film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Vinyl (1965)

Full disclosure: I watched this either the night of the day I landed in Los Angeles, or the next day; early enough that jet-lag may still have been a factor, anyway. However – I may still have been confused by this film even if I’d been well-rested.

Vinyl is an underground film, one of Andy Warhol’s works, loosely inspired by the novel A Clockwork Orange. Poet and artist Gerard Malanga plays “Victor” (the name changed from the original “Alex”), a juvenile delinquent subjected to an experimental treatment involving negative conditioning to reform him. That’s still the plot.

But the staging is….puzzling. Save for one very slow pullback right at the film’s start, the camera does not move at all. In lieu of credits, Andy Warhol reads the cast list from offscreen, and does so about five minutes after the film has already started. The sound quality is practically nonexistent. The video is too murky to see any action in the background. Edie Sedgewick sits on a trunk to the right of the frame for the entire film, just sort of….watching. Another extra watches from the left for a good part of the film, but then suddenly has a laughing fit and leaves. The bulk of Victor’s delinquency seems to be a sequence where he does nothing but dance wildly to the song “Nowhere To Run” by Martha and the Vandellas – twice in a row.

It just doesn’t look very much like what I would recognize as a film, in short. It looks more like Warhol simply told people what to do, and then only moments later turned a camera on and filmed it and then called it good. There are apparently a couple people in the dim background watching the scene who didn’t even know Warhol was filming what they were seeing, or that they would themselves be in his movie.

Now, this kind of thing can be a step on the way to an amateur becoming a filmmaker. You’re getting used to the camera, you haven’t learned that staging or lighting or blocking or sound are things yet. You also only have your friends and family to cast from and you haven’t really figured out how to coax a good performance from people yet. You’re still in the heady state of the excitement of just having a camera. But – you don’t necessarily show those works to anyone aside from family or friends. Or if you do, you don’t keep showing it. And people don’t consider it one of your finished films and keep circulating it. But somehow this…was.

So I’m honestly not clear why this is being held up as a pivotal work of underground cinema. A part of me wonders whether Warhol was messing with cinematic conventions at all – did films “need” to have credits? Or camera movement? Did the action have to follow a plot? Did we need to shoo away people watching in the background, or could we still let people watch to emphasize this was just pretend? Who says you can’t simply turn your camera on and let things happen? …But Warhol’s other films, as I understand, have more of an intent to them – KIss was made up entirely of 3-minute sequences of different couples kissing, Chelsea Girls was a documentary about the various women living in the Chelsea Hotel, Sleep was nothing but a real-time film of a man sleeping, Empire was a slow-motion film of the sun setting over the Empire State Building. For this, I’m not as convinced there was an intent.

So…yeah, I’m not sure it was the jet lag that was confusing me here.

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