13 Most Beautiful... Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, was an amazing show. Commissioned by the Andy Warhol Museum and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust for the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, 13 Most Beautiful featured 13 of Warhol's silent film portraits known as the Screen Tests - each just four minutes long - set to music by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (formerly of the band Luna) in a world premier at the Byham on Friday night. The band played beneath a large screen with the "portraits" projected, all silent films in black and white. The music seemed to become the thoughts of the individuals projected on the large screen.
The 13 were chosen from some 500 such "screen tests" that included famous folks, such as Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, as well as unknown people whom Warhol thought possessed star power. In 1964, Warhol put together a collection of these called 13 Most Beautiful Women, followed shortly thereafter by 13 Most Beautiful Men. Why 13? Reading about the Screen Tests, I learned that the number 13 came from a New York City Police brochure of the 13 Most Wanted, which was also the title of Warhol's mural for the World's Fair.
Some of the famous faces included Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed, and Nico. During Lou Reed's film portrait, they played "Not A Young Man Anymore" - a Reed/Cale/ Morrison/Tucker song. During Nico's film portrait, Britta sang Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine". (Nico, a German singer Warhol discovered and made famous when he made her a lead singer of The Velvet Underground, has a popular cover version of this song.) The rest were Dean and Britta originals, composed specifically for these Screen Tests.
The intimacy of the extreme close-ups made them mesmerizing. Movements were overall subtle. There was an occasional chew of gum, or the use of an occasional prop - a bottle of coke, a cigarette. The most active of the portraits was number 13, Jane Holzer, who brushed her teeth the whole time. Just as interesting, however, were the almost motionless ones, such as Ann Buchanan (pictured at the top of this entry) who stared out at us without blinking until tears fell down her cheeks like crystals. Her features softened while the music grew more dreamy and whistful.
Andy Warhol let a camera run and walked away. It was true to his "Factory" methods, and yet, like the rest of his work, the results are substantive. Even in portraits of others, he is able to be our mirror.