In order to prove that he did more than just paint soup cans, I proudly present these 10 films from Andy Warhol. The godfather of the pop art movement, he began acting on his fascination with film in 1963, directing or producing over 130 feature-length and short movies by 1977.
To say they’re odd is an understatement. Warhol loved to stretch the boundaries of good taste and artistic norms, often making films hours longer than what any potential viewer was used to. These projects were also filled with camp and elements of gay culture, the latter causing plenty of controversy within certain circles. While later films may elicit unintentional laughter thanks to over-the-top acting and ludicrous subject matter, the imagination of Warhol served as a mirror for the culture of 1960s and 1970s America. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was difficult to look away.
- Imitation of Christ (1967) – Named after a 15th century spiritual guide, Imitation of Christ revolves around a brooding young man named Son (Pat Close) who lounges in bed with the family maid (Nico of Velvet Underground fame) and eats cereal (when he’s not wandering the streets of San Francisco with a hobo played by Taylor Mead). Meanwhile, his mother and father lay in bed and discuss both their son’s problems and their mutual physical attraction towards him. The original version of the film was eight hours in length, but a later edited version would distill the action (or lack thereof) down to 105 minutes. If you want to see people acting while stoned out of their minds, this is a good place to start.
- Chelsea Girls (1966) – Co-directed by Warhol and Paul Morrissey, the film centers around a number of female residents of the Hotel Chelsea in New York City. Black and white footage is mixed with color, and the screen is split with alternating soundtracks driving the narrative. The first commercial film success for Warhol, it was shot on a budget of $3,000 and stars recognizable faces of The Factory such as Nico, Ondine, and Brigid Berlin. While it’s almost impossible to track down on DVD, it remains an important snapshot of the artistic scene in 1960’s New York City.
- Flesh (1968) – An early collaboration between Warhol and director Paul Morrissey, Flesh stars Joe Dallesandro as a hustler in New York City who entertains clients in order to drum up enough money to afford an abortion for his girlfriend’s pal. A gritty look at the life of a male prostitute, it would come out one year before Midnight Cowboy (although the source novel was written in 1965). Also starring Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis, both making their big-screen debuts. Don Johnson ex Patti D’Arbanville also makes an appearance.
- Empire (1964) – Director Warhol tested the limits of human endurance by filming this silent, black and white tribute to the Empire State Building. Viewed in slow-motion, the film captures the iconic building from 8:06 pm until 2:42 am on the nights of July 25th and 26th, 1964. Lasting eight hours and five minutes, it’s only for hardcore Warhol fans, assuming you can even track it down. An Italian version on VHS shows an hour of the film, and this is the closet that Warhol devotees will probably ever come.
- Poor Little Rich Girl (1965) – Starring heiress Edie Sedgwick and named after the film by Shirley Temple (who Warhol once idolized), this Warhol-directed picture follows a day in the life of former “It Girl” Sedgwick. She talks on the phone, smokes, talks to a friend off-camera, smokes some more, and listens to the Everly Brothers. If Warhol were still alive, it’s easy to imagine him doing the same kind of project with someone like Paris Hilton.
- Sleep (1963) – Lasting for five hours and twenty minutes, this early experiment in filmmaking by Warhol consists of pal John Giorno sleeping. That’s all there is to it, and two of the nine people who attended the premiere left before the first hour was up. Still, those looking for films from Andy Warhol may find it to be an interesting exercise in non-conformist cinema. Anyone else will probably give up after ten minutes.
- Taylor Mead’s Ass (1964) – Here’s another one to add to your weird movies list. After reading a Village Voice review of Tarzan and Jane Regained…Sort Of that noted “people don’t want to see an hour and a half of Taylor Mead’s ass,” that’s exactly what Warhol shot. The film is literally nothing but Taylor Mead’s ass, making this a must-see for those who love the bizarre and the outlandish. In case you’re wondering who Taylor Mead is, he appeared in a number of Warhol’s underground films and remains a mini-celebrity in the New York art scene.
- Trash (1970) – Director Paul Morrissey continued his working relationship with Andy Warhol (who produced) by turning out this graphic portrait of rampant addiction. Warhol veteran Joe Dallesandro stars as Joe, a heroin addict who overdoses, drives his girlfriend crazy, and generally behaves like an asshole. Transsexual Holly Woodlawn makes her big-screen debut as Joe’s frustrated lover, and her performance prompted director George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story, A Star Is Born) to undertake a write-in campaign to get her nominated for an Academy Award (it didn’t work).
- Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) – Also known as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, this outlandish monster film was directed by Warhol regular Paul Morrissey and co-produced by the white-haired artist. Originally rated X and playing in 3D, the film centers around Dr. von Frankenstein (Udo Kier), a mad scientist looking to create a perfect race of Serbian sex slaves. In order to do this, he steals corpses (and a few live ones) and pieces together a male and female. But things don’t go exactly the way the good doctor planned, and soon his wife/sister is sleeping with a local farmhand (Joe Dallesandro) who just so happens to be best friends with the male cadaver stumbling about the castle. See Udo Kier have sex with his female creation via a wound in her side, and listen to some of the most bizarre dialogue ever committed to film. There are some creepy scalpel-wielding kids to watch, as well as plenty of scenes where internal organs burst out towards the screen. Filled with gore and sexual situations, this is one boffo horror flick that you can’t afford to miss.
- Blood for Dracula (1974) – Fans of teen-oriented vampire movies may be left scratching their heads at this bizarre tale of an undead nobleman (Udo Kier) and his quest to drink the blood of one of the virgin daughters of an Italian landowner. But a couple of the girls aren’t as virginal as everyone believes (thanks to the Marxist handyman played by Joe Dallesandro), and Count Dracula gets all kinds of sick. Featuring perhaps the most ineffective vampire in the history of cinema, Blood for Dracula is a so-bad-its-good classic that’ll have you rolling in the floor with laughter as the “heroic” handyman commits rape and rants about the plight of the working class. Roman Polanski has a cameo role, and the film was produced by Warhol and directed by Paul Morrissey. Thanks to all the violence and sexual situations, it originally earned an X rating from the MPAA.
As you’ve probably figured out, these 10 films from Andy Warhol are not representative of the usual moviegoing experience. In fact, the epic running times and propensity for sexual subject matter make them some of the more avant-garde selections you’ll ever come across. And while that might turn off fans of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, it’s perfect for fans of weird movies. Check out Netflix, LoveFilm, or Blockbuster to see if they have these titles, although some may require a trip to sites like Amazon or eBay. In the case of the latter two, be prepared to shell out some serious cash for these hard-to-find Andy Warhol movies.