“[My films are] better talked about than seen.” Thus Andy Warhol in a 1987 interview in Flash Art.
Warhol couldn’t have summed up his film work anymore concisely, for the sheer length of his early still life movies (one only need think of the eight-hour exercise in endurance in the form of Empire) plus the fact that Warhol consciously withdrew his films from circulation in 1972 led to more conjecture than a fundamental engagement with them.
Only a few had seen his films in their entirety. Possibly because Warhol’s filmic oeuvre is estimated to comprise more than 4,000 reels, ca. 150 films, and 472 Screen Tests—an unimaginable wealth of material that was created in just five years (1963–1968). Initially these were 16 mm silent films in black and white; later they took on color and sound.
The fifty-eight minute silent film Kiss is one of these early examples. The title does exactly what it says: Kiss shows a series of close-up sequences of people kissing, each four minutes long. Infamous Warhol actors such as Naomi Levine, Gerard Malanga, Baby Jane Holzer, and John Palmer all feature. The twist: Warhol shocked his then audience by infiltrating the series with a pairing that was scandalous for the time: instead of the usual sight of a heterosexual couple, one of the reels presents two men kissing. A form of “gay code” that Warhol often already used in his early work.
Following the style of the silent film genre, Warhol also purposefully played with the playback speed: thus Kiss was filmed at twenty-four frames per second but then shown at only sixteen. The slowing down of the playback led to the increasingly powerful stasis of the moving image and shows once again how keenly Warhol explored the boundaries of different forms of media.
Kiss can be seen in the exhibition ANDY WARHOL EXHIBITS a glittering alternative alongside the still life movies Eat, Sleep, Empire, and Blow Job, films that Warhol staged repeatedly within an exhibition context. It is why they are being presented here using an approach that Warhol himself repeatedly used: a background of live radio. Thus Radio Wien underlies the film Kiss, FM4 Blow Job, Ö1 Empire, Ö3 Sleep, and Radio Niederösterreich Eat. Views updated with a contemporary accompaniment.