“Everybody tastes different. But they all taste pretty good.” – Eric
Warhol’s first national hit, breaking outside the New York underground scene – after the widely-discussed but barely-seen sex/art films and before further success with the Flesh/Trash/Heat movies then franchising his name out to movies like Dracula and Bad on which he exec-produced.
Two 16mm projections side-by-side, Zaireeka-like (or perhaps Napoleon-like). Found the reel numbers/titles online along with projection instructions. Think I found out why it ran longer at the High than the listed runtime. The reels were supposed to overlap more, with no long periods of black on one side waiting for its neighbor to run out. As well as shorter, it would’ve been more interesting without all the black, providing new juxtapositions.
Reel #1, right – Nico In Kitchen
B/W, sound for the first few minutes. Nico (some years after La Dolce Vita) gives herself a haircut in the kitchen, drinks “jungle juice.” Eric Emerson (of Heat and Lonesome Cowboys) and Nico’s son are hanging around. Some camera movement here, but not much in the other reels until the halfway point.
Reel #2, left – Father Ondine & Ingrid
“Pope” Ondine (a Factory speed freak) has shoved two chairs together, a woman (Ingrid Superstar) comes in for “confession.” She never quite takes his title seriously – he asks her questions about her boyfriend then berates her for being a lesbian.
Reel #3, right – Brigid Holds Court
Overweight drug dealer “The Duchess” (Brigid Berlin, who had small parts in a couple John Waters films) talks to another girl, answers the phone.
Reel #4, left – Boys In Bed
Exactly that, slight nudity but no real action, some guys (Ed and Patrick) having a conversation I guess, but no sound.
Reel #5, right – Hanoi Hannah
A girl who kinda looks like a boy (Mary Woronov, bewigged wife in House of the Devil, also in Eating Raoul, Death Race 2000) hangs out in a room with a couple other girls, somewhat bullying and tormenting them. One mostly stays on the floor under the sink. This (and presumably #6) was one of the pre-scripted segments.
Reel #6, left – More Hanoi Hannah and Guests
Same room/cast as on the right, but at a different time and without sound.
Reel #7, right – Mario Sings Two Songs
More of the same guys in bed as #4, with some “female” visitors this time (Mario “Banana” Montez, also of Flaming Creatures) and less nudity.
Reel #8, left – Marie Menken
The first color segment. A visiting mother (Menken, director of Go! Go! Go!) wielding a whip is berating her son (Gerard Malanga of Vinyl) over his treatment of his girlfriend – because the girl (Woronov again, sharply dressed in a white shirt and tie) is sitting in the other bed barely moving and never speaking. Mother and son’s conversation get more shrill until they’re lost in the bad sound recording and the Velvet Underground music (droning ambience), but the camera is very active, scanning back and forth the room.
Reel #9, right – Eric Says All
The source of some lyrics in the Sonic Youth song. Eric Emerson stands there tripping, saying whatever’s on his mind, semi-stripteasing. Nice red lighting, shifting about.
Reel #10, left – Color Lights on Cast
Eric and others stand around, talk (no sound) while colored lights scan over them. They seem to be watching the other Eric to their right.
Reel #11, right – Pope Ondine
The Pope again. This time he physically attacks the girl talking with him (Ronna Page), then tries to justify himself, then kills time waiting for the film to run out, asking an offscreen Paul Morrissey if he can leave early.
Reel #12, left – Nico Crying
Nico silently cries, then just looks into space, while great colored light patterns play over her face.
The idea behind the project was to film various Factory denizens doing what they did best: prattling, prancing, fondling each other, shooting up, screaming, applying makeup, confessing secrets, smacking and upbraiding each other.
Drugs, especially methedrine, were a crucial component of this crowd, and they’re everywhere in The Chelsea Girls. Both Ondine and Brigid Polk shoot up in their sequences, with Ondine doing so ritualistically, while Brigid unceremoniously sticks a needle through her blue jeans.
I don’t get the movie, or Warhol or his “superstars” (the label given to the drug-addled friends he regularly cast in films). But I guess I can see its value as a unique document of the Warhol scene that was inexplicably fascinating people throughout the 1960’s. Probably best expressed by Omar Diop below:
Whether you consider Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls to be fiction or document, it is an event, a rupture in the history of the cinema and an attack on the morality implicit in the image. Chelsea Girls is a monster born in the mind of a dilettante who puts the technical extremism of a Godard to the service of a moral metaphysics of a de Sade. An infernal machine puts on the screen a universe which only obeys its own laws.