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Walter Cronkite introduces America to the Velvet Underground on national TV, 1965

On the last day of 1965, viewers tuning into CBS were treated to a 6-minute report presented by Walter Cronkite himself called “The Making of an Underground Film”; DM’s Richard Metzger wrote about it last year. CBS’ news story prominently mentioned and showed a new band named the Velvet Underground—their first time on TV, ever.

The actual focus of the story was the underground movie scene, in particular an experimental filmmaker named Piero Heliczer. When CBS came a-callin’ to do its story, Heliczer was shooting a 12-minute short called Dirt, featuring the Velvet Underground, and that was the scene Heliczer happened to be shooting that day. (For some reason none of the fellows in the band are wearing a shirt.) Heliczer was actually an important figure in the development in VU’s sound, as we shall see below.

Reporter Peter Beard begins his report standing outside the Bridge, a theater located on 4 St. Marks Place in the East Village, an early center for alternative arts. In fact you can plainly see the word “FUGS” next to Beard on the facade of the Bridge. Remarkably, Cronkite interviews “the godfather of American avant-garde cinema,” Jonas Mekas and the undisputed king of über-experimental abstract movies, Stan Brakhage. CBS even shows more than 30 seconds of a Brakhage movie, presumably part of Two: Creeley/McClure, which is predictably a rapid-fire montage of stutter-y and blurry images—it almost feels like CBS’ little joke on the underground scene. Naturally, CBS also looks at Warhol’s Sleep and documents Warhol filming one of his own parties, at which Edie Sedgwick is joyousy bopping away.

One impetus for the CBS story was an interest in this new phenomenon, “underground” art. In Victor Bockris’ Up-Tight: The Velvet Underground Story, Sterling Morrison explains:

Whenever I hear the word “underground,” I am reminded of when the word first acquired a specific meaning for me and for many others in NYC in the early Sixties. It referred to underground cinema and the people and lifestyle that created and supported this art form. And the person who first introduced me to this scene was Piero Heliczer, a bona fide “underground film-maker”—the first one I had ever met.

On an early spring day John [Cale] and I were strolling through the Eastside slums and ran into Angus [MacLise] on the corner of Essex and Delancey. Angus said, “Let’s go over to Piero’s,” and we agreed.

It seems that Piero and Angus were organizing a “ritual happening” at the time—a mixed-media stage presentation to appear in the old Cinematheque. … It was to be entitled “Launching the Dream Weapon,” and it got launched tumultuously. In the center of the stage there was a movie screen, and between the screen and the audience a number of veils were spread out in different places. These veils were lit variously by lights and slide projectors, as Piero’s films shone through them onto the screen. Dancers swirled around, and poetry and song occasionally rose up, while from behind the screen a strange music was being generated by Lou, John, Angus, and me.

For me the path ahead became suddenly clear—I could work on music that was different from ordinary rock & roll since Piero had given us a context to perform it in. In the summer of 1965 we were the anonymous musicians who played at some screenings of “underground films,” and at other theatrical events, the first of which was for Piero’s films (I think that Barbara Rubin showed “Christmas on Earth” and Kenneth Anger showed a film also).


Around this time, somehow, CBS News decided that Walter Cronkite should have a feature on an “underground” film being made. By whatever selection process, Piero was able to be the “underground film-maker”; since he had already decided to film us playing anyway, we got into the act (and besides, we had “underground” in our name, didn’t we? Maybe someone at CBS reads Pirandello).



Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Incandescent Innocent: Dean and Britta score Andy Warhol’s screen tests

At the peak of his fame and influence, from 1964 to 1966, Andy Warhol created somewhere around 500 (the number 472 popped up in my research, as seen below) so-called “screen tests.” Every screen test was a single close-up take of an individual in front of the camera lasting a little shy of three minutes—the idea was that Warhol would run them at two-thirds speed, which resulted in movies about four minutes long each. The short movies that resulted had a consistency of aesthetic feel and featured a wide variety of people, who can be roughly classified into three groups: Factory mainstays, famous people, and un-famous people. Warhol said that he did screen tests for anyone who possessed “star potential.”

As Geralyn Huxley, curator of film and video at the Andy Warhol Museum, wryly points out, “none of them appear to have been used for the purpose of actually testing or auditioning prospective actors.” Some notable people who consented to undergo the Warhol screen test treatment are John Ashbery, Marcel Duchamp, Cass Elliott, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Yoko Ono, Salvador Dalí, Donovan, and Susan Sontag.

In 2008 the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh approached Dean and Britta to “create soundtracks” for 13 of the screen tests and perform them on stage. As members of Luna, a band that had toured with the Velvet Underground in 1993, Dean and Britta (who are doing kind of a version of Lou and Nico anyway, eh?) were a highly apropos choice for the project. In 2010 it became an album called 13 Most Beautiful… Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests (there is also a DVD).

The track titles on the album are very redolent of the Factory as well as the general VU scene: “Silver Factory Theme,” “Teenage Lightning (And Lonely Highways),” “Incandescent Innocent,” and “Knives From Bavaria.” In addition to much original Luna-esque music of the gorgeous and dreamy variety, the album featured covers of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” and VU’s “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore.”

In 2012 LuxeCrush asked Dean and Britta about the project:

LuxeCrush: How did this “13 Most Beautiful…” project, pairing your music with Andy Warhol stills, come about? I love the interdisciplinary film/music idea!

Wareham: We were approached by Ben Harrison at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; he described the hundreds of films that the Museum had access to (Warhol made 472 Screen Tests) and asked could we pick thirteen of them and create soundtracks to perform live on stage.

LuxeCrush: What is your favorite Warhol art work, moment or saying? And did either of you ever get to meet Andy?

Wareham: Neither of us ever met Andy. But I love watching him answering interview questions. Where most artists are trained to give long-winded theoretical explanations of why they paint a particular way, he would just say “because it’s easy.” Warhol never ceases to amaze me. We are used to seeing the same famous images again and again (Marilyn, Coke Bottles, soup cans, etc.), but there is so much more, from his early drawings for department stores to his late paintings, paintings for children, TV shows, films. He had a way of turning things upside down.

Lots of lovely and stirring videos of Dean & Britta scoring the screen tests after the jump…...

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
The Making of an Underground Film: Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol and a ‘topless’ Velvet Underground

There is simply too much pork for the fork in this wild CBS Evening News report on the then-new phenomenon of “underground films” from New Year’s Eve of 1965/66.

Seen here are Piero Heliczer filming the Velvet Underground, along with testimony from Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, a gorgeous young Edie Sedgwick, Al Aronowitz (the rock journo who introduced The Beatles to Dylan—and pot), Willard Van Dyke of the Museum of Modern Art, Chuck Wein, even shirtless and bodypainted Lou Reed and John Cale. Angus MacLise, who was still in the group when this was shot makes an appearance as well.

I think it’s safe to say that this is probably the first and so far at least, only time an excerpt from a Stan Brakhage film was ever shown on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

Thank you Michael Simmons!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick on ‘The Merv Griffin Show,’ 1965

Merv Griffin was always known for having slightly more outre guests than most of the other daytime talkshows of his era, but this October 6, 1965 interview with a nearly mute Andy Warhol and a much more talkative Edie Sedgwick must’ve been quite perplexing to American housewives when it originally aired.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
It Girl: Life-size zombie Edie Sedgwick sculpture
12:29 pm

Pop Culture

Edie Sedgwick

Although it doesn’t explicitly say so anywhere, it seems pretty obvious to me that this life-size sculpture “Broken girl” by Adnagaporp is meant to be Warhol Superstar Edie Sedgwick. 

Well, a zombie Edie, anyway.


Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Bob Dylan’s ‘screen test’ at Andy Warhol’s Factory, 1965

Dylan, Warhol and Elvis, photo by Nat Finkelstein

Famous visitors and “beautiful people” with “star potential” who visited Andy Wahol’s Factory studio in the 1960s were often shot for Warhol’s “screen tests,” his silent “parodies” of the Hollywood studio system. No one was really auditioning for anything, it was just an excuse to run a single reel of 16mm film through his Bolex camera and engage someone in a staring contest with it, one they normally lost (after a minute or so of trying to look “cool,” the mask was normally dropped and the simple portraits become quite revealing). The two and a half minute reels were then slowed down and printed.

Some of the more notable subjects included Italian model Benedetta Barzini, model/actrress Marisa Berenson, poet Ted Berrigan, Salvador Dalí, Donovan, Marcel Duchamp, Mama Cass, Allen Ginsberg, Beck’s mother, Bibbe Hansen, Baby Jane Holzer, Dennis Hopper, actress Sally Kirkland, Nico, Yoko Ono, Lou Reed, photographer Francesco Scavullo, Edie Sedgwick, Susan Sontag, artist Paul Thek, Viva and Mary Woronov

When Dylan stopped by the tin-foil covered Factory, he is alleged to have taken an immediate dislike to Warhol and the “phonies” of his entourage. It has long been suspected that the spitting lyrics of “Like a Rolling Stone,” in part, describe Dylan’s feelings about Warhol—was he “the diplomat on the chrome horse”?—and how he felt about the artist’s perceived exploitation of Edie Sedgwick, who Dylan was at one point romantically involved with (and who was his muse for some of Blonde on Blonde).

After the screen test was shot, Dylan grabbed a large silkscreen (as “payment”) that Warhol was going to give him anyway and headed for the door (before allegedly strapping the canvas to the roof of a station wagon). Such was his dislike of the artist that he later traded the piece to his manager, Albert Grossman, for a couch. That silkscreen, “Double Elvis,” is now part of the permanent collection at MOMA.

Here’s Factory photographer Nat Finkelstein’s account of what happened:

“Andy gave Bobby a great double image of Elvis. Bobby gave Andy short shrift. Shooting and plundering finished, the Dylan gang headed for the door, me and my Nikon on their heels. They left as they had entered…‘Bobby the Waif’ emerging as ‘Robert the Triumphant’. They departed having tied the Elvis image to the top of their station wagon, like a deer poached out of season. Much later, Bobby told me he’d traded the Elvis (now worth millions) to his manager Albert Grossman for a couch!”


Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Factory Photographer Nat Finkelstein Dies

Nat Finkelstein, “court photographer” from ‘64 to ‘67 for Andy Warhol‘s Factory has died at his home in Shandaken, New York:

Mr. Finkelstein created spontaneous portraits not only of Factory regulars like Edie Sedgwick and Gerard Malanga but also of the artists and celebrities who drifted in and out of the Warhol orbit.  He was on hand when Warhol presented Bob Dylan with one of his Elvis ?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment