Andy Warhol and His Films

Along with various paintings depicting celebrities and ubiquitous objects, artist Andy Warhol created several films that ranged from light in plot to nonexistent in plot. The qualifications of what makes a film “good” or “bad” are varied. It could be plot, characters, effects, camera angles, or a whole combination of factors. An ideal combination can be style, story and emotion. The frame of mind of critics versus casual viewer is to be considered as the casual viewer is just looking for fun and entertainment while the critic is in search of a deeper meaning. A casual viewer will want something that will grab their attention and hold onto it. A film that is valued more as art than entertainment could affect how other movies are accepted. A film that is panned as not very good may be held up as art, simply because no one understands it.

Whether or not a film can be called art is called into question. After all, little is actually created as it already exists and is already captured on celluloid. Certainly, acting and script-writing call for creativity and originality. They may even be considered a form of art, if one takes a very broad definition of the term “art”. Comic book artist and writer Scott McCloud has defined art as anything not directly connected to survival or reproduction. Director Bryan Singer has said “It’s a privilege to be able to paint such big pictures, so to speak.” A film maker, especially of the Underground type, may well take a craftsmanlike attitude to their work. Plot may take a backseat, or it may even be left standing on the corner. Avant-garde films are more about an ambient experience rather than the story that the average viewer is accustomed to.

It can be agreed that for a film to be “good”, it must be entertaining, that is, not boring. It must grab attention and hold it. Roger Ebert has said “It’s not what a film is about, but how it is about something.” While there are many varying factors to what makes a film “good”, it’s replay value is the biggest. Ebert also concurs, having once said “Every great film should seem new every time you see it.” However, both groups agree that what makes a movie “good” is subjective and a matter of taste. Let us keep in mind, Ebert became known for debating with other critics about whether or not a film was any good.

“Our movies may have looked like home movies,” Andy Warhol once wrote, responding to one of his critics, “but then our home wasn’t like anybody else’s.” From 1963 through 1968 Warhol shot hundreds of these home movies, work that is short and dauntingly long, silent and sound, scripted and improvised, often in black and white though also in color, still as death and alive to its moment. These films are like none other, a fact for which all filmmakers will be eternally grateful.

Warhol’s films received varying degrees of critical acclaim and provided employment for the hangers-on who frequented his studio, known as the Factory. One of those hangers-on was Valerie Solanas, founder of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men), a radical feminist group and author of the SCUM Manifesto, a separatist attack on patriarchy. In 1968, feeling disrespected by Warhol, she shot him. An anger-filled letter from her, addressed to Warhol, refers to him as ‘Toad’. Reportedly, Solanas shot Warhol because he rejected one of her scripts. When one considers what Warhol’s finished works were like, one wonders just how bad a script had to be for him to reject it.

Written by By Melissa Maxwell