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Andy Warhol’s ‘Chelsea Girls’: Watch the entire 3-hour film online

The wild movie poster by famed illustrator Alan Aldridge

From the Dangerous Minds archive:

Chelsea Girls was Andy Warhol’s first “commercial” success as a filmmaker. Co-directed by Warhol and Paul Morrissey, the film consists of twelve improvised vignettes (two were semi-scripted by playwright Ronald Tavel) featuring the druggy, draggy, seemingly morally-bankrupt freaks who constituted Warhol’s entourage and inner circle.

The film was shot in summer and fall of 1966 in the Hotel Chelsea, at Warhol’s “Factory” studio and in the apartment where the Velvet Underground lived on 3rd Street. Brigid Berlin (“The Duchess”), Nico, Mario Montez, Ondine (“The Pope”), Ingrid Superstar, International Velvet, Rene Richard, Eric Emerson, Gerard Malanga, filmmaker Marie Menken, Ari Boulogne (Nico’s son) a gorgeous young Mary Woronov—who danced with the Velvet Underground as part of “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable”—and others are seen in the film’s three and a quarter-hour running time (the film un-spooled on 12 separate reels). Most cast members are listed by their own names as they were essentially playing themselves.

Chelsea Girls was booked into a prestigious 600 seat uptown theater in New York and actually distributed to theaters across the country. In 1966, it’s unlikely that middle America had any idea that people like this even existed. Cinema-goers in Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington, San Diego and yes, even, Kansas City probably got their first exposure to actual drug addicts, yammering speed-freak narcissists, homosexuals, drag queens and a dominatrix when they watched Chelsea Girls. To Warhol’s delight, the film was even raided by the vice squad in Boston. The theater manager was arrested and later fined $2000 when a judge found him guilty of four charges of obscenity.

Movie critic Rex Reed said “Chelsea Girls is a three and a half hour cesspool of vulgarity and talentless confusion which is about as interesting as the inside of a toilet bowl.”

Tell us how you really feel, Rex!

The film was presented as a split screen, running simultaneously on two projectors with alternating soundtracks. It was a mixture of B&W and color footage. Edie Sedgwick’s vignette was removed from Chelsea Girls at her insistence, but was later known as “The Apartment.” A section originally screened with Chelsea Girls called “The Closet” (about two “children” who lived in one, with Nico and Randy Bourscheidt) was cut and later shown as a separate film.
A young Roger Ebert reviewed it for The Chicago Sun-Times:

For what we have here is 3 1/2 hours of split-screen improvisation poorly photographed, hardly edited at all, employing perversion and sensation like chili sauce to disguise the aroma of the meal. Warhol has nothing to say and no technique to say it with. He simply wants to make movies, and he does: hours and hours of them. If “Chelsea Girls” had been the work of Joe Schultz of Chicago, even Warhol might have found it merely pathetic.

The key to understanding “Chelsea Girls,” and so many other products of the New York underground, is to realize that it depends upon a cult for its initial acceptance, and upon a great many provincial cult-aspirers for its commercial appeal. Because Warhol has become a social lion and the darling of the fashionable magazines, there are a great many otherwise sensible people in New York who are hesitant to bring their critical taste to bear upon his work. They make allowances for Andy that they wouldn’t make for just anybody, because Andy has his own bag and they don’t understand it but they think they should


Ebert hits the nail squarely on the head. Chelsea Girls is actually a fucking terrible “movie.” If you view it as “art” or even as an important cultural artifact of the Sixties (it’s both) then you can give it a pass, and should, but if you’re expecting to be “entertained,” you need to re-calibrate your expectations. Only a few parts of the film are actually engaging (Ondine’s speed-freak monologues; Brigid Berlin poking herself with speed; the “Hanoi Hannah” section with Mary Woronov) the rest of it is… boring.

It looks good and parts of it are “interesting” because you can only hear what’s happening on one side of the split screen and so the silent side becomes somehow more intriguing, but, oh yeah, this is a boring thing to watch. It’s still cool, but yeah it’s boring, if that makes any sense.

Chelsea Girls has been next to impossible to see since its original releaseat least until it got uploaded to YouTube—usually screening just a few times a year around the globe. I caught it myself in the (appropriately) sleazy surroundings of London’s legendary Scala Cinema in 1984. There were probably six people there, including me. I admit to falling asleep for a bit of it, but I think everyone probably does.
This video comes from an Italian DVD that was given a very limited released in 2003. Probably the best way to watch this is to hook your computer to your flatscreen and do something else, sort of half paying attention, while Chelsea Girls is on in the background.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Bird of Prey: Udo Kier’s Music Video for Der Adler

Famed cult actor extraordinaire Udo Kier is a demigod for those of us with a palate for both art house and exploitation. The man has been bringing his own brand of presence and charisma to the silver screen, of which the likes haven’t been seen since Conrad Veidt. Kier’s filmography alone is a paean to the weird and wonderful world of fringe film making, ranging from Dario Argento’s horror masterwork, Suspiria to Paul Morrissey’s double threat of Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein to Lars Von Trier’s The Idiots and Melancholia. Kier was even in The German Chainsaw Massacre, which by title and cast alone is something I desperately need to see. He’s also flirted with the mainstream, appearing in everything from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to Blade and more recently, an episode of the TV show, Chuck.

But I am not here to regale you with tales of Kier’s idiosyncraticly impressive acting resume. Not at all, because in addition to being a phenomenal actor, Kier also made a music video where he turns into a bird of prey! In 1985, Kier wrote and recorded a song entitled, “Der Adler” and made one incredible video for it. It truly has to be seen to be believed, featuring Kier as a haunted businessman with a loving family that he seems detached from. He becomes obsessed with power until he ultimately transforms into a hawk. There’s lot of great horror-type imagery, including one shot of Kier writhing on the bathroom floor in elegant attire, no doubt an homage to his turn in Blood for Dracula.

Unfortunately, “Der Adler” is the only song that Kier has recorded to date. It would be interesting to see what he would do nowadays music-wise, especially since he’s still very much active creatively. The whole stark-Euro synth feel of the song works perfectly with the lyrics, as well as the visuals. Kier did some promotional work for the single in Europe, in particular appearing on German television. To my knowledge, the only notable appearance of the song in the US was Kier performing a section of it during the infamous lamp dance in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho.

So if you have lots of love in your stir-crazy heart for Udo Kier like I do, plus have a weakness for sinister Euro-synthpop, then you must check out “Der Adler”. Enjoy!

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
Room 666: Wim Wenders asks fellow Directors about the state of Cinema, from 1982

During the Cannes Film Festival in 1982, Wim Wenders set-up a static camera in a room at the Hotel Martinez. He then invited a selection of directors to answer a series of questions on the future of cinema:

“Is cinema a language about to get lost, an art about to die?”

The directors, in order of appearance were:

Jean-Luc Godard
Paul Morrissey
Mike De Leon
Monte Hellman
Romain Goupil
Susan Seidelman
Noël Simsolo
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Werner Herzog
Robert Kramer
Ana Carolina
Maroun Bagdadi
Steven Spielberg
Michelangelo Antonioni
Wim Wenders
Yilmaz Güney

Each director was alloted 11 minutes (one 16mm reel of film) to answer the questions, which were then edited together by Wenders and released as Room 666 in 1982. Interestingly each director is positioned in front of a television, which is left on throughout the interview. It’s a simple and effective film, and the most interesting contributors are the usual suspects. Godard goes on about text and is dismissive of TV, then turns tables by asking Wenders questions; Fassbinder is distracted (he died within months) and quickly discusses “sensation oriented cinema” and independent film-making; Herzog is the only one who turns the TV off (he also takes off his shoes and socks) and thinks of cinema as static and TV, he also suggests movies in the future will be supplied on demand; Spielberg is, as expected of a high-grossing Hollywood film-maker, interested in budgets and their effect on smaller films, though he is generally buoyant about the future of cinema; while Monte Hellman isn’t, hates dumb films and tapes too many movies off TV he never watches; all of which is undercut by Turkish director Yilmaz Güney, who talks the damaging affects of capitalism and the reality of making films in a country where his work was suppressed and banned “by some dominant forces”.

With thanks to Tara McGinley, via The World’s Best Ever

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Andy Warhol Sued for Child Porn, Torture

Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey are accused of violating child pornography laws in a 1964 film directed by Morrissey called All Aboard The Dreamland Choo Choo. The suit was filed in 2009 against Warhol’s Estate and Morrissey by a lawyer representing the grown children of Richard Toelk. Toelk appeared in the film when he was 14, rolling and smoking what might or might not be a joint, giving himself electrical shocks and plunging a small knife into his leg. It is strong stuff, but how much of it was staged? Toelk died in 1990 so he’s not telling.

Morrissey has said that All Aboard The Dreamland Choo Choo was intended to send an anti-drug message and it was made a year before he met Warhol. The title of the film came from a Shirley Temple song that he would play during the silent film’s screening.

Emily Larish of The Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law doesn’t think Toelk’s children have much of a case and may actually be exploiting their father more than Warhol and Morrissey ever did:

Assuming the depiction of Toelk in All Aboard The Dreamland Choo Choo can be considered sexual exploitation, if the footage was filmed in 1964, then it could not have been in violation of federal child pornography laws; the first federal laws aimed at child pornography were not enacted until the late 1970s. As for the claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress for damaging the family’s image, it is hard to imagine that many people have even seen the film, certainly not in recent years. Moreover, even out of those who have seen the film, I doubt that many would be able to identify the young boy smoking pot as Richard Toelk, the father of the plaintiffs.

It seems that this family is attempting to do the very thing for which they are accusing the defendants: exploiting the images of a young Richard Toelk for financial gain.

You can read the complaint here

Watch the rarely seen All Aboard The Dreamland Choo Choo and make up your own mind…or don’t. In my opinion the self-torture looks no more real than what you’d see in a mainstream horror movie. The film seems to want to dramatize a young man’s desperate need to feel something, anything, some kind of kick. It’s certainly not porn. And the young actor doesn’t appear to be suffering the kind of pain you’d feel after plunging an Exacto knife in your leg. It looks like theater to me.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment