Stop me if you’ve seen this before – but I’ll be amazed if you have – a short film of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger (although foodie pedants will be shouting “it’s a BEEFburger!”). Jorgen Leth travelled from Sweden with a film crew to capture the moments.
Why? Well, it was part of a set of short films about America, and it fitted very well with Andy Warhol’s art aesthetic of the banal (soup tins) and filming individuals, in one uninterrupted take.
So here he is, the master of mass pop culture, doing the most ordinary American thing, eating the most mass produced food product in a stripped back location.
If you’re still wondering: why? how?…. behold the filmmaker’s commentary version:
Most of the video above is taken up with commentary by the film maker, Jorgen Leth. He provides interesting background to the setup, goes into unnecessary detail on the filming (much exercised that he did not provide a drink along with the food) and is carried away by his own perception of Andy Warhol as a mystical, saintly figure of suffering.
I love this visual curiosity of Andy Warhol – and I think of it quite differently to its director: I think it humanises a person who publicly projected an expressionless surface, and shows he is a human like ourselves, not just a genius far removed from the everyday by the myth of the artist genius.
I love that when the tomato ketchup is reluctant to come out, there is a little quirk of a smile at the corner of his mouth and an involuntary whisper that it’s not coming out. He is amused that in front of the camera rolling, with a one-take wonder, this cannot be repeated. The Swedish film maker is consumed by remorse and embarrassment, but I can see that Andy has a sense of humour – something not always apparent with the frozen mask of his face in photographs of the time. Instantly, I warm to him.
It also begs the question – how much of his life, performance and art was fuelled by a light sense of humour and play? Have some of the grandiose writings about his work as an artist overlooked this? And how much would he be amused by this, if he were to appear today? (I think he would be unsure whether to be baffled or hoot with laughter at how the film-maker describes him as a holy Christ-like figure).
Perhaps this little recording of a snack meal also shows that there is beauty and interest in the mundane, particularly if we are invited to look and have space to think because there isn’t a piece of music slapped onto the soundtrack, imposing its presence, tone and tempo.
We are heading back into the territory of direct cinema here: what is happening in real time, as it happens, without audio commentary or superimposed soundtrack. If you want to see more on that, you’ll find it on this blog by typing in “direct cinema” – particularly the work of Albert Maysles and the recent film “Apollo 11”.