which interests me at the moment) of The Connection is: in the nothingness, in that unimportance. It shows something of the essence of our life today only because it is about nothing. It doesn't point at truth - it sets truth in motion, it suggests it." (Jonas Mekas, "Movie Journal," The Village Voice, 4 October 1962, p. 17)
The Living Theatre's production of The Connection was filmed by Shirley Clarke in 1961. Their production of The Brig was filmed in the early spring of 1964 by Jonas Mekas. Both Mekas and Clarke were among the founders of the New American Cinema Group. Warhol's friend, Emile de Antonio (star of Drink aka Drunk) was also a founding member of the group and its possible that Warhol heard of Clarke's film through "De" as he was nicknamed. According to POPism: The Warhol Sixties, both Shirley Clarke and Jonas Mekas were also involved in distributing The Chelsea Girls. Warhol (via Pat Hackett in POPism) recalled that in regard to the distribution of The Chelsea Girls, "we had an arrangement with the Film-Makers' Distribution Center (FDC), which was then headed by Jonas [Mekas], Shirley Clarke, and Luis Brigante, to split the net profits fifty-fifty, wherever it played." (POP203) As the founder of the Film-makers' Cooperative, editor of Film Culture magazine, and a film columnist for the Village Voice, Mekas played a key role in the promotion and distribution of many of Warhol's films in the '60s.
In The Connection, two actors identified as the playwright and producer address the audience directly, explaining that they have assembled a cast of real heroin addicts who would not be speaking from a script but improvising around a loose scenario. (SB29) Accompanying the action on stage was a group of jazz musicians, some of whom were real addicts.
Harry Proach of the Living Theatre advertising The
Connection in Washington Square Park on July 19, 1959
(Detail from a photo by Fred W. McDarrah in Beat Generation)
The technique of using actors playing themselves around a loose scenario, was a technique that Warhol and other independent filmmakers also employed. As with The Connection, John Cassavetes' Shadows (1959) was also largely improvised and featured jazz music as did the Beat film Pull My Daisy (1959) - although it would later be revealed that although Pull My Daisy seemed improvised it was actually carefully planned and rehearsed. As the editor of Film Culture magazine, Jonas Mekas awarded the first Independent Film Award to the Cassavetes film and the second to Pull My Daisy. He gave Warhol the sixth Independent Film Award in 1964.
Warhol's The Chelsea Girls (1966) would later bring the underground techniques of improvisation and actors playing themselves (following a loosely written scenario) to commercial venues. The Chelsea Girls, like The Connection, also featured drug addicts. Both Brigid Berlin and Ondine were shown shooting up on screen although in their case it was "speed" rather than heroin. Warhol had covered the drug scene as early as 1951 when he illustrated a poster and album cover for The Nation's Nightmare - a CBS radio program consisting of six broadcasts about drugs and crime which was also released as an album.
In addition to Clarke's film of The Connection, another of The Living Theatre's plays, The Brig, was filmed by Jonas Mekas in early spring 1964. (PS416) The Brig focused on the dehumanisation of soldiers in the Marines. Mekas claimed that it was after he showed his film of The Brig to Warhol that Warhol decided to use an Auricon movie camera to shoot Empire.
The beginning of the August 16, 1963 Life magazine article on the Living Theatre's production
of The Brig which also refers to The Connection as "the famous play about drug addiction."
"...in the early spring of '64, I filmed The Brig... with what's known as 'a single system camera' - Auricon camera. Auricon single-system camera, which is a camera used by newsreel men, where you can film a scene with sound on film simultaneously, magnetic or optical...I filmed The Brig that way because it was the cheapest possible means. It cost me, like, 600 or so to film The Brig.
So, then, I projected it two or three days later - I developed and projected the original and projected the original print with sound-on-film for The Living Theater people, and I told Andy, and he came, and he saw it, too, and he was very impressed with the possibilities of sound and how cheap, how simple, that was...
But before that, he decided to shoot Empire, which was mostly John Palmer's idea. And since it needed long takes - it's a long film - he asked me what he should use, and I said, 'Why don't you use - you know - you can use [the] Auricon. That's the cheapest. I already had rented [one]. We can, you know, just take it.' And he was interested because he wanted to get used to it, because he wanted... to go and use it to shoot sound films with it. You know: in the way of The Brig." (PS416)
Although it is not known whether Warhol attended the Living Theatre's stage productions of the The Connection or The Brig, he was certainly familiar with the Living Theatre. Naomi Levine, who is described as Warhol's first superstar in POPism, recalls that she first met Warhol at the Living Theatre:
"I had met Gerry Malanga and Wynn Chamberlain at a party, and we had spent a couple of days together. Gerry wanted me to meet Andy, so he and Wynn and John Giorno and Andy had me meet them all at the Living Theatre. They were all in tuxedos, and we went to an opening at the Museum of Modern Art." (JW105)
Even if Mekas had not shown his film of The Brig to Warhol, Warhol would probably have been aware of the Off-Broadway production of the play by the Living Theatre as well as their production of The Connection because of the publicity generated by both plays. The Brig was the subject of a three page article in the August 16, 1963 issue of Life magazine which also referred to The Connection as "the famous play about drug addition."