There still needs to be a better word for what Andy Warhol bestowed upon the media-arts world. And not some soul-deadening film-school-sociology term that makes things worse by archly jargonizing. No, we need something fun to say, and sort of knowingly stupid, like “propaglamda.”
Anyway, as a pioneer in the manufacture of prefab celebrity (and its subsidiary industry, bogus intimacy), Warhol got to the core of a question we’re still asking ourselves, now even more naggingly: Just how long can all this posing be sustained?!
Warhol’s so-called “screen tests” are silent, starkly lit moving-picture portraits, shot in the Factory with a stationary Bolex camera, one 100-foot roll at a time, and stretched out to four minutes each in highly glamorizing slo-mo. Between 1964 and 1966, he made nearly 500 such ditties, and some of the people in them are famous, sometimes just from being in them. Or maybe not just from that, but by now does it even matter? Propaglamda, people.
Tonight, as part of an international tour (and its subsidiary industry, an appropriately Warholian publicity blitz), 13 of Warhol’s screen tests will be projected at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, with Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips and their band playing music to go along with them. Sounds like fun.
And yes, we have the sense that any number of today’s indie-pop bands might qualify for this gig, so long as their songs strike a fetching balance between the airy sweetness of whipped cake frosting and the queasy fullness from having eaten too many heaping spoonfuls thereof. But Dean and Britta seem really to deserve it.
Not so long ago, after Britta portrayed the truly outrageous lead singer of the animated band Jem and the Holograms in the ’80s afternoon cartoon series Jem, which you totally do remember, but before she and Dean did the soundtrack for The Squid and the Whale, they were in the band Luna together, honing their indie dream-pop credentials and reinforcing each other’s hotness. Then they upped the insouciant-glamour ante by getting married. They’ve since made a durable musical duo out of simple, hooky changes, faux-naif rhyme schemes and breathy delivery signifying mirth and melancholy in roughly equal measure, plus a few spectral overtones for the sake of nostalgic satisfaction. If anybody has the screen-test sound, it’s these two.
So go ahead and brush those teeth, Baby Jane Holzer. Take another swig from that Coke bottle, weirdly smooth-faced Lou Reed. Cry those confrontational tears, Ann Buchanan. Stay severe for as long as you can, younger Dennis Hopper. And you, Nico, and you, Edie Sedgwick, and you too, vaguely familiar then-famous guy. Yes, that’s it. Do those things you do. We will watch and listen and let the pictures and the music seep in, and let ourselves be lulled. You will be beautiful to us forever. We’ll get propaglamdated like there’s no tomorrow, because maybe the point is that there never was one.