October 15, 2007

I Was Shot By Andy Warhol: The Baby In Warhol's Screen Test

Penelope Palmer, Warhol Screen Test, 1966, image: The Warhol Film Project

Andy Warhol's films--particularly his Screen Tests--are some of the greatest and least appreciated of all his work. Between 1964 and 1966, Warhol shot 472 individual tests, each consisting of a 100-foot, 3-min. roll of film. Warhol would tell the subject to look straight into the camera without moving, then he'd turn the camera on, and walk away. [Assistants or other Factory denizens soon took over the actual camera operations.]

The resulting portraits are mesmerizing: people left entirely alone with a camera and--for better and worse--with themselves. There is much fidgeting, tension, discomfort, blissed out haze, and the very rare centered composure. [Apparently, not a lot of really disciplined, stable people in Warhol's circle.]

Subjects were friends, friends of friends, Factory groupies, models, Warhol's hustlers, his hustlers' hustlers, socialites. Dylan, Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick, and some other notable faces made screen tests, but the real power of the films is not celebrities, who are acclimated to the camera's stare, but the non-celebrities who crave it.

Of the 472 Screen Tests Warhol made, only one is of a baby.

John Palmer was a young filmmaker who gave Warhol the idea and shares directing credit on Empire, an 8-hr epic still shot of the Empire State Building, and who directed Ciao, Manhattan!. He married a model named Ivy Nicholson, and their twins Gunther and Penelope, born in 1965, started hanging around the Factory, too, and from the way things turned out, it was a veritable Reggio Emilia paradise for children. Penelope was three months old when her mother's mostly unseen hands propped her up for a Screen Test. Here's part of the description from Callie Angell's Screen Tests catalogue raisonne:

...The baby is perfectly unaware of the camera, her large downy head wobbling as she stares down at something in her lap and waves her arms. At one point, she slumps farther deown in the chair, and is hoisted up again into the frame; later a hand, presumably her mother's, enters the frame and caresses the back of her head. The date of this sitting [2/25/66] was written on the film box. The film has many scratches, which suggests it was projected frequently at the Factory.
...One of the twins (it is unclear which) also appears as a toddler in a late 1966 reel titled Courtroom. After spending part of her infancy in New York, Penelope was raised in Paris. As a teenager, she appeared in a few French films...
And after taking a 24-year break, she appeared in The Dead Life, a 2005 film written and directed by her mother. At a party promoting her new film, Palmer talks about her Screen Test, which she had not yet seen at the time of the interivew:
...If I become a famous actress...

If The Dead Life makes me become a famous actress...

People might want to know me and, um, perhaps understand, um...

where I'm coming from, knowing that my parents are stars with Andy Warhol in the Sixties...

You can check out a trailer for The Dead Life here. And here's a brief interview with her mother/director Ivy at Subterranean Records. She's definitely her mother's daughter! Good luck, Penelope! We're all rooting for you! Journey of a thousand miles, &c., &c.

Meanwhile, Penelope's dad lives in Hawaii and is raising her teenage son.

Buy Callie Angell's remarkable Andy Warhol Screen Tests at amazon [amazon]

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