Monday, June 11, 2012

A Clockwork Boredom

Film: Vinyl
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Following The List has taken me to some strange places, but none, I think, is as uniquely odd, off-putting, and flat-out bad as Andy Warhol’s Vinyl. This is a film that aggressively violates every possible idea of making a film, which was probably the point. Think of every aspect of filmmaking—story, acting, mise-en-scene, sound mixing, editing. Vinyl violates every known tenet that exists. At almost every moment, there is a sense that it can’t get any worse, and yet it does.

Warhol’s film is ostensibly his interpretation of Anthony Burgess’s novel “A Clockwork Orange,” and if I squint really hard, I can sort of see it. Of course, Kubrick’s version is the one that everyone thinks of, and having seen this now, I can assure you that there is a reason that Kubrick’s version is the one people think of. Vinyl contains the inkling of Clockwork without anything that makes it interesting.

So we have Victor (Gerard Malanga) who is a juvenile delinquent who does whatever he wants because he wants to and he likes violence. He evidently exists in about a five-foot square, which is where the camera spends all of its time. He lifts dumbbells, attacks people, listens to music and dances around, and gets into fights with his friend Scumbaby (Robert Olivo). When he loses the fight with Scumbaby, he’s put thrown a chair by a guy who’s been in the scene from the start. When The Doctor (Tosh Carillo) shows up to retrain Victor into a good member of society (as with the Ludovico Technique), we don’t see anything but Victor strapped to a chair describing what he’s seeing. Often, nothing happens for minutes at a time.

You know what? I’m not going to bother to explain the rest of this shit. I’ll sum it up like this--Vinyl is what you’d get if you told someone to film “A Clockwork Orange” in a single shot with no setting, no scenery, no costuming, no props, and with the sensibilities of a sort of reader’s theater. We’re supposed to believe (I think) that when Victor is shoved into a chair that we’ve moved location, even though we haven’t. But I’m not sure.

It is flatly one of the most incompetent things I have seen. I have watched amateur YouTube videos made by children that show better film technique, more capable direction, and more believable acting. Again, I’m pretty sure that this is sort of the point—that Warhol’s goal was a deconstruction of film.

The issue for most audiences, all but the most effete, is that it’s really, really bad. The film contains moments that would have been edited out of even the worst of the Grade-Z dreck from Mystery Science Theater 3000. There doesn’t appear to be a single cut here (there are three takes total from what I can tell). The camera pulls back at the start of the film, but otherwise stays basically motionless. It’s as if the story is being filmed in real time and on a first rehearsal. Lines are muffed and repeated. There are gaping pauses between pieces of dialogue, often in the middle of a sentence. At one point, Victor starts to describe what he’s seeing. Then he stops for several minutes, then starts again at the same point he was at minutes earlier.

No work’s been done on the sound, either. It’s likely that this was filmed in a corner of Warhol’s loft. There are people just hanging around in the shot doing nothing. We can hear traffic going by outside the window, and it sounds very much like there are people playing pool just out of frame. About half an hour into the film, while Victor is being strapped down to a chair (in real time), a voice comes on and tells us who all of the actors are in the film. This is read in the same stilted style that the rest of the dialogue is read in.

In one of the strangest moments (and this says a lot), Victor dances to “Nowhere to Run” and then the song immediately replays and he continues dancing. I actually rewound at this point to make sure I got that correctly—and it does happen twice. Gerard Malanga speaks his lines as if he must pronounce every syllable as a distinct entity, and the dialogue is so stilted to begin with that it comes out as disturbingly unnatural. Even when he’s being “tortured,” his screams come out sounding like someone learning to pronounce the sound “ahh.” He acts like the kid who thinks he’s got talent auditioning for the role of young Thomas Edison in his grade school pageant. Calling him robotic is an insult to robots.

I know this is the point. I know this is what Warhol wanted to get from this, and so in that respect, Vinyl is everything that he wanted. It’s terrible cinema. It tells a story (sort of), but does so by breaking six decades worth of rules and conventions that had been established in the film industry. I get that. However, just because a thing can be done doesn’t mean that it should be done. Vinyl is one of those films best left to rot away on acetate stock, slipping peacefully into complete dissolution so that future generations don’t have to wonder just what the hell was going on when someone decided to name this film as important.

It’s bad. It’s really, really bad. Unless you’re a list completist, a masochist, or the sort of film snob who gets off on watching the unwatchable, stay far, far away.

Why to watch Vinyl: You have a desire to waste slightly more than an hour of your life.
Why not to watch: You have any respect at all for the art of filmmaking.

18 comments:

  1. Oh, it was horrible. No better review was ever written for this piece of overindulgent tripe.

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    1. I can only hope there's nothing worse.

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  2. The only medicine powerful enough to exorcize all this bad Warhol-karma is Brian Atene's unintentionally hilarious audition video from 1963. A YouTube classic.

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  3. Vinyl's inclusion in this book makes me question the value of the book as a whole. Or at least makes me wonder who recommended it's placement and why they were consulted at all.

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    1. See, I sort of get it. It's with films like this that I have to remind myself that this list isn't the 1001 greatest films ever made. Vinyl is a deconstruction of film--it's a film only technically. It pushed what people thought of when discussing film, so I see why it was included.

      Hey, it could have been worse--it could have been two hours long.

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    2. @Ken Loar and SJHoneywell - I've had to make the same adjustment in my thinking in regards to this book: it's not the greatest films, but ones that for one reason or another represent something important in film history. There are great films that are not in it, and now that I've actively started seeking out movies from it, I've run into some real crap. Unfortunately, the half of the list that I had already seen probably represent a significant portion of the films that I will really like. Since actively starting to work through the list I've only encountered two more films that I liked a lot - The Wedding Banquet and In the Loop. At the same time I've encountered at least 10 movies that I thought really sucked.

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    3. @Ken Loar - I went to your site and noticed your most recent post was on how to find some of the more obscure movies. A wiki has just been set up to help folks with that. I wrote about it here: http://tipsfromchip.blogspot.com/2012/06/new-wiki-1001-movies-you-must-see.html
      or if you prefer, you can go directly to it with no intro here: http://1001films.wikia.com/wiki/1001_Movies_You_Must_See_Before_You_Die_Wiki

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    4. It's a useful reminder sometimes. When I find one like this that's so totally worthless in terms of what one typically thinks of, I force myself to re-evaluate the function of The List.

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  4. Pff. you went too easy on this movie

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    1. I went too easy? Your score was in the 30s!

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    2. Since I tend to dip in and out of watching all the weekly assignments for the 1001 Movies Blog Club, I sometimes find myself skipping movies and then realizing I'll never go back and catch-up with them because everyone in the club hated them. I totally get what everyone's saying about how a film can be important to the overall history of cinema even if it's not entertaining or enjoyable or in any way good. But I think life is too short to watch the egregiously bad films on the list when I could be spending time on anything else.

      It's interesting to me that Warhol is such a recognizable figure of modern pop art, and yet more than once he's come up in the 1001 List and he's always been unanimously panned. Clearly he was fascinated by cinema, and just as clearly that did not translate into any ability to capture anything good on film.

      - Sunny D

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    3. There are definitely films that are skipable on The List and this is one of them. I get what Warhol was trying to do, and I think for people really serious about film that it's worth seeing (once) for that reason and that reason only. Warhol basically screwed with the idea of what makes a film, and that's inherently interesting even if the end result is something that should be flushed.

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  5. I think you went too easy on this one!
    ...though it was an easier go than West Side Story ;)

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  6. I seem to have liked this a lot more than everybody else.

    Especially Edie Sedgwick! She's so high! Ima a sit here smoke this cigarette. I knock something off this big chest. Oops! Sorry. Watch my groovy hand-dancing. Here, have a magazine. Ima go uh take my medicine. I'm back now! On the nod.

    I think she looks a little like Emma Watson. Miss Watson as Edie Sedgwick in a biopic would be pretty awesome.

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    1. This remains the worst movie I have ever seen. It's not the worst film experience I have ever had, or the movie I would want to rewatch the least, but it's the least competent, worst movie that I have ever come across.

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    2. I saw Factory Girl (2006) a couple of days ago, with Sienna Miller as Edie Sedgwick and Guy Pearce as Andy Warhol and there's a short segment where they're filming Vinyl and I found it hilarious and wonderful!

      But it's probably just me.

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