Menken on Warhol

WarholJackie

American filmmaker Marie Menken was born on this day in 1909. It was through Charles Henri Ford, as we have seen, that Menken first came into contact with Andy Warhol. Martina Kudláček’s 2006 documentary Notes on Marie Menken (which I can’t recommend highly enough) preserves an encounter between the two on the roof of Menken’s apartment building, in which they spar with cameras, circling each other, lunging and generally goofing off in a way we wouldn’t ordinarily associate with the inscrutable Pope of Pop.

In 1965 Menken produced a short film portrait of Warhol at the Factory. Warhol’s long-term assistant Gerard Malanga, for whom Menken was a kind of mother figure, also features prominently. The pair work with an industry which lives up to the Factory’s name, reminding us that Warhol’s studio wasn’t just a crèche for speed-crazed socialites.

Much of Andy Warhol (in two parts, below) is shot at the frenetic pace familiar from earlier Menken films such as Go! Go! Go!. There’s Warhol making silkscreen prints of Jackie Kennedy, Warhol walking past said images in a repeating loop like a cheap Hanna-Barbera cartoon backdrop, Warhol wrapping Brillo boxes for an exhibition. At the gallery opening, the social whirl speeds up to a blur. One of the few reflective moments in the film comes when Menken goes to an industrial facility where actual Brillo boxes are being loaded onto trucks. She seems to define the art world as a heedless rush of mass production and grinding routine compared to the more rarefied realm of manufacturing and dispatch.

Menken’s best-known cinematic association with Andy Warhol came the following year, with her role in his film Chelsea Girls. It’s unfortunate that her appearance preserves little of the ingenuity, warmth and generosity of spirit remarked upon by all who knew her. Instead she turned in the kind of drunken, cantankerous rant she would occasionally direct at her closeted husband Willard Maas, episodes which so inspired Edward Albee as he was writing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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