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Arts Festival Review: 13 Most Beautiful

Arts Festival Review: 13 Most Beautiful


13 Most Beautiful -
photo Michael Lavine
Click to enlarge

Photo Michael Lavine

13 Most Beautiful
Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, Dean and Britta, USA
Wellington Town Hall
4 March

There are so many people and so many different types of people in the Town Hall tonight. Are there this many devoted Andy Warhol fans in Wellington? Apparently not. The couple to my left like to attend a range of Festival shows. The family group in front of me have a long-standing connection with one of the band members. The group of teenage boys to my left admit to being from Wellington College, Media Studies and Art History students.

I was eleven when Warhol first exhibited his iconic can of Campbell’s Soup. By the time this show has ended I have learned that there were originally 32 pictures, one for each variety of soup. They went on display, priced at $100.00 each, and five of them sold. Dennis Hopper bought one of them. I wish I knew which variety he chose.

The audience is greeted by a large screen, hung over a stage set for the musicians. The subject of the first screen test, one-time lover of Warhol, Richard Rheem, stares at us, blinking occasionally. The band enters and bathes the audience in sound. This is the course of the evening: music tailored to whoever is currently receiving four of their fifteen minutes of fame on the screen above. In addition there is autobiographical and anecdotal information about each of the thirteen.

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These screen tests are thirteen of the five hundred that Warhol shot between 1964 and 1966. Visitors, both famous and unknown, to his studio, the Factory, were filmed in strongly-lit black and white silence. The resulting two minute reel of film was then projected in slow motion, so that each test lasts four minutes.

The young people looking at us looking at them from the screen encapsulate their time. The gum-chewing, laughing Paul America, surely a Midnight Cowboy long before Jon Voight rode the subway. Susan Bottomly, renamed and recreated as the sultry, enigmatic, International Velvet. A young Dennis Hopper is there, emoting at the screen. The icily beautiful Nico remains emotionless. The casualties of the age look down on us too: the smouldering Freddie Herco, who danced naked to his death from a fourth floor window. The zany Ingrid Superstar who disappeared later in life, leaving behind her fur coat and her false teeth.

The last two screen tests could be auditions for TV commercials. A young Lou Reed, practising looking drop-dead gorgeous, shares the screen with the bottle of coke he is drinking. Jane Holzer cleans her teeth for her entire four minutes with such thoroughness and good humoured sensuality as to make any group of teenage boys think favourably about Colgate.

Except for one song by Bob Dylan and one by Lou Reed, the music is composed and performed by husband and wife team Dean and Britta. Matt Sumrow appears on keyboards and guitars, and Lee Waters on drums, bass and acoustic guitar. Even the titles, ‘Teenage Lightning’ for Paul America, ‘Eyes in My Smoke’ for Ingrid Superstar, reflect the aptness of each piece for its chosen subject. The audience was happy to experience the screen tests to music that was in turns languid, disturbing, light-hearted, brooding, serious and sensuous.

At the end of the show the band returned to resounding applause to perform two extra, unrelated pieces. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder then there were seventeen, not thirteen, most beautiful on stage before us last night.

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Press release: 13 Most Beautiful...Songs for Warhol’s Screen Test
Arts Festival Website: 13 Most Beautiful
YouTube trailer: 13 Most Beautiful... Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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