Chelsea Girls

Warhol was a prodigious film maker, in part due to the way he made films. It’s not quite true to say, as some have observed, that he simply started the camera running and walked away, much as some of his more minimal films might feel that way. In his own, vague manner, he was a decisive presence, but he seemed more interested in capturing the off-the-cuff, improvised ‘performances of real life’ that made the stars and hangers-on of his Factory artspace / loft so intriguing – and sometimes, infuriating. Chelsea Girls, his first major commercial success in film, is as good a documentation as you’ll get of the Factory scene, with most of the key characters in Warhol’s retinue – Gerard Malanga, International Velvet, Ondine, Mary Woronov, Nico – up on the screen. You can sense, in Chelsea Girls, the strange energies circling around the Factory, and the legendary Chelsea Hotel, where some of the film was shot, but you can also get some feel for just how interested Warhol was in the possibilities of film as form, and as material for projection. This meant that Chelsea Girls was to be projected as a double-screen film, two reels playing out at once, never in strict alignment (so each projection would be unique), with sound alternating between the left and right screens, making for all kinds of unexpected resonances between the reels. It’s a tour de force of anomie and anxiety, notable most of all for a scene-stealing performance from fellow film maker Marie Menken.

  • Jon Dale