Last year my wife Britta Phillips and I were asked by the Andy Warhol Museum and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to write and perform songs and a score for a 13 of Warhol’s Screen Tests, the short, silent, black-and-white film portraits that Warhol made between 1964 and 1966, mostly at the (silver) Factory on East 47th Street.
“Screen test” is a misnomer for what Warhol was doing; the subjects were not really being tested for anything. At first Warhol called these films “stillies” and Callie Angell suggests in Andy Warhol Screen Tests that they can be seen as an extension of his earlier photo-booth portraits. Subjects—some famous, some brought in off the street—visited the Factory and posed for the camera. They were lit with a single light, and Warhol filmed them with his unmoving 16mm Bolex camera. Each Screen Test is the exact duration of a reel of film, approximately three minutes, but Warhol’s clever stroke was to film at 24 frames per second and to screen the films in slow-motion, at 16 frames. At the slower speed, expressions and emotions are magnified and the films become eerie. Each Screen Test plays back at just over four minutes—the perfect length for a song.