The mirror stage

“13 Most Beautiful….” trailer

It’s become almost rote to tag Andy Warhol — that "most financially astute and commercially successful of all the members of the New American Cinema," to quote Winston Wheeler Dixon — as an exploiter of superior but less rich and famous artists, a claim often paired with the declaration that there is nothing left to say about him.

This past week I was thinking about Warhol’s Sleep (1963). The traditional doctrine about that five-hour study of John Giono in slumberland is that it introduced Warhol’s deployment of boredom, an effect that still lingers in feature-length "art" cinema today, where the worst directors are boors, while the best (Tsai; Apichatpong) lead people through trance or dream states. True. And yet — is there a gesture more romantic than watching your lover sleep?

The title of "13 Most Beautiful … Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests" nods to the baker’s dozen format Warhol used to organize and present the boys and girls who stepped in front of his Bolex for almost three minutes slo-mo projected to become four. (This type of tactic prompted plum-phrasing Parker Tyler to declare that Warhol’s films tend "to move at major physical retardation.") There are 300 or so such tests to choose from, and it’s hard not to wish that Dean and Britta’s live soundtrack accompanied some less obvious, more artistic portrait subjects. But I’m looking forward to seeing Mary Woronov vamp for Warhol, whom she felt the impulse to protect, according to her peerless — and scarifying — 1995 Factory account Swimming Underground. And I wonder if Freddy Herko’s beauty will leap off the screen.

"Black and white is easier," said Warhol, who likened watching a film to looking out a window. "In black and white, it’s just a picture." Acts of potent iconography accomplished by sidelit, inky close-up, the screen tests — not to be confused with 1965’s Ronald Tavel-scripted Screen Test #2demonstrate Warhol’s talent for simplifying where his peers might complicate. "13 Most Beautiful" also primes any interested audience for yet further adventures in pop this year — the Lou Reed screen test is included (along with screen tests of the other members of the Velvet Underground) in the upcoming "Warhol Live" exhibition at the De Young Museum.


Tues/3, 8 p.m., $25

Palace of Fine Arts

3301 Lyon, SF