Thursday, November 28, 2013

Chelsea Girls (1966): Happenings are commodified

Double Woronov = Double Fun
Chelsea Girls (1966)
dir: Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey

It's nearly impossible to review Chelsea Girls from 47 years in the future. After 47 years, there have been movies that have ripped off Chelsea Girls, used techniques that it used, and imitated many of it's semi-faux-verite arthouse style.

On the other hand, it seems like a copy of the type of cinematic underground experimental work that other dadaists and surrealists like Salvador Dali had been doing for years. From almost 50 years later, Chelsea Girls almost seems like it is the commercialization of the happenings. It seems like its goal is to bring the progressive drug culture to the masses.

It is impossible to discuss Chelsea Girls without discussing Andy Warhol or Paul Morrissey. Chelsea Girls is Andy Warhol's cinematic keystone, though Paul Morrissey says Warhol's participation was negligible. Regardless of who is most responsible for Chelsea Girls, Warhol's name is on it both as director and producer. And, Chelsea Girls is almost Warhol's thesis. It feels as artificial as Warhol ever felt. Which can be the point of Warhol.

Chelsea Girls is 12 different videos, each about 35-minutes, run through side-by-side projectors. The sound would be flipped from side to side, and rumor has it that it once had Velvet Underground playing at times as well. All of the videos are stagings starring Warhol's superstars, most notably Pope Ondine and Mary Woronov (*swoon*).

The first video starts on the right, and is Nico (yes, that Nico) in a kitchen. The first video on the left is Pope Ondine with some woman who isn't enthused about him.

The second video on the left is a drag queen named Brigid holding court, where she rants about drugs, injects speed, and generally abuses everybody around her. The second on the left is Boys in a Bed, where two guys, an older guy in a bathrobe and a younger guy in his briefs, lounge on a bed as they're visited by women and men, who play with the younger boytoy.

The third on the right is Hanoi Hannah (Mary Woronov) abusing her friends in a faux-Vietnam POW camp style rant. The third on the left is Hanoi Hannah with the same friends in the same clothes on the right, but also a couple more people.

The fourth on the right is the boys in the bed getting serenaded by a drag queen, then being visited by more people. The fourth on the left is some woman yelling, and beating a bed with a riding crop while a young guy and a young girl look on.

The fifth on the right is an actor who looks like he just took LSD. The fifth on the left is just the cast standing around having random colored lights shone on them for 35 minutes.

The sixth on the right is Pope Ondine giving a speed-fueled rant. The sixth on the left is Nico getting the colored light treatment.

This isn't a random assortment of videos. Nico starts out grooming on the right, and ends up being glorified on the left. The boy toy scene flip flops from left to right. Brigid is analogous to the yelling woman. And, Hannoi Hannah is on both sides at once. The fifth pair is like having a shitty happening right in front of you.

All in all, it just feels soooooo...obvious. While it is interesting to see if you're watching where the voices are, or where there is more action, or where there is boy nudity, or if you're just listening, it doesn't really add up to much at all. Sure, Hannoi Hannah is an obvious silly play about war. The S&M, drugs, and homosexuality is all there because it was all so shocking back in the day. It's like the most commercial version of selling everything that was happening in certain circles at the time.

Which brings us back to Andy Warhol. It's arguable that his pop art and the Factory were largely influential, especially in the commercialization and popularization (leading to the commodificiation) of the rebellious art scene. But, he was almost commodifying commodification in the most basic obvious sense one can imagine. It can be impressive in large, but it all adds up to little.

And, that's what Chelsea Girls feels like. It feels like Andy Warhol calling to the people who may find it interesting but haven't seen what has really been going on, even though Dali was featured in Life and other sorts of magazines. It's the artistic underground movie that is engineered for the artistic underground crowd. And, it feels as artificial, or as Authentic, as Andy Warhol's art ever did.

I could dive into the meanings of everything a bit more, but that feels almost like it would be giving Chelsea Girls too much credit. At least more credit than it is due. Hell, to me, 1968's Head feels more authentic because its artifice is put up front and center because it stars The Monkees. Take that for what you will.

Add in that Paul Morrissey currently denies that any of his films were political. Currently, Morrissey is playing as a staunch Republican religious conservative who is railing against liberals in all standard senses. And, he says that all of his movies are just silly pieces of work that were meant to entertain. Whether he is actually a conservative, or if he is actually pulling an Andy Kaufman-esque stunt of trolling matters not. He's both right and wrong. The movies are silly pieces of art that are meant to reflect the detritus within the sprocket holes, but they aren't created in a vacuum. In doing research for upcoming review of The Point!, I discovered that Nilsson makes the assertion that everything has a point, even when it doesn't. That meaning applies as much to Chelsea Girls as it applies to any other movie you can think of. Still, Chelsea Girls doesn't add up to much.

Ed's Note: Be aware of the Italian Roma disc. There have been comments that it wasn't produced by the Andy Warhol foundation. It features a 24 minute section of pure silence, where there isn't even the sound of open air. They say you should at least play some Velvet Underground during that section. It may help.

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