Vinyl (1965)

I take no side in the ongoing battle of whether conventional narrative cinema (commercial or otherwise) or the “art cinema”, for want of a better description, constitutes the only sort of filmmaking. As such, I tend to get a bit shitty at people (usually the intellectual giants of IMDB) who won’t even consider experimental film to even be film; there’s a lot of the stuff that I personally don’t like either, but at least I’ll concede its right to exist. And then every now and again I encounter something like Vinyl… which I actually did briefly encounter at university; I can’ t remember what class nor why we watched it, but after a few minutes we stopped. And, again, I can’t remember why; suffice to say we were watching a 16mm print of it, so stopping watching it involved more than turning a tape off… Whatever. Everything I’ve read about Warhol’s films suggests an attempt at a kind of anti-cinema, summed up nicely here: “This is a film that aggressively violates every possible idea of making a film, which was probably the point. Think of every aspect of filmmaking—story, acting, mise-en-scene, sound mixing, editing. Vinyl violates every known tenet that exists.” It was instructive to see this so soon after Shadows, which looks like glossy Hollywood professionalism by comparison. And, much more than the Cassavetes film, Vinyl suggests it was a genuine improvisation; although it was fully scripted (an adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, no less, though you’d barely guess), Warhol apparently insisted on shooting the film without letting the actors rehearse, which has, shall we say, consequences for the end result. You really do get the feeling Warhol just told his performers, “I’m just going to leave the camera running over here, just stand in front of it and do stuff”. On a purely conceptual level I suppose it’s kind of interesting as an attempt to see how un-cinematic a film can be; in practice I found the experience pretty much unremittingly awful. Like I said, I can’t remember why we stopped watching it in class one day, but we obviously had the right idea…

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