From 1964 to 1966, American pop artist Andy Warhol produced 472 silent, black-and-white film portraits of actors, artists, poets, dancers, filmmakers, musicians and others who passed through his New York City studio, The Factory. Those are collectively known as Warhol’s Screen Tests, and represent an intriguing yearbook-of-sorts of the mid-1960s avant-garde.
The subjects of the Screen Tests were instructed to sit still without blinking for the time it took the 100 feet of film in Warhol’s Bolex camera to run out, which was about two minutes and 45 seconds. A virtually impossible task, the subjects’ attempts — or not — to follow the instructions often provide hints into their psyches. The Screen Tests were projected at two-thirds normal speed, giving them a slightly surreal effect.
Some Screen Tests were used in Warhol’s films, such as The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys and The Thirteen Most Beautiful Women, or were projected while The Velvet Underground and Nico performed in Warhol’s 1966 and 1967 touring multimedia events called The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Pulled from circulation by Warhol in 1970, they were rarely seen until after Warhol’s death in 1987, and then often just in museums.
On Saturday, 13 of Warhol’s Screen Tests will debut in Santa Barbara at Campbell Hall, in the performance 13 Most Beautiful … Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests as part of the UCSB Arts and Lectures series. The Screen Test subjects will include “poor little rich girl” Santa Barbara-native Edie Sedgwick, actor Dennis Hopper, Velvet Underground alums Lou Reed and Nico, and Warhol associates Billy Name and Ingrid Superstar.
The Screen Tests will be accompanied by music performed by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, who played in the Velvets-influenced band Luna (and, earlier for Wareham, in the indie rock trio Galaxie 500). The music mostly will be original songs, but also will include a cover of Velvet Underground rarity “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore” and Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” written for Nico and included on her magical 1967 debut album “Chelsea Girl.”
The performance promises to be a fascinating look — and listen — into the world of Warhol. Tickets are available from the UCSB Arts and Lectures Series; click here or call 805.893.3535.