Monday, September 15, 2008

Warhol's Empire an experiment in perception

Warhol's Empire an experiment in perception

Nancy Tousley, Calgary Herald
Published: Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Calgary Cinematheque presents Empire, a film by Andy Warhol, from
4 p.m. until midnight tonight.
Tickets include in-and-out privileges.
- - -

Think of it this way: Andy Warhol's Empire is a classic of '60s
underground film, a forerunner of reality TV, a precursor of web-cam images.

Made in 1964, Empire consists of one dusk to dawn long-shot of the
Empire State Building in New York City. It was filmed from 8:06 p.m.
to 2:42 a.m. on July 24 and 25. The footage is silent and the camera
never moves.

Depicting a monumental subject, the tallest building in the city of
New York, the film itself is monumental. The running time is eight
hours and five minutes. Real time and film time might appear to be
the same, but the film was shot at 24 frames a second and projected
at 16 to make it longer. Showings of Empire at full-length are rare.

The Calgary screening, which is both a film event and an art event,
is presented by the Calgary Cinematheque to open its second season
with a print from the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Warhol, perhaps the most influential artist of the second half of the
20th century, proclaimed "The Empire State Building is a star!" Like
his '60s silk-screen portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor or
Elvis, it becomes a portrait of an icon.

But according to Warhol, the purpose of the film, his most famous and
influential cinematic work, was "to see time go by."

Warhol directed and avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas, film columnist
of the Village Voice, was the cinematographer. They shot the building
out of a south-facing window in the offices of the Rockefeller
Foundation on the 44th floor of the Time-Life Building, which gave
them an unobstructed view.

The passage of time is marked by the waning daylight, lights going on
and off in the building, and the occasional brief and ghostly
appearance of Warhol and Mekas as reflections in the window. When
they changed film reels, they turned on the lights in the room they
used for filming and, in three reels, they started shooting again
before the lights had been turned off.

"Warhol conceived a new relationship of viewer to film in Empire and
other early works, which are silent, explore perception, and
establish a new sense of cinematic time," says the Museum of Modern Art.

Empire was added to the National Film Registry in the U.S. Library of
Congress in 2004, in recognition of its cultural, historical and
esthetic significance and to ensure preservation of the original film reels.

Think of it this way: to watch Empire is an experience of perception,
a meditative experience, a test of human endurance. Ticket holders
will be allowed to come in and go out during the screening. Start
early, take a dinner break. There should be a prize for the viewer
who logs the most hours. But do watch it long enough to see how
Empire functions as the revolutionary work of art that it is.


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