Grammy Nominations 2017
Dean Wareham & Eleanor Friedberger Talk Live-Scoring 'Unseen Warhol Films'
Live music meets Warhol's 'home movies' at an upcoming series of shows.
Jeff Koons can make statues of pop stars like Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga until the end of time, but it's safe to say no art world figure will ever mean as much to rock music as Andy Warhol. And not just for his pivotal role in the Velvet Underground's development -- his aloof wit, obsession with kitsch and his commentary on fame still resonate throughout the worlds of rock and pop.
"I don't know that many people who don't feel some sort of connect to Warhol," Eleanor Friedberger tells Billboard. "Certainly as a teenager, I was one of those people who always dreamed of living in New York City for a variety of reasons that mostly come from music and film and art. And he's a big part of that."
So when someone discovers hundreds of never-before-seen films directed by Warhol, it only makes sense that they should be unveiled to the public with an event that's half screening, half rock concert.
After all, it worked before.
Back in 2008, Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum teamed with Galaxie 500's Dean Wareham and his wife Britta Phillips for 13 Most Beautiful, a theatrical showing of Warhol's "screen tests" -- featuring Dennis Hopper, Edie Sedgwick, Lou Reed and more -- accompanied by live music. An immediate success, it notched 85 performances over five years and even made it to DVD, a rare feat for any Warhol film.
Now, Wareham and the Warhol Museum are one-upping themselves with Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films. Not only are the films more obscure -- they've literally never been screened to the public -- but they're also more personal, functioning as home movies for the famous-yet-reclusive genius (who actually appears onscreen in one of them!).
Further upping the ante, Dean and Britta aren't the only musicians providing the live soundtrack -- Television's Tom Verlaine, Suicide's Martin Rev, Fiery Furnaces' Friedberger, Dean & Britta and Deerhunter/Atlas Sound's Bradford Cox will soundtrack three Warhol shorts apiece when Exposed makes its debut at the Andy Warhol Museum on Oct. 17 (dates at UCLA and Brooklyn's BAM follow on Oct. 24 and Nov. 6-8, respectively).
"We wanted to do something more ambitious than the first," Wareham tells Billboard of plotting the follow-up to 13 Most Beautiful. "But we were wondering what else could we conceivably do."
Enter fate (or coincidence, depending on your take). Right when Wareham and the Warhol Museum were discussing a second project connecting live performance to Warhol films, the museum discovered a trove of long-forgotten 16mm Warhol films in a Pennsylvania warehouse.
The newly discovered Warhol footage is being digitized in an ongoing effort to preserve the art icon's films, with the Warhol Museum, MoMa and the Whitney all participating. But unlike signature Warhol movies like Chelsea Girls, Empire or Blow Job, these unseen films are less premeditated.
"We've been internally referring to them as home movies. They're documentation of his scene, but they're less stylized than the screen tests," says Ben Harrison, curator of performing arts at the Warhol Museum.
"There's a home movie of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Gerard Malanga hanging on the couch at the Factory, and that's goofy and unexpected," Wareham says.
Harrison provides another example: "We found one of John Giorno where he's at their apartment washing dishes, and he happens to only have an apron on. It's very sweet."
After winnowing "a couple hundred" films into a list of 35 and then whittling that down to 15, Wareham set about assigning each film to a list of musicians, handpicked by him. Some artists -- like himself and Friedberger -- will compose traditional songs to accompany the films, while others, like Verlaine and Rev, will provide a purely instrumental soundtrack.
Friedberger snagged some of the most fascinating unseen films to score: She's working with rare color footage of Edie Sedgwick, a stop-motion film featuring Marcel Duchamp and a screen test of Donovan.
"[Sedgwick] looks incredibly beautiful -- it's a sentimental film," Friedberger tells Billboard. "I'm commenting on her presence in the lyrics. For the Donovan film, I'm trying to do a song in the style of his, but I'm using lyrics from this Scottish poet Helen Adam. She lived in New York and San Francisco in the '50s and '60s and wrote this great poem about riding the subway in Brooklyn that I'm gonna use for this."
For one of his Exposed segments, Wareham chose to score a "double color portrait of Nico and a French singer named Antoine. He's pretty obscure, but he was called the French Bob Dylan in the '60s because he played an acoustic guitar. Anyway, [Nico and Antoine] are sitting in front of the big banana image -- the painting that became the Velvet Underground album cover -- just eating bananas."
While Exposed is slow to follow on the heels of 13 Most Beautiful, the Warhol Museum doesn't intend to wait another five years before trotting out more of Warhol's movies in a live performance environment.
"I see these in a trajectory. I know it took us five years since 13 Most Beautiful to do this project, but that might have been a victim of our success," Harrison tells Billboard. "There's a lot of Warhol silent film that can be interpreted, so hopefully this can spur more."
"There's so many different angles you can come at Warhol," Friedberger says. "He never really goes out of style."