Get ready for your close-up at the Warhol Museum
Share with others:
In the classic film "Sunset Boulevard," Gloria Swanson announced that she was ready for her close-up.
Are you ready for your screen test?
Starting Tuesday, the day after Andy Warhol would have turned 84, visitors to the North Side museum that exhibits his work can create their own three-minute screen test and, if they wish, share it with the world about five minutes later.
As a child, Warhol kept scrapbooks of film stars. By 1964, his New York City studio, known as the Silver Factory, was a large loft decorated with silver paint and aluminum foil. Ever the voyeur and an indefatigable curator of the culture, Warhol made 500 film portraits of artists, friends and celebrities between 1964 and 1966.
"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," Warhol said.
Using a stationary, silent Bolex camera mounted on a tripod and loaded with a 100-foot roll of black-and-white 16mm film, Warhol directed subjects to sit still for three minutes, the length of time it took for the film to run through the camera. Then, he projected the film portraits in slow motion, lending a dreamlike quality to them and making them last for four minutes.
"That's where Warhol created his art," said Greg Pierce, assistant curator of film and video at the museum.
But for those keeping score, that's 11 minutes shy of the 15 minutes of fame the artist predicted everyone would enjoy.
At his studio, Warhol exhibited the silent screen tests in various combinations, depending on who attended. If he knew visitors had just made a film portrait and were coming to a studio party, he'd show the screen test under the title of "The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys'' or "The Thirteen Most Beautiful Women," Mr. Pierce said. In that calculated way, Warhol improved the art of schmoozing friends and acquaintances.
Now, anyone can step into a silvery room off the museum's sixth floor galleries where Warhol's films play, choose a black or white background, adjust the lighting and make his/her own film portrait by following instructions on a Planar touch screen. The hardware that makes the magic is hidden inside a vintage Project-O-Stand, a fact that Warhol would have loved as he shopped in antique stores regularly.
"You're not going to get your real time screen time. You will get your Warholian screen test," Mr. Pierce said, adding that each screen test will last four minutes.
While sitting still for three minutes, some people are clearly uncomfortable; others stare down the camera, then befriend it. Salvador Dali was impatient and, after one minute, got up and left.
Singer Bob Dylan and author Susan Sontag are among the well-known people Warhol filmed. These film portraits are a more animated version of the artist's time capsules, Mr. Pierce said. Ann Buchanan insisted on keeping her eyes open during her screen test, and tears run from her eyes. Actor Dennis Hopper, dressed in a herringbone jacket, exhibits all the intensity and range of emotion he used so effectively in the movie "Blue Velvet." Poet Harold Stevenson looks slightly dandified while dabbing at his face with a handkerchief; his Cupid-bow mouth makes him look cherubic.
Joshua Jeffery, the museum's manager of digital engagement, hopes that visitors who make their own film portraits and experience the process Warhol used in his screen tests will look at the artist's films with a new perspective.
Some people who have already done their screen tests want to know why there's no mirror in the room and why they can't see themselves while they are making the film just as they can when they Skype.
The reason, Mr. Jeffery said, is that the museum wanted to be as true as possible to the process Warhol used.
"I can't wait to see what people make."
The screen test is included in the price of admission, which is $20 for adults and $10 for students with identification and children ages 3 to 18. The museum is at 117 Sandusky St., Pittsburgh, 15212. Information: 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org.
First Published August 6, 2012 12:00 am