In many ways, 13 Most Beautiful…Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests is a bit like opening the crypt and releasing some 50-year-old ghosts into the ether.
The multidisciplinary live art/musical concert premiered last night at Theatre Junction Grand in Calgary. It features 13 black-and-white screen tests of “It” girls and boys, shot by Andy Warhol at his legendary Factory in New York between 1963 and 1968.
The four-minute silent flicks are accompanied by commentary and music from Dean & Britta, a four-piece band of contemporary musicians/songwriters from NYC that includes Dean Wareham, Britta Phillips, Matt Sumrow and Anthony Lamarca.
During that five-year period, Warhol was on the hunt for “star power,” and he shot more than 500 portraits of the beautiful people he came across: artists, musicians, models, dancers. And they are enduringly beautiful.
From all that footage, Wareham and Phillips chose only 13 screen tests. Swerve’s Going Out editor Jon Roe recently interviewed Wareham about the process; read his story here.
Some of the ghosts include such luminaries as Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick. In Screen Test No. 308 a dazed, doe-eyed Sedgwick—an actress, socialite and heiress—stares sweetly and vacantly into the camera, her vignette set to the song “It Don’t Rain in Beverly Hills.”
The camera loves a lean, expressive Dennis Hopper in Screen Test No. 155, gorgeously accompanied by the song “Herringbone Tweed.”
Dancer and speed freak Freddy Herko—best known for flinging himself out the window after dancing, naked and high, in a friend’s loft apartment—fiercely smokes a cigarette while we listen to “Incandescent Innocent.”
An expressionless dude in sunglasses sucks back a bottle of Coca Cola (Classic, natch) to “Not a Young Man Anymore.”
He is none other than Lou Reed, who is perhaps the patron saint of the music composed for this brilliant show, as Dean & Britta’s narcotic music is heavily inspired by Reed and the Velvet Underground.
The powerful combination of music and visuals is haunting, made all the more so by the knowledge that many of these young beauties died young, drawn into the maw of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
13 Most Beautiful is not to be missed. — Valerie Berenyi