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Sleep (1963)

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BW/Silent/5 Hrs 21 Mins at 16fps/4 hrs 45 mins at 18fps
John Giorno

John Giorno

The star of Sleep, John Giorno, performs his poem
Just Say No to Family Values in Barcelona in 2008

Andy Warhol:

"I could never finally figure out if more things happened in the sixties because there was more awake time for them to happen in (since so many people were on amphetamine), or if people started taking amphetamine because there were so many things to do that they needed to have more awake time to do them in... Seeing everybody so up all the time made me think that sleep was becoming pretty obsolete, so I decided I'd better quickly do a movie of a person sleeping. Sleep was the first movie I made when I got my 16mm Bolex." (POP33)

was Andy Warhol's first film. According to Gerard Malanga, Warhol had mentioned to him an idea for making a film of Brigitte Bardot sleeping for eight hours before Warhol actually owned a movie camera. (GMW39)

Although planned as an eight-hour-long movie, Sleep was actually made by looping some of the footage. In Popism, Warhol admits that "I hadn't actually shot that much". This was partially due to the limitiations of his Bolex movie camera which could only shoot 3 - 4 minute lengths of film before requiring reloading. According to Gerard Malanga, "Sleep runs approximately six-and-a-half hours of equivalent shooting time. Andy duplicated an additional ninety minutes from an equal ninety-minute section of the film to stretch it out to eight hours to approximate the scientifically accepted length of time for normal sleep." (GMW39)

According to Callie Angell in The Films of Andy Warhol: Part II, "In July 1963, just after he had purchased his 16mm Bolex, Warhol asked his friend, the poet John Giorno, if he could film him sleeping, and began shooting 100-foot silent rolls in Giorno's apartment that summer." (FAW11) John Giorno, , the star of Sleep, recalled Warhol asking him on Memorial Day (May 30, 1963) weekend whether he could film him sleeping. The previous month, Warhol had attended a dance performance (April 29 & 30) by Yvonne Rainer in which one of the dances in the solo section of a dance piece by Rainer called Terrain was titled Sleep. Although Warhol never credited Rainer's piece with influencing his decision to make a film with the same title, he recalled seeing Rainer's dance at the Judson Dance Theatre in Popism, referring to it as a "beautiful concert." (POP51/JD115)

The film was shot in Giorno's apartment whom Warhol was having a sexual relationship at the time. On Memorial Day weekend of 1963, Giorno woke up to find Warhol watching him sleep and Warhol asked him if he'd like to be a movie star.

John Giorno:

On Memorial Day weekend in 1963 we went away for a few days and I woke up in the night to find him staring at me - he took a lot of speed in those days. That's where the idea for the movie came from - he was looking for a visual image and it just happened to be me. He said to me on the way home: "Would you like to be a movie star?" "Of course," I said, "I want to be just like Marilyn Monroe."

He didn't really know what he was doing; it was his first movie. We made it with a 16mm Bolex in my apartment but had to reshoot it a month later. The film jumped every 20 seconds as Andy rewound it. The second shoot was more successful but he didn't know what to do with it for almost a year.

The news that Warhol had made a movie triggered massive amounts of publicity. It was absurd - he was on the cover of Film Culture and Harper's Bazaar before the movie was finished! In the end, 99% of the footage didn't get used; he just looped together a few shots and it came out six hours long." (GJG)

Warhol first met John Giorno at Warhol's first pop show at Eleanor Ward's Stable gallery in November 1962. (GJG). Although Giorno was working as a stockbroker at the time, he would later quit to concentrate on his poetry. He started the telephone service, Dial-A-Poem in 1968 with sponsorship from the Architectual League and in 1970 he set up a spoken word recording company with $30,000 he received from selling a suicide painting that Warhol had given him. At various times in his life, Giorno was also involved with Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin.

Although Giorno's comments indicate that Warhol asked him to star in Sleep on Memorial Day weekend, 1963, the film was not actually shot until July. According to Gerard Malanga it was in July that Warhol purchased his first movie camera - a Bolex. In a later interview, Giorno remembered the night that Warhol and himself left a party they were attending in order to set up the camera and tripod.

John Giorno:

"I was sitting on a seventeenth-century Spanish chair as he checked out where to put his tripod and lights and suddenly Andy was on the floor with his hands on my feet, and he started kissing and licking my shoes. I had always heard he was a shoe fetishist. 'It's true!' I thought with a rush. 'He's sucking my shoes!' It was hot. And I got some poppers to make it better. I jerked off while he licked my shoes with his little pink tongue and sniffed my crotch. It was great. Although Andy didn't come. When I wanted to finish him off, he said, 'I'll take care of it.'" (L&D177)

The premiere of Sleep took place on January 17, 1964 at the Grammercy Arts Theater - a benefit screening for the Film-Makers' Cooperative. According to the New York Post, the screening was attended by only nine people - two of whom left during the first hour. (FAW10-1)

Gary Comenas

An interesting account of when Sleep played at the Cinema Theatre in Los Angeles, written by the cinema's manager, appears at:

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