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blow up hollywood - Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, 8/7/2009

  by John Clarkson

published: 28 / 7 / 2009

blow up hollywood - Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, 8/7/2009


In the unusual setting of the Dunfermline Carnegie Hall, John Clarkson watches former Luna stars Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips play the UK premiere of '13 Most Beautiful...', a haunting live music soundtrack to the rarely seen 'Screen Tests' of Andy Warhol

The Dunfermline Carnegie Hall is not a venue where you might expect a UK premiere to take place. The posters that adorn its foyer publicise its forthcoming attractions as including an amateur theatre production of ‘Mother Goose’ and a gig from revived 60’s act, the Searchers. Yet it is here in this beautiful, but sleepy small Fife town, rather than twenty miles across the Firth of Forth in Edinburgh, or further away still Glasgow, that indie rockers, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, have chosen to launch in the UK (and in fact play their only British date for) the new multi-media presentation that they are currently touring Europe with. The former Galaxie 500 and Luna stars and husband-and-wife are in Dunfermline to promote ’13 Most Beautiful...’, their live music soundtrack to Andy Warhol’s ‘Screen Tests’, a rarely seen collection of short black-and-white silent film portraits that the artist and filmmaker shot in his New York studio, the Factory, between 1964 and 1966. Their choice of venue is, however, not as odd as it might initially seem. The Dunfermline Carnegie Hall, built in commemoration to the town’s most famous son, the Scottish-born American émigré and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, is a miniaturised, small-scale version of the better known building and music hall, which Carnegie built, in Wareham and Phillips’ home city of New York. The ’13 Most Beautiful...’ project has also been commissioned by the Andy Warhol Museum, one of the four Carnegie Museums. Much of the audience that have almost filled this 540 seat venue are Dunfermline locals, intrigued and also delighted at the abnormality of this rare event. Yet for those who have travelled through from Edinburgh, the majority of whom will have never been to the Carnegie Hall and perhaps even Dunfermline before, it has been a surprisingly easy journey, thirty minutes across the Forth Rail Bridge by train and another ten minutes wander through a local park on a gloriously sunny evening. A large video screen sits in the middle of the stage. Over five hundred of the screen tests were made. Wareham, who sings main vocals and plays guitar, and Phillips, who is on bass, keyboards and occasional vocals, have had a lot to choose from. As Warhol, who for parties or other events would create subseries of the films and give them a title beginning ‘The 13 Most Beautiful...’, himself used to do, they have, however, pared them down to just thirteen. They are accompanied by fellow New Yorkers and multi-instrumentalists, Anthony LaMarca, who plays mainly drums, and Matt Sumrow, who appears largely on guitar. Much of the music they play tonight has the slow core sound that will be already familiar to those hardcore fans wearing Galaxie 500 and Luna T-shirts in the audience. For some of it Wareham has written lyrics, while other tracks are instrumental. There are also covers of the song Bob Dylan wrote for Nico, ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’, and Velvet Underground obscurity, ‘I’m Not A Young Man Anymore’. Each Screen Test lasted three minutes, the length of a reel of film, but Warhol’s trick, having filmed them at 24 frames a second, was then to screen them at 16 frames, slowing them down and extending the films by a third to just over four minutes. The expressions of the people in the films are magnified and their gestures prolonged, against the often dark backdrop of Wareham and Phillips’ music, to hypnotic, but eerie and disturbing effect. Wareham obviously knows his stuff when it comes to the personalities in the films, using the breaks between the songs to tell anecdotes about them and their lives. What quickly becomes apparent is how damaged and vulnerable much of the Factory crowd were. Ingrid Superstar, whose film is played out by the group with a version of Luna’s B side, ‘Eyes in Your Smoke’, starts her screen test laughing and smiling and making obscene gestures at the camera, and finishes it, her head tilted away, almost on the point of tears. Others are more defiant. The young Lou Reed smirks cockily, taking occasional swigs from a coke bottle, while Wareham and Phillips’ band bash their way through the thunderous garage rock of ‘I’m Not A Young Man Anymore'. Paul America, a notoriously violent boyfriend of Edie Sedgwick’s, chews gum and grins nastily at the camera, looking like he is about to nut it, as a reworked version of Luna’s swaggering ‘Teenage Lightning’ is played. The reaction of Superstar, who went out from her mother’s house in 1986 to buy cigarettes and never returned, leaving her false teeth behind in the sink, is, however, more typical. The subjects of the film were asked to sit still and not blink for three minutes, but few do so. Ann Buchanan, a flatmate of Allen Ginsberg, manages, but finishes her screen test, against the backdrop of a melancholy instrumental, with quiet tears, first from her left eye, and then joined by her right, pouring down her face. Already seeming lost and doomed, Edie Sedgwick looks simply startled. As the group play their breezy cover of ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ with Phillips on main vocals, Nico fidgets and fumbles with the magazine she has brought as a prop, rolling it up at one point into an imaginary periscope. Hollywood actor Dennis Hopper can’t look at the camera at all, head broodingly slouching down to stare at his feet at several points during his film, at others clenching his eyes firmly shut. Perhaps most poignant of all is the screen test of Freddy Herko, an amphetamine-hooked dancer. He died a few months after his film was made when he threw himself out of the window of a friend’s fifth floor apartment as he danced to his favourite piece of music, Mozart’s ‘Coronation Mass’. Herko is restless throughout, smokes constantly, nervously squirms around in his seat and even at one point breaks all the rules and stands up. As he rises from his chair near the end of the film, the music rises into a dervish waltz and then abruptly slams to a stop. It is an incredible, heart stopping moment, one which captures both the epic grandeur and tragic futility of his death. The Dunfermline Carnegie Hall has been the perfect venue for this evening. Intimate, and old-fashioned, largely wood-panelled and with old signs for the fire exits and toilets that look like they have been there for forty years or more, its splendid acoustics have enhanced Wareham and Phillips’ evocative soundtrack. It is almost as if we have been transported back in time to the same era in which these little seen films were made. It has been an unique and special experience to be dropped into and allowed access into all the heartache, drama and occasional humour of these often short lives, in a venue which really deserves to be used more often for this kind of event.

Picture Gallery:-
blow up hollywood - Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, 8/7/2009

blow up hollywood - Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, 8/7/2009

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