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.