Andy Warhol's Screen Tests
by Gary Comenas
(An earlier version of this essay appeared in Dia's Andy (Dia Art Foundation, NY, 2005))
Ingrid Superstar sits for her Screen Test
(Photo: Billy Name)
Andy Warhol's Screen Tests were filmed from early 1964 - November 1966 (GM25). Although the short films became known as Screen Tests, they were originally conceived as film portraits - portraits done on film rather than canvas. Pre-Screen Test film portraits included two films of Denis Deegan shot in 1963, possibly during Warhol's trip to Los Angeles when he also filmed footage for Tarzan and Jane Regained, Sort of... and Elvis at Ferus. (AD61)
Prior to Warhol's 1964-66 film portraits being labeled as Screen Tests, the only films that were titled as "Screen Tests" were three longer movies written by Ronald Tavel for Warhol in 1965 - Screen Test No. 1 and 2 and what is sometimes referred to as Screen Test No. 3 or Suicide - with each film lasting more than an hour. Stills from the shorter film portraits were included in Gerard Malanga's book, Screen tests: A diary, published in 1967, indicating that although they may not have started as screen tests, the film portraits were referred to as such by 1967. The book consisted of 54 subjects (17 women and 37 men) and Malanga's poetry. According to Malanga, he used some of the film portrait reels in a multimedia poetry reading called Screen Test Poems in 1965. (GM26)
Subjects of the film portraits which became known as Screen Tests, included Gerard Malanga, filmmaker Barbara Rubin (1964), filmmaker Jonas Mekas (1964), filmmaker and poet Piero Heliczer (1964), poet Allen Ginsberg (c.64/65), John Ashbery (1965), Italian model model and one time girlfriend to Gerard, Benedetta Barzini (1966), Francesco Scavullo (1965), Phoebe Russell (1965), model/actress/granddaughter of designer Elsa Schiaparelli Marisa Berenson (1965), Nico (1966), Lou Reed (1966), John Wieners, Bob Dylan, Ingrid Superstar, Edie Sedgwick (1965), Ivy Nicholson, Danny Fields, Billy Name, Salvador Dali (1966), Donovan (1966), Charles Henri Ford (who was responsible for introducing Andy to Gerard) (1966), Rene Ricard (1966), poet Willard Maas (1966), Baby Jane Holzer, Phoebe Russell (1965), International Velvet (Susan Bottomly)(1966), Marie Menken - filmmaker/wife of Willard Maas/star of Chelsea Girls)(1966), Italian millionaire publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (Benedetta Barzini's stepbrother) Nov. 66, poet Ted Berrigan (1966), Allen Midgette (1966) Anne Buchanan (early '64), and Andy's first superstar Naomi Levine. Edie Sedgwick was still recovering from her car accident at the time of her film portrait.
Some of the earliest film portraits were those included in Warhol's film The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys. One of the thirteen, Winthrop Kellogg Edey (Kelly Edey), noted in his diary entry for January 17, 1964, that "This afternoon Andy Warhol made a movie here, a series of portraits of a number of beautiful boys, including Harold Talbot and Denis Deegan and also me."The "13" in the title of this series was most likely borrowed from a New York City Police brochure of "The Thirteen Most Wanted" which was also the inspiration for Warhol's mural Thirteen Most Wanted Men at the 1964 World's Fair in Queens. (AD13)
Although most of the film portraits were done at the Factory, some were filmed (as with the footage mentioned above by Kelly Edey) at other locations. Phoebe Russell's film portrait for instance, was shot by Gerard Malanga in the summer of 1966 in Ed Hood's apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (AD169) Although Malanga has maintained that the Screen Test series started as a result of him asking Warhol to shoot a head shot of Gerard to use to publicize Malanga's poetry readings (GM24-5), a more likely inspiration for the film portraits (aka Screen Tests) was the photobooth photography that Warhol started doing in the late spring of 1963. (AD13)
472 film portraits were made. (AD) In addition to The 13 Most Beautiful Boys, some of the footage was incorporated into other compilation reels such as The 13 Most Beautiful Women (1964) and 50 Fantastics and 50 Personalities (1964).
(For more information on Andy Warhol's film portraits which became known as the Screen Tests see: Andy Warhol Screen Tests: The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne, Volume One by Callie Angell.)
The Warhol/Tavel Screen Tests
Left: Ronald Tavel in 1969 with cast members of his Obie award winning
play Boy on a Straight Back Chair (after he left Warhol's Factory)
In 1978, author Patrick Smith interviewed Ronald Tavel (the scriptwriter for many of Andy's early films) and Tavel mentioned three Screen Tests which he referred to as No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3. (PS572) No. 3 (as referred to by Smith) was actually a film called Suicide. The Tavel Screen Tests lasted approximately 66 minutes each, much longer than the short one reel Screen Tests that Andy and Gerard Malanga did. (SG146) At the time, the shorter Screen Tests were considered to be film portraits rather than Screen Tests. Tavel later recalled that "Andy never referred, in the three years I worked with him, to the three minute portraits as Screen Tests."
Screen Test #1 was shot on 23 January 1965 at the Factory. The subject was Philip Fagan, Andy Warhol's boyfriend at the time.
"He [Warhol] had an assistant then, called Philip Fagan, who was an incredibly good-looking Irish boy - "Black Irish" - who hung around him all the time, and they used to bake cake together and all this sort of thing... He was so beautiful: Philip." (PS480)
According to Tavel, Andy told him to "sit and ask him (Fagan) questions which will make him perform in some way before the camera. You will not be on camera, but we'll hear you talk. The questions should be in such a way that they will elicit, you know, things from his face, because that's what I'm more interested in rather than in what he says in response." (PS160)
"Screen Test was the most intimately filmed of our combined efforts, and is the most intimate portrait we have of any of Warhol's lovers. It introduces my off-camera character called, "Tester's Voice," a disembodied examiner intent on humiliating the auditioner; and whose exasperation and vehemence grow when the intended victim becomes unimaginative in response, reticent, evasive, or withdrawn. In the first reel, Philip is reminded of an unpleasant incident that puzzled him, his shoplifting of a pair of red panties he'd convinced himself he intended as a gift to a girl... Screen Test enters a second phase when the Tester seems to be entertaining an infatuation with Philips's close-up itself... But Philip... grows suspicious, distrustful, and taciturn...
One afternoon a few weeks later I found Andy spraying white, pink, and red primaries on the petals of the poppy flower silkscreens... He looked up at me long enough to say, "Philip likes you. But he doesn't like anyone else. I don't think he understands what we're doing here. I asked him not to come back." (Ronald Tavel/04.pdf)
Screen Test #2 was shot on February 7, 1965. The subject was Mario Montez who also appeared in Warhol's Harlot, Mario Banana, Camp, Hedy (aka The Most Beautiful Woman in the World and/or The Shoplifter and/or The Fourteen Year Old Girl), More Milk Yvette (aka Lana Turner) and The Chelsea Girls ("The John" segment). Mario had been an underground film actor, appearing in Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures (1962) and Normal Love (1963). In addition to making underground films, Jack Smith also played the part of Dracula in Warhol's Batman Dracula. Mario Montez was the first transvestite used by Andy, although Mario did not live his normal life in drag.
Screen Test #2 was one of Warhol's more entertaining early films. During the film, Tavel tells Montez that he is auditioning him (as a her) for a role in their new film - The Hunchback of Notre Dame and asks him to repeat words/phrases - like repeating the word "diarrhoea" in a very emotive fashion - or describes scenarios and asks Montez to give him a look that expresses various "themes" in the film. Montez is hilarious, scrunching up his face in an effort to reveal emotions, often not understanding quite what Tavel is after. At one point, Tavel tells him to take her cock out, which he presumably does, although it is not revealed on camera, which remains on his face.
The film which Patrick Smith describes as Screen Test #3 but which was actually Suicide was described by Smith as "the Technicolor close-up of a young man's wrists that have been slashed many times, and the youth's monologue concerning each of his 19 attempts at suicide." (PS160) During the filming, the subject of the film freaked out and threw a basin of water at Tavel:
"There was a basin of water on the floor, and the basin was catching the water which I would pour on him each time he went through a suicide, and at one time he picked it up... and threw the whole basin on me. So, we stopped the camera, and Warhol said, 'Do you want to just stop?' And I said, 'No,' like a regular trooper." (PS486)
According to Tavel, the actor sued, threatening that "if this is ever released, you'll all go to court." (Ibid) Consequently, the film was never shown in public, although there were private screenings. It was filmed on March 6, 1965.