Finding Andy Warhol
The Dallas Docufest 32 hosted several films whose directors were in attendance at Angelika Film Center screenings on the weekend of October 4-6. Docufest artistic director Bart Weiss also secured a Dallas visit with Academy-Award Winning Director of Precious Images (1986), Writer, and Editor Chuck Workman who came to be celebrated with “An Evening With Chuck Workman” on Saturday at 8:30.
Elizabeth Coffman, Director of Flannery, Director Chuck Workman, and Artistic Director of Dallas Videofest and Dallas Docufest Bart Weis at the Dallas Docufest’s Director’s Brunch….
Shortly after the director’s brunch at the Embassy Suites, Chuck Workman spoke with Houston writer Christina Putnam.
CP: I’m excited about seeing your documentary, Superstar, about the life of Andy Warhol.
CW: Well, his name was actually Andrew Warhola. He’s from Pittsburgh, the pits of Pittsburgh. His father worked in the steel mills, and his father disappeared or left when Andy was about 5, and the mother, whom he was very close with his whole life was highly spoken of. That was kind of their world, a small, small world. Andy kind of got sick a lot. It’s the story of many artists, and a lot of filmmakers. They get sick and they have nothing to do. And they do something interesting. He started drawing.
CP: And how did he begin to progress in his professional life?
CW: He left Pittsburgh, came to New York and became an important illustrator of shoes. And he did all this work in shoes. And he started saying that he could help with more commercial fine art works. Then he eventually decided to do pop art because it was coming in, and that sort of began his career, but he never really forsook Pittsburgh. We shot for a good week there and he went to Carnegie Mellon University which was called Carnegie Tech at the time and was an art student. He put his mother up in the Upper East Side of New York. But he never really forgot his family. He would go back there all the time.
CP: Which was sweet.
CW: Yes. People say he was very difficult with money and didn’t share it, but in those days, and there were a lot of hangers on in the art community. They went to his place to hang out and do things that they could do for nothing.
CP: Some comments have been made through the years that he was very manipulative of some of the people that went through the factory. How do you feel about that?
CW: I think there is a lot of resentment among those people. You seem them everyday, you see them now, they’re a celebrity and they want to say ‘this one made a pass at that one,” took money from me, or I really did the work but got no recognition. I think there is more of that around Andy because he was so passive a personality. He hardly talked. He would just do his work. I have a scene in Superstar, the film I made about him, with everybody getting loaded, dancing, and Andy is there …working. Right in the middle of it, he’s drawing. Boy, I said to myself, it would be really great to show that, and there was the shot. Somebody had filmed the event, and I was able to use the footage. That’s why he was fun.
CP: It seems that he would always withdraw from conflict.
CW: Of course. He didn’t want to get involved in that at all. But he was also like a fan. He met William Burroughs. * He was so excited that he wanted his autograph. I have a clip of that in the film, too. He was a very smart guy, and just cared about his work about a lot of artists. His art is very well protected. He had died a few years before and the estate was large but nothing like today. There were no 5 million-dollar paintings or anything like that. The estate was very, very careful. They wouldn’t let me shoot here, they wouldn’t let me shoot there. They thought they would do their own film, and I was just trying to make a film for someone who was a fan of Andy Warhol’s. She had the money and wanted to make a film about him. I kept chasing an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s paintings. I kept going to exhibits, and they said they wouldn’t let me shoot it. But finally found other members of the family who had donated their own material and they said, “Yes, go shoot it.” They didn’t have any financial stake in it or they didn’t care. I ended up finally shooting the exhibit in England. That’s where I shot most of the art. I’m glad I did. I’m glad we really stuck with it.
CP: I enjoyed seeing the documentary about Agnes Varda last night, and come to find out, Varda had connected with Andy Warhol to secure the services of the actress Viva, who was part of Warhol’s coterie of actors.
CW. I didn’t know that. I liked Viva. When we did the film with her, we shot her in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, people were behind her, and no one cared what was going on. She had funny things to say. Most of the people [involved in The Factory] were very articulate who were close to Andy. Andy, of course, didn’t talk as much.
CP: It seemed that people were always wanting something from him that he wasn’t ready or easily prepared to give.
CW: It was something almost a nuisance to him, although he didn’t show that. But he would just smile, and say something…
CP: Witty, urbane, or move on to the next subject?
CW: Not even as articulate as that.
CP: And we even had a stamp with Andy Warhol as the subject.
CW: I thought, great. Why not? When I made the film, I know we premiered it in Berlin right after the wall went down and the idea of showing being a gay person in a movie even 25 or 30 years ago was difficult. I got a lot of it in there. But he was just a young gay man who wanted to do his work. Later on, I worked with someone who reminded me of Andy Warhol, and that was Michael Jackson. I was basically just dealing with his work. As far as his personal life, I didn’t know much about that.
CP: Like the controversy surrounding Jackson’s personal life…
CW: I never saw anything like that with Andy.
CP: I’m curious about your association with the Academy and all the work you’ve done with it.
CW: The Academy is interesting because the Academy supports a kind of cinema that I don’t feel comfortable being a part of, yet I’m so involved with them. How can you do a film about experimental film or artists and also work on the Oscars program. To me, it’s all work. John Ford would use the expression that “It was a job of work.”
CP: On of your “jobs of work” is that you teach experimental filmmaking.
CW: (smiling) I do. I teach at a school that eastern people and midwestern people don’t know about, but everybody in the west knows about Chapman University which is in Orange County, south of LA. They have a wonderful film school. It’s very highly rated. It’s 5th or 6th in the country in various ratings, called Dodge College. They attract a lot of Hollywood people. Almost everyone on the faculty lives in Los Angeles. I remember that there was some function at the academy and there was a whole meeting of all the faculty at Chapman. And someone asked if anyone had tickets to the Academy event, and about twenty of us raised our hands, so there are quite a few Academy members at Chapman. They had never had an experimental film class. They were mostly interested in Hollywood films. They weren’t interested in the artistic side of filmmaking. They had just recently come to documentary films, and I offered to teach the experimental class to one of the deans and he thought I was crazy, but one of the other deans was interested in experimental filmmaking and liked the idea, and the students like it.
CP: What does working with the students give back to you?
CW: Sometimes you see that they are very interested in what they’re doing, sometimes they are nodding off, so, I think, OK. I’d better change the subject. It’s very tricky. I was talking to Bart Weiss about that. In this experimental class, actually it’s very interesting to see them watch the films. Duration is a big deal in experimental films. A long, long film about the same thing. Like Andy Warhol did. And I tell my students in advance, we’re going to watch the whole film. In other classes you might just get a clip, but I want them to feel that entire experience. And they do. They sit there. It’s interesting. I also assign them to make an experimental film and they like doing that.
CP: Chuck we are so happy that you are here at the Dallas Docufest.
CW: I’m happy that the director of the festival, Bart Weiss, has chosen little films of mine. I even did a montage of Bugs Bunny for his birthday, and various films of mine that are all different. And I like that. I feel that I’m a professional, and I go from one thing to another, and I try not to ever work down to the audience.
CP: We are so glad to have you here at the Dallas Docufest. Thank you so much for coming here to share your cinematic body of work with us.
CW: I’m, glad to be here.
At 8:30 Saturday, October 5, “An Evening With Chuck Workman” began as Artistic Director Bart Weiss introduced the Academy-Award Winning Director, Writer, and Editor, Chuck Workman. Several of his short films, known for their mesmerizing montages, screened before Workman’s documentary about Andy Warhol, entitled Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol, 1990.
With an introduction to each short film, Weiss and Workman discussed the initial ideas, difficulty of editing such vast collections of images into a single movie, and highlighted Workman’s personal motivations for crafting his creations. His Oscar-winning short film, Precious Images (1987) became the first film screened on Turner Classic Movies when the channel premiered in 1994.
Chuck Workman continues to create and develop new projects, and enjoys spending time with his family.
Workman took time out from his hectic visit to Dallas to enjoy some BBQ….
Andy Warhol had also been featured in three other documentaries at the Dallas Docufest the first weekend in October: Varda By Agnes, directed by Agnes Varda; Letter to the Editor, directed by Alan Berliner; and Cunningham 3D, directed by Alla Kovgan.
Dallas Publicity whiz Kelly Kitchens Wickersham and Writer, Christy Putnam, author of Thelma Ritter: Hollywood’s Favorite New Yorker, to be published by University Press of Mississippi in late 2020….
To view Chuck Workman’s Precious Images (1986), visit here.
The First 100 Years: A Celebration of American Movies (1995) screened on Turner Classic Movies.
*An American writer and visual artist who influenced art and literature, and was a primary figure of the Beat Generation.