Firsts fest: Dean & Britta put music to Warhol films
Dean & Britta -- Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips -- will provide the music to "13 Most Beautiful ...," a program of silent films made by Andy Warhol. Michael Lavine
Share with others:
Andy Warhol once said, "My idea of a good picture is one that's in focus and of a famous person," but in reality, images of just about anyone fascinated him.
In the mid-'60s, visitors to his studio in New York were likely to be greeted with a 16mm camera and asked to pose. Warhol ended up creating about 500 of these "screen tests," each in black and white and projected in slow motion to last four minutes.
But while the images of the famous and forgotten are often striking, they are silent. That is until now. As part of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, The Andy Warhol Museum and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust commissioned indie rockers Dean & Britta to create a live show with music accompanying 13 of the short films.
"You could look at the Factory in the '60s as one big work of art," says Dean Wareham, a veteran of Luna and Galaxie 500. In the screen tests, Warhol was showing, again, that anyone could be art. He often grouped the tests into categories such as "13 Most Beautiful Women," "13 Most Beautiful Boys" and "50 Personalities." Wareham and Britta Phillips, who were both in Luna and were married two years ago, decided on the more open title, "13 Most Beautiful ..."
- Where: Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts at the Byham, Downtown
- When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
- Tickets: $25
- More information: 412-456-6666
"I decided to focus on the people there day in and out, some of them speed freaks, rather than the famous people who dropped by," says Wareham. "Freddie Herko, a dancer and often called the first speed casualty of the Factory, looks haggard and is smoking. You can't help but think that this guy committed suicide [not much] later."
Only about 200 screen tests have been preserved, and Wareham looked through most of them. "Initially we were going to do all women, but some of the male ones are more subversive than the women, especially the women who were models and were used to being looked at."
Wareham settled on Richard Rheem, Ann Buchanan, Paul America, Edie Sedgwick, Billy Name, Susan Bottomly, Dennis Hopper, Mary Woronov, Freddy Herko, Nico, Ingrid Superstar, Lou Reed and Jane Holzer. Some songs for the screen tests will be covers: Bob Dylan ("I'll Keep It With Mine" for the Nico film) and Lou Reed ("I'm Not a Young Man Anymore" for the Lou Reed spot), but the rest were composed by Wareham and Phillips.
While four minutes is "a good length for a song" and Wareham has scored five films, he found the project challenging.
"It is a hard thing to get a handle on because you look at these old silent films by Warhol and wonder what music is right for them and ultimately there is no answer," he says. Eventually he realized that he needed to let "the pictures [dictate] what we were doing. Sometimes we would have an idea of these characters [from watching them]."
New Zealand-born Wareham, who moved to New York City in the late '70s, has a well-documented debt to the Velvet Underground. "They are one of a handful of my favorite rock bands," he says. "What is amazing about them is that they only made four records, and they are all different and great. A mix of the high and the low."
The admiration was returned when the Velvet Underground picked Luna to open on its 1993 reunion tour. But Dean & Britta won't be re-creating the famous "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" happening of 1966, at which the Velvet Underground and Nico performed in front of image projections.
"This will be more relaxed," says Wareham, tongue firmly planted in cheek. But it won't be as relaxed as Warhol might have wanted:
"Warhol would say do the easiest thing -- come out and read the phone book and play one note."
First Published October 23, 2008 12:00 am