Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films
Featuring Tom Verlaine, Martin Rev, Eleanor Friedberger, Dean Wareham, and Bradford Cox
Brooklyn Academy of Music
November 6, 2014
Review by David Chiu
The one possible takeaway from Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films, a multimedia event that made its New York premiere Thursday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is the word ‘contrasts.’ That was apparent throughout the one-hour-plus performance, which unveiled 15 never-before-seen 16mm film shorts from the ‘60s by the legendary Pop artist: the film subjects varied from a man washing dishes in the buff, and a female dancing with a rifle outside of a home in a wooded area; to members of the Beat Generation horsing around on a couch, and a man lying like a captive at the feet of a woman sitting on a chair. They’re indicative of the eccentricity and genius of Andy Warhol in his uncanny ability to subvert convention and make the ordinary appear both provocative and artistic.
Not only did the short movies contrasted with each other subject-wise; so did the original live music that was performed to these films, featuring five terrific performers in the genre of alternative rock. There was Television guitarist Tom Verlaine who played three instrumentals quite beautifully and delicately on his electric to films depicting rather tranquil situations, including the aforementioned John Washing (featuring John Giorno), and Bob Indiana Etc., which portrayed an outdoor gathering that typified the Kennedy-era, pre-hippie ’60s,.
That was followed by Suicide musician Martin Rev’s showcase, which provided a rougher and edgier counterpoint to Verlaine’s subdued performance. Using his palms and hand gestures on his keyboard-like instrument, Rev churned out harsh, experimental sounds (something like hearing a wind-tunnel) complemented with samples of Kool and the Gang’s “Ladies Night” and the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno.” They were the perfect soundtrack to Warhol’s grittier and raunchier cinematic fare like Jack Cigarette, featuring a Beatnik-looking couple puffing cigarettes; and Superboy, which showed a handsome shirtless guy drinking a bottle of Coke.
Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces brought the proceedings back to straightforward rock—and just like Verlaine and Rev, her performance was as equally and perhaps the most poignant. Friedberger’s songs provided music to film subjects Donovan; the artist Marisol and her works; and especially Factory star Edie Sedgwick on the tenderhearted tribute “All Known Things.”
Next up was Dean Wareham, who had a previous connection to the Warhol’s shorts – several years ago, he and his Luna band mate Britta Phillips composed soundtrack music for Warhol’s screen tests that evolved into an album and multimedia show very similar to this current BAM event. Accompanied by a fine band that included Phillips, Wareham played some great guitar-oriented rock that recalled the Velvet Underground, the legendary band whose career was guided by Warhol. That segment of the program featured films Paraphernalia (featuring Susan Bottomly and her whip), Nico/Antoine (in which the subjects, including the famed singer/model Nico, are eating bananas), and the very sexy and subversive Kiss the Boot, with Factory regulars Gerard Malanga and Mary Woronov.
Lastly, Deerhunter/Atlas Sound member Bradford Cox arrived onstage, and behind his keyboard/machine he closed the show on an experimental note with his compositions that included a screen test of the French artist Marcel Duchamp (known for his famous painting Nude Descending on a Staircase, No. 2) and the lovely-looking Benedetta Barzini; and perhaps the most striking and arresting short, Mario Montez and Boy, which featured a couple rapturously sharing a hamburger and kissing.
All in all, the five musical acts through their performances paid a sincere and loving tribute to the spirit of Warhol and his vision, evidence of his enduring influence in art and pop culture more than 50 years later since these films were first made.