Apr 17, 2014

Vinyl (1965)

Aside from taking credit for other people’s art and making an absurd profit off of it like some Hebraic Hollywood producer or rock manager, Amercan pop (con)artist Andy Warhol’s greatest talent as an (anti)creator was taking an existing piece of work and defiling it to the point of being totally unrecognizable, with his cinematic adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dystopian novella A Clockwork Orange, Vinyl (1965), being an excellent example of this. Indeed, six years before Stanley Kubrick directed his cult masterwork A Clockwork Orange (1971) and unwittingly incited juvenile delinquency in Great Britain (thus resulting in Kubrick’s decision to withdraw the film from distribution in the U.K.), Warhol—who was then somewhat addicted to filmmaking and purportedly spending around $400 a week on his little film experiments at the time—paid a mere $3,000 for the rights to Burgess’ novel and directed a 63-minute adaptation shot in real time that more or less celebrates the antisocial behavior of the classic ‘JD’ figure and demonstrates why the pop artist is arguably the most technically inept filmmaker who has ever been given any serious consideration by film critics and historians. Indeed, despite being a pathologically plodding piece of insipid celluloid incoherence starring a bunch of uniquely untalented ‘cool people’ posturing themselves in a flagrantly narcissistic fashion that is more worthy of being laughed at than emulated (unfortunately, as the wretched No Wave world demonstrated, some people were dumb enough to emulate it), Vinyl is easily one of Warhol’s greatest, if not greatest, and most filmic pre-Morrissey era film production. Penned by off-off-Broadway Warhol collaborator Ronald Tavel (Poor Little Rich Girl, Chelsea Girls) over a 2 or 3 day period into a quasi-screenplay (the actors read their lines from cue cards) of what can only be described as a meta-bastardization of Burgess’ novel, or as the screenwriter described his creative process, “He [Warhol] gave me the idea behind it because Warhol gave me the Burgess book, A Clockwork Orange, and said that he had purchased the film rights from Anthony Burgess, and he wanted me to do it... So, I took the book and read it... but I only used the first half of it because I got bored and just stopped in the middle of the novel,” Vinyl is a hermetic homoerotic ‘chamber piece’ from the banal bowels of Warhol Factory hipster hell where two would-be-poet poof pansies, Gerard Malanga (Gregory J. Markopoulos’ Twice a Man, Michel Auder’s Cleopatra) and Robert Olivo aka ‘Ondine’ (The Loves of Ondine, Sugar Cookies), demonstrate they want to show up American heiress/tragic socialite Edie Sedgwick (The Andy Warhol Story, Ciao! Manhattan) in terms of charisma and sex appeal, which they ultimately fail to do. Indeed, Vinyl is also notable for being the first ‘major’ film Sedgwick starred in (though her first screen appearance was in the Warhol short Horse (1965)) and as screenwriter Tavel explained how she got involved with the project, “... somehow, they [Edie and Chuck Wein] showed up on the set of Vinyl... and they showed up to see it being shot... This really pissed me off because I had rehearsed it for a week […]So, then we rehearsed it for a week... But when she [Sedgwick] showed up with her hair dyed silver, no less... he [Warhol] asked her to sit right on the set. She said, 'What should I do?' He said, 'Well, there's no part for you. So just sit there.' […] And she ended up stealing the film and becoming a star overnight...,” thus demonstrating the hopelessly improvised and amateurish essence of the film. Partly filmed while all the actors were high on poppers (amyl nitrate), which they actually take while on camera, Vinyl is quite arguably the most incriminating cinematic depiction of the drug-addled degeneracy and narcissism-without-talent-to-back-it-up spirit that fueled the pre-Morrissy factory films. 

 Opening more or less than same way as Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange did with a close-up of the face of lead ‘JD’ (aka juvenile delinquent) Victor (played Adonis-like Gerard Malanga in the ‘Alex DeLarge’ role), Vinyl has a strangely ethereal feeling at first, but from there the camera never moves a single other time for the entirety of the film. Indeed, for most of this haphazard piece of cramped celluloid chaos, all of the characters are in the shot, even when they are not acting, with J.D. McDermott (My Hustler) as the ‘cop’ on the left side of the screen smoking a cigarette in a chair, Edie Sedgwick as an ‘extra’ in the right corner smoking a cigarette, Ondine standing in the center of the back like a creep, and various other ‘actors’ standing partially onscreen. At about the 3:20 minute mark, an off-screen narrator announces “Andy Warhol’s Vinyl” (this is repeated at about 30 minutes when cast is named and at about the 56 minute mark where the crew credits are named) and lead Victor soon declares to his poof partner-in-crime ‘Scum Baby’ (Ondine), “We’ll do whatever comes along, Scum…We’ll do whatever comes along, scum baby.” From there, Victor heads to an imaginary place (after all, all action in the film takes place in what seems to be a corner in Warhol’s factory) and begins to assault a young man carrying ‘books’ (aka a large stake of muscle man magazines), sarcastically saying to the poor man, “It is uncommon to see someone who knows how to read, sir […] I have always had the deepest respect for sirs that can read.” Needless to say, Victor trashes the young intellectual's books and declares, “Lets have a little bit of the old ‘up yours,’” where he, with the help of Scum Baby, proceeds to tie up his victim in chains in an S&M sodomite fashion. After what proves to be a sort of substitute sex act for vice-addict Victor (indeed, he gets a sexual thrill out of handing out beatings), he smokes a joint and declares, “Ok… Ok… I am a JD. So what?! I like to bust things up and carve people up and I dig the old ‘up yours’ with plenty of violence so its really tasty. And then, if I get busted by the cops…so what.” So, what the hell, I say. You cannot have JD like me running loose all over the city. Then it is me that loses if I get busted.” 

 And, indeed, as Vinyl progresses, Victor ends up losing as he is finally busted for too much “breaking up China shops and carving up cuties,” but not before dancing like a high hippie moron to Martha and the Vandellas' “Nowhere to Hide” (which is played not once, but twice in a row!) while an old fart Cop (J.D. McDermott) laughs manically and Edie Sedgwick grooves out in a languid and lackluster fashion. After the retarded dance routine, Victor starts a pussy fight with Sir Scum Baby and calls his compatriot “a pig” and “an ape,” but he ultimately gets his ass kicked. After beating his JD comrade up, Scum Baby calls a Cop and Victor is arrested and when the exaggeratedly odious officer of the law asks him why he tried to kill his friend, the Droog dope fiend pseudo-poetically replies, “Scum is already dead. He was born dead,” as if that is some sort of reasonable defense. After talking a bunch of banal shit like a deranged high school principal that gets a hard-on from dishing out punishment to pupils, the Cop tells Victor, “This is an ethical problem. We are going to convert you into a boy who never wants to do bad.” From there, Victor is strapped to a chair, has his hands tied around his back, his shirt ripped open, and is forced to watch brainwashing films by a devlish Doctor (Tosh Carillo). After telling his tormentor, “I see little children having their teeth pulled out by yellow dwarves. I see virgins with long white gowns and gladiators are setting fire to their gods. I see virgins trying to crawl out of the flames. I see the gladiators attempting to push them back into the flames. I hear their screams: ‘Oh, please stop this, stop this’,” while watching the ‘reprogramming’ films, Victor pleads to the Doctor, “Please stop these flickers, Doctor.” Instead of having his pleas for mercy answered, Victor is forced to sport a leather-fag ‘gimp’ mask à la Pulp Fiction (1994) over his head and the torture only gets worse. While being tortured, Victor complains, “How can I be made sane if I feel so much pain now?,” so the Doctor drives his boot into the young man’s genitals in a rather assertive fashion. Ultimately, Victor is ‘cured’ of his affliction and becomes a mindless slave/victim who freely allows people to torture him without any repercussions. Indeed, when Victor attempts to punch the Doctor, he cannot even land the hit and merely gets sick. Ultimately, the last 10 minutes or so of Vinyl climaxes into one of the most passive and uneventful homo S&M orgies in cinema history, with Victor being forced to take poppers, having his haircut, and being forcibly danced around and beaten by the Doctor as if he were a lifeless dummy or the victim of a gang-raping. 

 Believe it nor not, someone actually had the lack of artistic integrity to remake a miserable celluloid mess like Vinyl. Indeed, French-born actor/director Eric Mitchell (Underground U.S.A., The Way It Is)—a member of the so-called ‘no wave’ movement who acted in films like Amos Poe's Unmade Beds (1976) and The Foreigner (1978) and Jim Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation (1980)—directed a quasi-remake of Vinyl entitled Kidnapped (1978).  Unlike Vinyl, Kidnapped is mostly a pathetic punk fantasy with an atrocious art-punk soundtrack where a group of young degenerates kidnap a businessman RAF-style and proceeds to torture him in a chair like Gerard Malanga was in Warhol’s film. The fact that such a technically incompetent and largely incoherent work like Vinyl was such a popular work in the vogue ‘underground’ that it manages to inspire a remake just goes to show how much of a deleterious effect Warhol had on NYC filmmakers (ultimately, inspiring mostly worthless movements like the ‘No Wave’ and ‘Cinema of Transgression’). While largely forgotten and never released in the United States in any home media format (though the Italian company Raro Video did release the film together with the 1966 Warhol directed documentary The Velvet Underground and Nico), Vinyl was, for whatever reason, included in the film reference book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2003) edited by Steven Jay Schneider. 

 To Warhol’s credit, Vinyl is one of the pre-Morrissey efforts that managed to put a smile or two on my face, if not for all the wrong reasons (in my opinion, the work plays out like Warhol-xploitation). While an avant-garde effort, Vinyl, unlike something like Jean Marie-Straub’s similarly statically directed work Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter (1968) aka The Bridegroom, the Actress and the Pimp, is not the least bit pretentious, but instead, pathologically preposterous to the point where one must respect the auteur’s seemingly autistic gall. While I would have liked to have seen nauseatingly narcissistic art fag Gerard Malanga manhandled in sadistic fashion like the demented dick-stabbers of Jacques Scandelari’s New York City Inferno (1978), the fact the actor/poet was ‘tortured’ so impotently by his braindead beatnik buds makes Warhol’s Vinyl all the more entertaining and memorable, as seeing two queens fight always make for a comical scenario. Indeed, Vinyl is 16mm celluloid crap, but it 16mm celluloid crap with character, albeit a character that begs to be ridiculed and critically ravaged. Undoubtedly, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Warhol’s Vinyl make the perfect double feature as they represent the alpha and omega of cult cinema. Vinyl is indisputable proof that you can promote and make a pretty penny off of anything so long as you can convince people it is 'art.'

-Ty E

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