Rich Wilhelm

Archive for July, 2014|Monthly archive page

Warhol’s “Empire”: 50 Years Ago Tonight

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2014 at 2:55 am

Fifty years ago tonight, Andy Warhol and cinematographer Jonas Mekas set themselves up in the Time-Life Building and filmed the Empire State Building for over six straight hours. The result was Andy’s notorious movie, Empire. Notorious in that it is a marathon film (over eight hours long because of the speed at which it was filmed) of nothing but a single shot of the Empire State Building from around 8:00 p.m. on July 25, 1964 through a little bit after 2:00 a.m. on July 26, 1964. That’s it.

But is that really it? Think about it. Warhol pointed a camera at what was then the tallest building in the world, in one of the most populous cities in the world. While viewers of Empire don’t see anybody, there were potentially thousands, if not millions of people within the dark cityscape of New York City being filmed 50 years ago tonight. What were all of those unseen people doing? Working late? Watching television? Making love? Conceiving children? Dying? I think it’s safe to say that a full range of human activity happened in NYC that night, some of it within the area captured by Warhol and Mekas on film that night. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

And that, to me, is what is fascinating and paradoxical about Empire: a movie without a single human being in it–though I believe that a reflection of either Mekas or Warhol can be briefly seen in a window as a film reel is being changed–is, underneath the surface, teeming with all the stuff of which life is made. You just can’t see it.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

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