Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Blow Job (1963)



Blow Job (Andy Warhol, 1963)

Traditionally, the value of the close-up is for emphasis. As opposed to the long shot or the medium shot wherein the visual frame allows a greater area for both space and movement, the close-up is constricted and limited but the degree of detail is vaster. The most famous close-ups in our cinematic history take advantage of this unique value of the close-up. The subject matter of the close-up is most often the human face or a selected portion of it since the subtlest of emotions can be most accurately displayed by the minute movements of the mobile contours of the face. Done correctly, the close-up is an invaluable tool for filmmakers most especially to connect at a more intimate level to their proposed audiences.

This traditional use of the close-up is mutated and experimented with by Andy Warhol in his short film Blow Job. The film consists of several reels, all totaling to around 35 minutes of footage filmed from Warhol's 16-millimeter Bolex camera. The footage is a close-up of a young man supposedly receiving the titular sexual activity. Warhol's black and white visual frame is cramped: we see the man's head, a portion of his clothes, the background of The Factory's brick wall. His camera is immobile; the only invocation of human wit in this short film is Warhol's inspired brainstorming. Everything else is mechanical --- from the offscreen oral sex, its natural consequences to the subject receiver, the act of capturing the receiver's facial reactions through the wonders of the recording machine.

The close-up, from being a tool for emphasis, intimation and relation, turns into Warhol's method for oppression, as artist to his audience. The audience is subjected to the repetitive footage, witnessing the reaction but unable to actually partake of the act, or at least witness everything in long-shot entirety. The close-up strictly limits the edges of the cinematic canvass. The camera's immobility is almost suffocating. The only clue to what is happening, the short film's title, only increases our painful curiosity.

The close-up of the face, far from revealing the subtleties of human emotion, is used to manifest the blunt and the already obvious --- that of extreme pleasure and sexual satisfaction derivedfrom the sexual act. Instead of emphasis, Warhol utilizes the limitations of the close-up for sensual deprivation. The deprivation results in what some viewers consider is irresistably and near torturously sexy to downright frustrating. In my opinion, that sensory deprivation is actually very funny, an ingenious way of subversion by Warhol of the restrictive norms during that time by sacrificing the exact thing that makes supposed indecent cinema indecent, but retaining the heart and soul of the act.

The anecdote behind the film proves to be more telling than the film itself (you can cheat yourself of the frustrating yet rewarding experience by treating the story as the long shot that precedes the close-up, betraying Warhol's experimentation to the comforts of conventional cinema). DeVeron Bookwalter, the recipient of the blow job, wasn't the original choice to be the subject of the short film (neither was Willard Maas, Warhol's co-filmmaker who gave the blow job). The original choice was Charles Rydell, significant other of filmmaker Jerome Hill, who was lured into lending his face with five handsome young men giving fellatio. Rydell didn't take the offer seriously and never showed up in time for the shoot forcing Warhol to get Bookwalter, who was in The Factory at that time, to complete the picture.

Oppressive, playful but distinctly artful, Blow Job with its persistent close-up of Bookwalter's face is both mysterious and alarming. The depicted human quality is base and unspecial, yet it only mirrors something modern humanity has sought to hide for many decades --- our common and inherent ability for pleasure.

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This post is my contribution to The House Next Door: Close-Up Blog-A-Thon.

14 comments:

dodo dayao said...

Hi oggs. Nice, nice.

Where'd you get a hold of this? Been wanting to watch this for so long it's attained some kind of legendary status in my mind. Hehe. Am a bit of a Warhol junkie from artschool but some of his films are a bit hard to find and some - - - Empire and Sleep - - -apparently hard to watch,too. Chelsea Girls, though,is cool.

Oggs Cruz said...

I must admit, Blow Job is my first Warhol and his works are quite intriguing. I saw this documentary in a hotel in Hong Kong where they showed snippets of Hair Cut... the few minutes that I saw (which is probably the entire thing in repetition) is brilliant and mesmerizing, especially considering that Warhol just mounted his Bolex camera and filmed his subjects.

dodo dayao said...

Warhol's a fascinating character in his own right. A lot of his stuff's wildly interesting - - - whether its prose, art, music or film.

chard bolisay said...

This is interesting. I haven't had much exposure to Warhol, except for those Campbell soups and Monroe figures I used to see in art books. (And also that film that ran for loooong hours with just a shot of a building). Your description of close-ups somehow reminded me of Falconetti's in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Quite irreverent, I reckon, for this one is about blow job. :D I hope Quiapo Cinematheque would have this one in the future.

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Chard, that's probably Empire you're talking about (haven't seen it though but it was made the same time Blow Job was made). If the Quiapo HMV doesn't have it, the web's the way to go.

dodo dayao said...

Empire probably works beter as an installation piece than a film film but it's an interesting concept. The stuff he did with Paul Morrisey was also interesting although it's been awhile since I saw them. If you're interested in Warhol,Chard, try looking for his Chelsea Girls at the Q. Also the book A: A Novel and the album Velvet underground and Nico, which he produced and made the cover art for.(The famous banana)

dodo dayao said...

Oh and thanks for the ticket, oggs. Endo was terrific. Didn't stay for the talk, though, had to go to an exhibit. :)

Oggs Cruz said...

I'm glad you liked Endo, Dodo. It's too bad it's not getting enough attention since it's probably the only film in this year's Cinemalaya that succeeded completely in what it was trying to do...

You've seen Empire in its entirety (isn't it around 8 hours of just a building? I read somewhere that Warhol's films weren't really meant to be shown in theaters but were supposedly displayed in walls during parties, thus their seemingly eternal quality).

dodo dayao said...

Agree on Endo, oggs. Nice rhythm, specially the dialogue. Should get a lot more buzz than it's getting. Have only seen that and Tribu from this year's Cinemalaya crop. Anything else worth checking out?

Haven't seen Empire in its entirety,no. Snippets. It is just hours and hours of the Empire State Building. Just heard/read so much about it during college. And yeah, he meant for it to be an installation piece or as ambience, I think.

Oggs Cruz said...

I guess it's safe to check out Pisay and Tukso, only because both Solito and Marasigan are interesting filmmakers. The rest, watch at your own risk. What did you think of Tribu?

dodo dayao said...

It was . . .OK. The acting's terrific - - -those kids made the movie compulsively watchable. I also like the sprawling ,almost plotless structure, those random breaks into rap song. But then it tries to rein it all into a melodrama and it loses me, feels contrived. I mean, we've seen all this stuff before in way too many gang melodramas, good and bad, and there's really nothing new here being said in the first place- - - plus the sloppy directing in the rumble just made things worse. The final scene did hit me but it would've been truly gut-wrenching if the movie hadn't bothered with belaboring its gangsta soap opera. Still, not bad. And more power to Jim Libiran - - he's a one man argument for never too late.

Oggs Cruz said...

Exactly... I thought the non-actors were better than the real actors... and Libiran has passion, just a bit more discipline and he's good to go.

chard bolisay said...

Interesting! Endo is lovely. Tribu is hyped. And Pisay is lousily directed. Hahaha. I have that Velvet Underground album, from where else?, and it was brilliant. Not much exposure to Velvet though, I'm more into punk rock in the 70's and 80's (except Sex Pistols). Too bad I never learned how to download. Huhu.

Oggs Cruz said...

Learn to download chard, there's so much in the net that it's a sin, especially for us deprived of the kind of art we want to have, to not take advantage of it.