Andy Warhol. Screen Test 3. Edie Sedgwick.

Some were famous (think Bob Dylan) and some anonymous. They sat for Andy Warhol who completed around 500 silent screen tests. They were not screen tests in the conventional sense. Maybe more of a test for the person and the prospective viewer.

“They were all asked to pose to be captured by Warhol’s stationary 16mm Bolex movie camera on silent, black and white, 100-foot rolls of film. Each screen test was exactly the same length, lasting only as long as the roll of film, about 2 ¾ minutes. The resulting films were projected in slow motion so that each lasted approximately four minutes.”

That’s it. Seems so simple. Yet there is perhaps no more distressing work ever produced (and Andy Warhol certainly knew how to produce distressed and distressing images) than the 3 minute screen test of Edie Sedgwick. It can be viewed here.

Several points could be made – the way the film flickers and orb patterns appear at the start underlining the cellulose medium and distance of the subject/ object. The intense isolation of Edie as she stares the camera down. But then she blinks and averts her gaze. Tries to stare again and averts her gaze again. She closes her mouth but it seems an anxious movement. But you gaze at her gaze and you view her seeming discomfort. How much does the slowing down of the film heighten these observations?

Dante imagined the innermost circle of hell. “Dante’s Hell is divided into nine circles, the ninth circle being divided further into four rings, their boundaries only marked by the depth of their sinners' immersion in the ice; Satan sits in the last ring, Judecca…… This circle of Hell is a complete separation from any life and for Dante, “the deepest isolation is to suffer separation from the source of all light and life and warmth.”

Maybe we fear hell (if we fear it at all) for similar dreads; Futility, anxiety and disintegration, isolation and lack of relationship, ability to relate or someone warm enough to relate to. 

In this screen test Andy Warhol has visualized Dante’s inner ring. Edie (who would be dead by the age 28) is imprisoned forever in a vision that is unsettling and desperate, distressed and distressing, alone and anxious but always observed. Like so much modern art its greatness lies in paths unseen by the secular critic. The eye of faith does not want to dwell on such matters and faced with Edie’s Screen Test it both observes and flinches. Other thoughts and emotions might well have validity in the face of Edie, but as Jesus snorted with anger at the grave of Lazarus he simply wept, and we should too.

Edited from original blogged on:

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