Sunday, May 20, 2007

Films at the Andy Warhol museum: Water, Factory Diaries, Asian imports

Film at the Andy Warhol Museum.

In 1969, when I was in the Army (yes, I actually served uneventfully as a half-open gay), one of my “bunkmates” (so to speak) from California, who called himself Rado Suhl, introduced me to the world of Andy Warhol movies, at least verbally. I actually saw “Trash” and “Flesh” I think (Paul Morrissey ) in Newport News or Norfolk, places to reach on pass from Fort Eustis (or Fort Useless). “A point,” he said, “there is no point.”

I saw three films this weekend at the Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh.

The Friday night feature was I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (“Hei yen quan”, Strand Releasing, 2006, Tsai Ming-laing, 115 min, R) was slow and repetitive with little spoken dialogue, and what little is said is simpleton-like. Fits the stereotype. The film shows to squalid poor sections of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (unlike the exhuberant Entrapment (1999), which had emphasized the Petronas Towers and the metro). The city is smoggy because of fires in SE Asia. A few poor street people are rescued and gradually nursed back to health, particularly Hsaio-Kang (Kang-sheng Lee), found by some men from Bangaldesh after being beaten up by a male prostitute (the homoeroticism is most minimal here) particularly by Rawang (Norman Bin Atun). There is a nurse / waitress Chyi (Shiang-chyi Chen) to takes care of a paralyzed man, at one point mauling his scalp hair as she washes it. There are a lot of scenes that focus on the most mundane aspects of crowded third world apartment rooms (often in concrete, formerly modern buildings now collapsing), as people negotiate for their space on a dirty mattress. People are receptive to each other’s physical attention in ways that would be unacceptable to middle class people. The film has lots of long, rather static intimate shots, including a harrowing scene where lovers deal with the intensifying dust haze and cough. At the end, a trio is on a mattress floating out into a flood, sleeping innocently.

Tears of the Black Tiger (“Fah talai jone,” 2001, Magnolia / Film Bangkok, dir. Wisit Sasanatieng, 115 min) was presented by the Warhol Museum the week before in conjunction with the Silk Screen Asian Film Festival. But it had an art house theatrical release early this year. It seems like a spoof of the Italian western, here is a cartoonish style, heavily colorized with deep greens and pinks and very abstract sets. Dum (Suwinit Panjamawat), trained to be a gunslinger / mercenary, goes on a quest for bride Rampoey (Stella Malucchi) but is called away fighting bandits while her father tries to unload her in an arranged marriage. The movie leads to the inevitable showoff ending: here two bullets, in mid air as in Smallville fashion, can collide in midair and ricochet, with violent results. Later there is even a place for the family pictures. The movie constantly questions the “why” of the social customs by which we live, while paying curious homage to them. Intentionally clunky soundtrack, with caricatures of classical music (including Dvorak's New World).

The museum store sells Absolut Warhola (2004, TLA, dir. Stanislaw Mucha, 80), a pseudo-documentary in which filmmakers travel to the village of Mikova, Slovakia, home of Andy Warhol's ancestors. The townspeople are rather glib. One of them bemoans the fact that Andy never married "for his mother" (to give her a lineage), whereas another blames Warhol's homosexuality on his ex-wife (a contradiction). There is a museum for Andy in the city of Medzilabaforce. Many of the scenes are in winter (it is very cold in the continental interior), and in the summer scenes all of the people look very rustic, even the girls having hairy legs. In Czech with subtitles.

Every day the museum has been showing Water (1971, 33 min), at 12:30. If there was such a thing as Andy Warhol “nilhism” (or just minimalism), this is it. The fuzzy black-and-white “film” shows a glass of water (you can barely see the meniscus) while some friends talk about living in the Big Apple.

Then there was Factory Diaries (1972), Montauk & Hamptons, edited tape. That is, the last couple of stops on the Long Island Rail Road, and Warhol himself was lounging around in a beach house with his dog, who loves him, and another couple. There were some oddly embarrassing shots of people on the beach. Black and White. They don’t look as good as you want them to. In 1977 and 1978, I got to know The Pines and Cherry Grove (Fire Island), myself, but that's another planet.

I have more Andy Warhol films discussed here.

A related book review is at this link.

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