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Warhol's lesser-known work

Wayne Koestenbaum's new book looks at Warhol's films

Although there is no shortage of books on Warhol, this deserves special mention for focussing on the (understandably?) rarely discussed movies, rather than the ubiquitous soup-tins and Marilyns. That is a relief, as is the verve and camp charm of the writing, as fluent as its subject was curt, deadpan and aphoristic, although Mr Koestenbaum’s occasional attempts at the Warholian (“Masculinity, as a system, fails, just as ketchup rarely pours”) fail to impress. Veering like a car with dodgy steering between being the insider who knows where the bodies are buried and the cool dispassionate critic, Mr Koestenbaum (whose advantage may well be that he never met his subject) almost makes Warhol a cineaste rather than a cinedisaster, although how seriously he takes Warhol’s claim that “The nude restaurant” should qualify as an anti-(Vietnam) war movie—because “Viva and Taylor Mead discuss [war] while they sit unclothed at the Mad Hatter, a restaurant distinguished by the nudity of staff and customers”—is hard to judge. He is wise enough to imply that, 40 years on, it probably does not matter so much and, in wry tones, tries not to frighten off the viewers. Despite his disclaimer, “Like Warhol’s camera, I will try your patience...”, his skill is that he does not as we trawl with him through “Blow job”, “Kiss” and “Couch”—titles that promised so much, yet for so many, delivered so little so excruciatingly slowly. Yet even as space and time congealed on celluloid, might it all have been deliberate, a Factory of cogent concepts out-Bergsoning Bergson? Or might it have been down to a cast too lost in time and spaced out to care or notice what they did and how they did it? Finally, after being shot and nearly killed by an ex-fan in 1968, Warhol “stopped seeing creepy people”, as he put it, and went shopping instead. A life for our times, then, in this estimable series (how proud Andy would have been to be bracketed with Brando, Mao and Proust among others): an alluring and lurid little book.

Wayne Koestenbaum, Andy Warhol (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2001), 160 pp, £12.99 (HB) ISBN 0297646303

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Wayne Koestenbaum, Andy Warhol (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2001), 160 pp, £12.99 (HB) ISBN 0297646303'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 123 March 2002