I wrote about Slow TV recently, for which I dug out an old interview with John Giorno, who starred in that slowest of slow films, Sleep, in which he snoozed for six hours or so. Anyway, what he said was interesting, so here it is, starting with his memory of seeing the film in its restored state at the Whitney museum.
"It was really beautiful. When Andy showed it, it was just a work print, and then when he needed copies he would make a copy of the work print from the work print, so it looked something like a 1920s' movie. When they restored it, they went to the original negatives which hadn’t been touched since 1963. Forgetting the content, just looking at it, the black to white, and all of the subtleties, was exactly like a great photograph, like a Cartier-Bresson. I hadn’t thought of that, so I was shocked, it was so beautiful.
"I had seen a little bit of it in 1989, when they had a 40 minute clip, and then I was looking at this person who looked like a big baby, and it sort of embarrassed me. When I saw it again, I saw all these things where Andy didn’t know what he was doing. It was his first movie, and he was just grappling with how do you make a movie, and he took all these rolls and they didn't fit together - he was using a Bolex 16mm wind-up camera and it was interesting to see how he was able to construct it.
"He was terrified. He didn’t want it to be seen as a gay movie, or about a gay man making a movie about another gay man, so it’s very abstract. There’s a shot of a ribcage straight on. It reads a lot like what his intention was - to make an abstract painting in black and white. In a sense, to pander to the art world, because in those years, this is 1962-3, the art world was very homophobic. The abstract expressionists - de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, Jackson was dead - they were these really macho straight guys who hated fags. They knew a lot of gays - all their wives had gay friends, but fags are fags. Fags are the friends of the wives, or they’re funny to be with, but [they thought] 'a fag can’t be a great artist like me'. De Kooning, or Rothko - they were all
like that, and that terrorised the gay men. Andy Warhol, Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were three gay men. Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper were lovers in the late 1950s. No gay content ever has appeared in their work, nobody was supposed to know. They didn’t try to hide it, but it was kept a big secret that they were lovers, because they didn’t want to be seen as fags, because as fags they would be dismissed, and their careers would end. So when Andy was making Sleep, this was very much what he was thinking about. He didn’t want it to have any taint of being gay. The way he got around it, rather than making the body beautiful from a class(ical) view, it was treated as an abstraction, a study in black and white.
"Andy was as sharp as a nail, a spike. He suffered a lot. He was horribly tortured in the last years of his life, because you think of this famous Andy Warhol, but the art world still hated him. You'd think that somebody like Andy in those latter years would not be pained by rejection - not the case. As well as his sexuality, in the 1950s, long before I knew him, he had a lot of affairs that were horribly unhappy for him, and he decided to turn that switch off - sexuality and love affairs. And drugs made that easy."