Monday, July 29, 2013

Andy Warhol's POPism, The Act of Killing Documentary

POPism, The Warhol ‘60s, Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, 1980, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York.

The first entry I ever made on this blog, many moons ago, in 2011 was on Warhol’s Motion Pictures show at MoMA.  Since then I have written a few other entries on him and he is probably the person that is mentioned or reflected upon the most on this little blog.  This is not so much that I think he is the best artist ever but more that he is possibly the most influential figure (along with Duchamp) in contemporary art. 

I have previously read his, From A to B and Back Again, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, 1975, and I absolutely loved it.  Really, it had me up all night and wanting to take over the world.  I just recently read POPism and it is a different sort of book with a different sort of tone.  It is a chronology of the 60’s, his 60’s, and the characters, events, and general vibes of this specific decade.

The book is not about precision or relaying facts and timelines, it is more a series of musings and recalling things that were happening on a day, in a month, on a trip, on an evening.  The focus is on the characters in the art world, music world and the many misfits that Warhol was attracted to and those that were attracted to him.  These people are famous to us now such as: Henry Geldzahler, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Nico, Candy Darling, Truman Capote etcetera, and they are all strung in there to be markers of this time and his entwinement in it and to them. 

This book gives a voyeur’s peek into this world he lived in and the possible feeling of those times but it is all retrospect.  Even in the tone and way Warhol/Hackett wrote this book it feels like a time gone by, already done, not nostalgia but just over.  This is something that surprised me in a way.  The known finality of this time.  It also makes one think about how this era and how Warhol and the Factory have been such a fetish for the art world.  That somehow it was more magical or strange or cool then any time since.  This brings to fore our own current time and the times right before and those to come.  This feeling that we can create or be a part of an elite subculture that defines the taste and the mood of a decade.  Each decade has a group with hindsight, now it just gets shorter and smaller.  Instead of a ten-year confluence it’s four years, the amount of time for the new crop of collage kids to graduate art school. 

What was also very revealing to read was how art making seemed so secondary to Warhol.  His focus throughout the 60’s were his films, which are most certainly art, and something that he even says in the book out loud, but it is interesting how in the time that gave Warhol this aura of mega art visionaire was when he “quit painting” more or less.  It reflects less about his art and more about just about his living, which is what makes Warhol ‘Warhol’ isn’t it?  This ‘living as art’ is the thing that Warhol truly changed, the thing that has the most influence today.  The act of living and the directing of characters, scenes and attitude that is one’s life is the final end game of art. 

Read this book if you want to rocket back into a time that seems so far yet so near in many ways.  It makes you wish you were there but also glad to have not been.  It’s hard to not imagine what Andy would have thought about art and the art world today.  To think about how he would feel about his Foundation and all the baloney involved with that and the art world at large.  It’s hard to say.  I can only imagine he would have been a star now as he was then.  There is no manual to being an artist.  You either are or you aren’t. 

The Act of Killing, Director Joshua Oppenheimer, 2013, Drafthouse Films

This is a documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer that focuses on Anwar Congo and some of his friends who were participants of the mass murders that took place in Indonesia when the military overthrew the government in 1965.  Anwar is a grandfather now and is lanky with contained and distant expressions and movement.  His most featured friend is Herman Koto who is big and comical and is younger then him.  Both men were well known and feared killers of “communists.” 

The formula for the documentary is different then others because it is a capture of a project.  The project was for Anwar to recreate, in any way he and his friends chose, to reenact their acts of killing during this time.  It is surreal to watch this process.  There is a bizarre pride and remove from the way Anwar and his friends retell their actions.  Being a viewer, a non-participant of this time, these tales are horrific and abhorrent, yet to them they are just good-old-time reflections. 

Things get even more absurd when the filming of their retelling starts to begin.  The aesthetic choice of the depictions is filled with all the terrible troupes of daytime TV and B movies.  There is drag, staring the rotund Herman, girls in synchronized dance and outfits and Anwar and his other friends in mutilated makeup for some reason or another interviewing ‘communists.’  The brutality of their actions is glazed by their infatuation and mimicry of “gangster” lifestyle as depicted by Brando and Pacino in Hollywood films of that time.  More then anything Anwar and his friends want to be celebrities, they bask in recognition and respect. 

This documentary’s formula lends to the absurdity that is repulsive yet gripping.  There are no voiceovers, no archive shots, no numbers and facts inserted about what happened then.  It is not trying to pivot the story for or against Anwar and his friends. 

Through the film, the distance and lack of repentance that Anwar has about his actions slowly shifts the further along they get in recreating the scenes.  Somehow, him seeing his actions and crimes recreated punctures empathy in him.  The final scene, where Anwar goes up to the place where he killed so many people, it is said to be 1,000 or more, with a technique he picked up from mobster movies by using a wire so there was less blood, is one of the most literally gut wrenching things I have ever seen.  He had done a shot of this at the beginning of the film.  Then he merrily recreated how he would kill people with the wire.  In this re-shoot, at the end of the movie, he shuffles and looks worn out and barely talks.  He heaves as if his soul is trying to get out of him.  There is no clean finish to this movie, no redemption; it is complex and challenging to watch.  It is hard to wrap ones head around it.  It leaves you drained and empty but also sticks with you deeply.