Reviews

Reviews

Blow Job

Blow Job

Andy Warhol

USA, 1963

Credits

Review by Matt Bailey

Posted on 03 January 2005

Source Raro Video DVD

The films of Andy Warhol (those that he actually had a hand in making between 1963 and 1968, not those to which he merely lent dollars and a name) are legendary, even beyond the art world in which they originated, and “legendary” is an appropriate term for them. For example, among those who know that Empire lasts about eight hours, few can claim actually to have seen it (or even a part of it). Among those who can drop the phrase “Chelsea girls” with an air of intimate familiarity, few could identify one of the actual girls in Chelsea Girls if she walked up and shook their hand.

Blow Job, no doubt because of its salacious title, is one of Warhol’s most notorious works. This notoriety is based purely on the appeal of its title, however, as the film itself is no more or less sensational than Warhol’s other early films such as Sleep, Kiss, or Eat, all films that deliver exactly what they promise. Blow Job is ostensibly a film of aspiring actor DeVerne Bookwalter receiving fellatio from Willard Maas. Those looking for pornographic thrills will be disappointed to know that the film is framed in a static close-up of Bookwalter’s face; the viewer never sees the titular act.

Like all of the films mentioned above excepting Chelsea Girls, Blow Job exhibits Warhol’s early film aesthetic where the artistic act is simply the switching on and off of the camera. All of Warhol’s early films consist of a chosen act or subject—from the Empire State Building to a person eating a banana—framed and filmed. The act is carried out from its logical beginning to its logical conclusion (or, in the case of Empire, the building is filmed from dusk to late night) and the camera does not move. Within these minimal parameters, the smallest details become epic events. The change of film reels every few minutes results in a rhythmic flow of action and non-action. At the same time, the artistry of Warhol’s early films is that he does not always indulge in what is anticipated. In the case of Blow Job’s thirty-five minutes, we expect that the climactic event of the film to be the same as the climactic event of the act, yet the film goes on for another reel after Bookwalter reaches orgasm. He looks at the camera uncomfortably, adjusts his posture as he leans against a brick wall, and smokes a cigarette. Is Warhol making a statement that the act of a blow job includes afterglow, awkward aftermath, and a cigarette? Is he forcing his subject to acknowledge his own exhibitionism? Is he forcing his audience to acknowledge the humanity of his subject? He could be doing all of these things and more. The ambiguity and unanswered questions are what make Warhol’s films so intriguing and interesting beyond facile reactions to their titles, length, and subject matter. That Blow Job is quite a bit less than an actual blow job, yet infinitely more, is what makes it art.

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