Saturday, April 17, 2010

Warhol and the Art of Framing

Recently, we discussed framing in terms of architecture. Framing allows us to see the relationship between architecture and cinema because it allows for the spectator to reconnect with the world in new way. The early film work of Andy Warhol can give us an insight into the power that framing can have on a film.

The aesthetic qualities of Warhol’s early films are seemingly rudimentary. His films were created using static, unedited, one-take shots on black and white film stock with a 16mm Bolex. Warhol reverts back to the techniques of early cinema while others were taking a more modern aesthetic approach to their work. Bergson’s commentary on cinema would apply to much of Warhol’s work since its technicality would have been similar to that of the films of Bergson’s time. However, this is not to downplay the aesthetics of Warhol’s films. His stylistic choices are part of what bring intensity to his work. His films have a minimalist aesthetic, but the subject matter is undoubtedly modern.

Warhol frames his shots in order for the viewer to experience the subject in a new way. He often removes the subject from the world that typically surrounds it in order for the audience to have an unsuspecting encounter with it. This is clearly seen in Empire. Warhol has a shot consisting solely of the Empire State Building. We are used to seeing the building towering above other Manhattan buildings, which make up the whole of the skyline. By seeing the Empire State Building as a singular object instead of a part to a whole, a new relationship with the building is formed.

Warhol’s ability to frame objects in a way to showcase them solely can also be seen in the 500 “living portraits” he shot between 1964 and 1966 know as Screen Tests. The Screen Tests consist of three-minute static shots of individual people. These films were all shot at the Factory, and it is clear that what was happening off camera was often times more exciting than what was happening on camera. Warhol took people out of the world around them in the Factory, away from the whole, to create an entirely new view of that individual. He has the ability to frame shots in way that restricts the viewer from what the human eye would see if they were present at the scene. Ann Buchanan’s emotional response to stimuli off camera would not have been as powerful if we had been allowed insight into what was happening in the world around her. Instead, removing her from the whole and focusing solely on her expression is what makes her particular Screen Test intriguing.


Blow Job serves as a perfect example of how Warhol masters the art of framing. This thirty-five minute film consists of a close up of DeVeren Bookwalter as he supposedly receives a blow job from someone off camera. Whether Bookwalter is actually receiving a blow job or not is left for the viewer to decide. Warhol allows the audience to have just enough information to gain insight into what is happening on screen, without completely giving everything away. He wants you to draw your own conclusions and think differently about what is being presented to you as a viewer.

The beauty of Warhol’s work often lies in its ability to create an attentive response within the zone of indetermination.
The combination of his use of long shots and restrictive framing creates a captivating and sometimes unsettling cinematic experience. What is left out of frame is often what creates an enthralling event for the audience. You are confronted with images in which you are forced to encounter for the duration of the entire film, whether you want to or not.

- Stephanie Class

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