Everyone knows Andy Warhol’s most famous quote – that everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes.
Five times the length of your average pop song. However, not everyone knows the story of the Factory, the studio-cum-drop-in space he ran in New York. Here, when not creating art or the Velvet Underground, Warhol also performed ‘screen tests’, as he attempted to discover the next movie star (whether this was ‘star’ in the true sense, or for his less-than-mainstream films is another matter).
These tests would last for minutes or in some cases hours, but what Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall saw was a distillation of 13 of these into 4-minute chunks, all projected back-to-back, soundtracked live by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips.
It will be be their involvement as much as the subject matter on the big screen which draws a sizeable crowd to Fife, comprising regular punters, indie music fans, and stereotypical beardy art lovers, as well as members of Camera Obscura, The Pastels, Josef K and the Wendys.
The projector kicks into life with an image of Richard Rheem – one of the many who passed through the Factory and was captured on cellulioid. Simultaneously the soundtrack kicks in, an electronic instrumental, but a few minutes later sound and vision are replaced, by the stare of Ann Buchanan, and below, the four-piece band arrive onstage.
They offer more than a live soundtrack to the images which play out for the next hour. The two, Wareham in particular, act as our guide for the evening with little vignettes, the stories behind the films, and help us understand a little of Warhol’s motivation, and more importantly, the characters seen onscreen. We learn that most were lit by the Factory’s inhouse lighting guy, who apparently lived in a cupboard in the building.
It’s also interesting how much we learn of the personalities of the subjects – Ann Buchanan remains stock-still until a tear rolls unexpectedly (to her as well as us) down her cheek towards the end of her stint. Nico is relaxed to the point of disinterest, her Germanic cool showing through. Dennis Hopper – a visitor rather than a Factory resident – may be Method acting, though his features flash a rare smile unlike many of his fellow subjects. He’s soundtracked by an instrumental, ‘The Enabler’ which rumbles darkly but suddenly bursts into life around the time that his face cracks. Wareham’s tour takes in the fact that Hopper bought one of the Soup Can paintings – but was made to give it back. And while the song backing Nico is one of two covers in the set, Dylan’s ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ which was written for Nico. Though, as Wareham informs us, he also claimed it was for Joan Baez.
The other cover is ‘Not A Young Man Any More’ – a great ‘lost’ Velvet Underground tune, and not an irreverent joke at the now getting-on-a-bit Lou Reed’s expense. Of course, it soundtracks footage of a very youthful Reed, playfully taunting Warhol with a Coke bottle.
The tales are, inevitably tinged with poignancy and tragedy. Amphetamines were the drug of choice round Andy’s place, which may account for many of the subjects’ inabilities to sit still. Billy Name, we’re advised, danced out of a window to his death. Similarly, Susan Bottomley takes the award for Most Likely To Annoy with her constant fidgeting and twitching which distracts and detracts from the music. We’ should be more understanding perhaps – Wareham informs us that one day she left the house to buy cigarettes and disappeared, leaving behind only her false teeth. So pride of place on many levels goes to Baby Jane Holzer who spends her entire four minutes of fame brushing her teeth.
But is it art? For a casual music fan it’s some great indiepop combining the best bits of Luna / Galaxie 500 that just happens to have a film show as an added bonus. Serious art historians will see it as a display of seminal pop art with a pretty authentic VU-themed score. Either way, everyone wins.
Particularly Dean and Britta. The response is overwhelming and the band are summoned back for an encore even though the films are all done. The band therefore use their supplementary 10 minutes of fame by trawling their back catalogue for versions of ‘Tugboat’ and ‘Strange’ and seeing the unlikely scenario of Galaxie 500 songs forming an encore at a packed-out Carnegie Hall show – even if it’s the Dunfemline version. Now surely that is fame…