Indie rock icon Dean Wareham (ex-Galaxie 500/Luna) and his frequent collaborator Britta Phillips put out a wonderful CD last year—it made my Best of 2010 list—that richly underscores an often overlooked aspect of Andy Warhol’s genius. Wareham and Phillips scored 13 of Warhol’s screen tests, and their evocative music gets to the humanity at the heart of these short films. The BMA’s Warhol: The Last Decade show, which closes January 9, does virtually the same thing, as it sheds light on work that had been largely ignored or dismissed.
Wareham told me he’d seen the Last Decade show during its run at the Brooklyn Museum. “I really liked it,” he said. “It’s a nice, sort of compact size, and it’s full of great work that most people don’t know. But that happens with great artists, doesn’t it? The later work often gets lost.
“It reminds me of recently watching live footage of Elvis from 1973, when he was pretty much considered a joke. But his band was amazing, and so was he. But most people don’t even bother with that stuff.”
He had a similar reaction to the Warhol screen tests. Warhol shot hundreds of them when casting his films, and they’re basically static, black-and-white close-ups of the likes of Dennis Hopper, Salvador Dali, Bob Dylan, and all the Factory regulars stretched out, at times, to a near-excruciating two or three minutes.
“I didn’t know much about the screen tests,” said Wareham, who was commissioned by The Warhol Museum to set some of them to music. “They aren’t widely known, but they’re spooky and beautiful. Some of them feel like a psychological narrative that unfolds over time, and the music really helps bring that out.”
Wareham watched about 150 of them and settled on 13—including Hopper (see above) and Lou Reed—for the 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests CD. He and his band have also been performing the music “live” as the films are screened at venues around the country, and Wareham has been pleased with the results. “Seeing them on the big screen with the music makes for a magical experience,” he said. “It’s an amazing thing, because they have a visual and emotional impact you might not expect. But that’s part of Warhol’s genius, isn’t it?”