Vinyl (1965)

There’s “odd” and then there’s Andy Warhol “odd.”

Warhol had a rather strange notion of film, where you ignored all the things typical moviemakers do and just focused on putting things on film.  I suppose he’d talk about immediacy or honesty, but as those things included not just props, scenery or fancy editing, but rehearsals, a clear script and any sort of direction to the cast, as you might expect the results aren’t that impressive.

Particularly since boredom may have been part of what Andy wanted.

This is supposedly based on Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, and, in fact, most of the plot points are here.  Sort of.  Mostly.  A young JD (juvenile delinquent) boasts about how he is what he is because that’s what he wants to be before he’s arrested and tortured into being good.

Actually, I found that fairly promising at first:  it was developing almost along the line of a very symbolic sort of play — like Noh theater, perhaps.  The film starts with the cast sitting around and smoking while Victor makes his speech:  the camera is tight on the action, and the area behind him is quickly lost in darkness.  It is almost comic in some of these scenes when Victor and other characters engage in fights, but have to do so without moving out of the range of the more or less fixed camera.

However, after Victor is arrested things start falling apart: the policeman keeps giving his lines some very strange readings, as if he only had half of each line at a time (I wonder if they were using cue cards?), they need the chair therefore one of the actors who has been part of the Greek chorus all along ends up out of sight, there’s some sort of torture scene going on in the background that’s hard to see, and we end up with a few scenes so close to the camera that you can only see a few body parts — and maybe not the ones that actually matter!

Now, it’s worth noting here that Edie Sedgwick, whom Andy always described as his muse, is in camera for most of the film, but isn’t given much of anything to do and is billed as an extra.  She does do a little dance at one point, and in those far too tight close shots, she sticks her hand in the shot doing little dance moves!

Okay, I like that bit.

I’ll admit I like the credits, as well, which are read by some unseen narrator at various slow points in the film.  It might be Warhol, but somehow he seems so detached from what’s going on that I have my doubts.

There’s a rather strong sexual vibe under it all, and frankly I find it hard to understand what the hell Warhol and crew are trying to say…is Victor bad because he can’t see his own acts from the outside?  Is he a hero for being what he wants to be?

By the end it’s really hard to understand what’s going on:  it ends with Victor left limp and broken, and they start cutting his long, stylish hair as the film ends.  Is that the actual end?  Did the film stop there, with Victor brainwashed into being a good little boy?  or is there a lost reel?  Did they plan to do more but just got bored with the proceedings?  Who knows.  But it does seem like their production was rapidly going to pieces, anyway.

Let’s face it:  these films were made for the entertainment of Andy and his followers.  They weren’t shown outside that narrow little world at the time and have only surfaced now because people are still fascinated by Warhol and all his doings.  They are a curiosity and mostly of historical interest.

I can’t help thinking, though, that, if the rest of the film had been as well done as the beginning, with a clearer ending, it might have been worth watching on its own merits.  You never know.

But that wasn’t the film Andy made.

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