Baby Jane Holzer brushes her teeth, Lou Reed swigs a Coca-Cola, and Dennis Hopper just smolders. Andy Warhol’s four minute screen tests of The Factory crew were shot between 1964 and 1966 in Andy’s New York studio, and are now available commercially for the first time. The celluloid portraits of Warhol’s lovely but tragic coterie are set to an original soundtrack by indie duo Dean & Britta and bundled into 13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol Screen Tests. Better yet, see the entire project on the big screen this Saturday with Celebrate Brooklyn! at the Prospect Park Bandshell. (Crystal Stilts will also perform.) Read on for a chat with Dean Wareham and the video trailer.
Dean & Britta meld the fuzzy alt-rock of their former group Luna to a chilly orchestrated electronica that harmonizes with the revealing, if aloof, footage of Warhol’s superstars. The band considers themselves acolytes of Lou Reed, who was in the audience at 13 Most Beautiful‘s debut as part of the Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series. Commissioned by the Andy Warhol Museum, the project is a mesmerizing glimpse into NYC’s 1960s art scene and the wanna-be superstars who populated it.
Flavorpill: Dean, you described for BOMB magazine some of the Warhol hostility you encountered when undertaking the project. Why do you think people despise him so, and do you think that viewpoint has any merit?
Dean Wareham: Well I’m sure people hated him because he was successful, and apparently some of the abstract expressionist giants of the 1950s felt threatened by what he was doing. Perhaps painting a soup can and calling it art was viewed as an assault on those who took their painting very seriously. And then of course Warhol was kind of swish, and some of them didn’t like that either.
FP: Your notes on the process of matching songs to each screen test are fascinating. Which would you say was the most challenging? Were there any you tried to include but couldn’t because of music, or did it happen pretty naturally after you narrowed down the 13 reels?
DW: We were working on one cover for Paul America, a song by a noted psychedelic band from Texas, but the songwriter (who at one point worked for Robert Rauschenberg) told me he didn’t want his song associated with Warhol. Which was his right of course. Ingrid Superstar was really difficult, maybe because she is playful at the start of her screen test but seems to be fighting back tears by the end.
FP: A couple of the subjects, Nico and Edie Sedgwick, have such an iconic photographic presence already. Do you think these four minute screen tests reveal anything deeper about the two? How did you imagine and realize their respective soundtracks?
DW: The song we did for Edie Sedgwick — “It Don’t Rain in Beverly Hills” — the lyrics were written by our artist friend, Jack Early, and had nothing to do with Edie, but worked so well for her tragic life. All I really think when we play that song live is how innocent she looks, and how awful it is that she died so young. And the same goes for Paul America — so handsome and confident on film — of all the screen test subjects he looks the happiest in front of the camera. He and Edie were lovers for a while, and he died too young as well, hit by a car on the side of the road, while coming home from an appointment with the dentist.
FP: What’s next for Dean & Britta? You all are taking 13 Most Beautiful Songs on the road, I hope?
DW: We are doing that; just got back from doing the show in France, Scotland and Portugal. We played Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline, Scotland — Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace. And we did three shows in Paris at the Eglise St Eustache, an enormous 15th-century church in the heart of the city. We were surprised they let us show these films in the church, but apparently they liked that Warhol was Catholic. After Saturday’s show in Brooklyn we have a break, and are then taking the show to Switzerland, Italy and Australia.
13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests with live performance by Dean & Britta goes down this Saturday, August 1, at 7:30 p.m. in the Prospect Park Bandshell. If you can’t drag yourself to Brooklyn, the DVD is now available through Plexifilm.