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Warhol & ‘Chelsea Girls’
“I wish the movie had been as good as the poster” Andy Warhol
Model Lily Newmark posed for Rockins founder Tim Rockins in a poster inspired by the Alan Aldridge Chelsea Girls poster.
Nico trims her fringe to the soundtrack of a girl describing her first sexual experience; haphazard camera shots and uneven sound recordings play for over three hours in their unedited, raw form. In 1967, The British Board of Film Classification refused ‘Chelsea Girls’ a theatrical certificate. It was declared by many as poorly photographed, un-edited and lacking any integral plot line or meaning. Directed by Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol, the artist who propelled the mundane and ordinary into the spotlight, was it any wonder that Warhol’s film technique would be similarly unconventional?
Screentest for Chelsea Girls
Shot in the summer of 1966, ‘Chelsea Girls’ followed the lives of characters living at the New York Chelsea Hotel, many of them known as Warhol’s Superstars. Warhol’s idea for the film allegedly came about in the back room of Max’s Kansas City, a popular hangout for artists and musicians in the 1960s and 1970s, (Debbie Harry waitressed at Max’s before Blondie). According to scriptwriter Ronald Tavel, Warhol took a napkin, drew a line down the centre and wrote ‘B’ and ‘W’ on either side, illustrating the visual concept of the film and the contrasting content of the scenes.
Behind the scenes shot taken of Andy Warhol on set during filming.
As with much of Warhol’s work, the seemingly uneventful overtones masked a darker message. Once hours of footage had been filmed, Warhol and Morrissey selected twelve of the most striking vignettes and projected them side-by-side. These consisted of unedited conversations and monologues, filmed mostly at the Chelsea Hotel and at Warhol’s Factory. ‘Light’ content (both visually and in content) was placed alongside the ‘black’, more disturbing scenes. Fascinated with subverting the norm, two projectors were awkwardly synchronized during screening. While individual sequences were instructed to be played at specific times, each showing of the film would inevitably be entirely unique.
The film’s cast primarily consisted of Warhol’s ‘Superstars’ playing themselves; scenes featured Nico, Brigid Berlin, International Velvet, Rene Ricard and Eric Emerson of punk band The Magic Tramps (all regulars at Max’s Kansas City). Edie Sedgwick, Warhol’s one-time protégée, was notably missing from the film; it is claimed she was under contract to Bob Dylan’s manager at the time, although her scenes were later used in Warhol’s ‘Afternoon’.
Despite receiving mixed reviews, ‘Chelsea Girls’ garnered the most mainstream success of all Warhol’s films. In England, a film poster was commissioned for a special screening at the Arts Laboratory on Drury Lane from artist Alan Aldridge. Self-titled ‘graphic entertainer’, Aldridge was a key figure in the visual culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Working extensively with The Beatles, he fused bold, striking colours with Surrealist notions, perfectly capturing the psychedelic mood of the era. Aldridge’s poster for ‘Chelsea Girls’ centred on a Rene Magritte-inspired image of sixteen-year-old aspiring artist Clare Shenstone; he was issued a warrant for arrest on pornography charges, although these were later dropped. Provocative, stylised and striking, the poster epitomised the raw eroticism and intrusive nature of Warhol and Morrissey’s film; it would later go on to win a Silver Award at the Design and Art Directors Club.
The original poster for the film from which Tim found his inspiration.