Warhol distorts rock concert, fame in pair of films

by Andrew Doerfler / Beacon Staff • April 14, 2011

In May of 1967, vice squad detectives raided Boston’s Symphony Cinema II after a screening of Chelsea Girls, Andy Warhol’s voyeuristic 1966 film and first commercial success. The police seized the movie and charged the theater’s manager with obscenity.

Forty-four years later, Warhol is getting better treatment in Beantown: ArtsEmerson has scheduled a double feature of two lesser-known films from the pop-art forerunner on Saturday, April 16 in the Paramount’s Bright Family Screening Room. His 1967 experimental concert movie The Velvet Underground in Boston will be followed by Hedy, an ode to a kleptomaniac movie starlet.

Filmed at the Boston Tea Party (a Unitarian meeting house-turned-club which closed in 1971), The Velvet Underground in Boston catches the influential 1960s rockers as they began to distinguish themselves from the art scene that Warhol, their manager at the time, had established in New York. From mid-1967 to 1970, the band hardly ever played in their hometown, often opting for gigs in Boston instead.

“The Tea Party really became their home away from home,” Steve Nelson, the venue’s former manager and the president of the online Music Museum of New England (mmone.org), told the Beacon in a phone interview.

It’s been a while, though, since The Velvet Underground in Boston appeared in the titular city — or anywhere at all for that matter.

“Everyone knew Andy came here and shot this film, and then it completely disappeared,” said Nelson, who will introduce the movie on Saturday. But a little over a year ago, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh discovered canisters containing the 33-minute movie and has since presented screenings in scattered cities across the United States; Saturday marks its first showing in Boston.

Anyone expecting a straightforward slice of a Velvet Underground show, though, should be wary of Warhol’s footage: improvised, in-camera editing makes the movie a piece of avant-garde cinema art.

“It’s not really a concert film,” Nelson said. “It’s going to be more of an impressionistic view of what that scene was like at the time, seen through the eyes of Andy Warhol.”

The Velvet Underground also shows up, via live score, in the night’s next film, Hedy. The 66-minute feature presents drag performer Mario Montez as real-life Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr, whose career plummeted amidst shoplifting charges.

Hedy is one of several Warhol works to offer a post-modern twist on fame. “Warhol’s fascination with film probably came out of the idea that film is the medium that makes celebrities,” part-time visual media arts faculty Leslie Humm Cormier told the Beacon.

Hedy, according to a summary by the late Warhol historian Callie Angell, follows Lamarr as she endures a facelift, an arrest, and her five ex-husbands’ accusations in court. It sounds a bit outrageous — but maybe Boston is ready for Warhol’s madness this time.

 

The Velvet Underground in Boston and Hedy  screen at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 16 in the Bright Family Screening Room.