Bob Dylan va a ver a Andy Warhol por un cuadro de Elvis Presley

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Between 1964 and 1966 Andy Warhol and his assistant, Gerard Malanga, used a 16mm Bolex camera to make 472 short films of people, both famous and obscure, who came to visit his “Factory” on East 47th Street. The idea of calling them “Screen Tests” was something of a joke, according to Malanga. It was kind of a parody of Hollywood.

Irony aside, the Screen Tests are serious works of art, the product of Warhol’s ingenious conception of a mid-twentieth century portrait. The frames of celluloid provided a natural progression to the multiple images Warhol used stylistically for the remainder of his career. As his hundreds of sixties, seventies, and eighties silk-screen portraits attest, Warhol was compelled to portray the human face. Andy’s ambition for the Screen Tests, as for film in general, was to register personality.

Warhol’s method was to load 100 feet of film into the camera, place it on a tripod, press the button, and leave it running — sometimes even walking away — until the film was gone. It was like a staring contest he couldn’t lose. Each roll took almost three minutes. In Bob Dylan’s case two rolls were exposed: one for a wide view, the other a close-up.

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The exact date of the film is in dispute, but by all accounts the session was an awkward, chilly encounter. Dylan pulled up at the Factory in a station wagon with his friend, Bob Neuwirth. From the beginning it was clear that Dylan was determined to demonstrate his superior cool. As for Andy’s motives, he was clearly star-struck, in awe of Dylan’s sudden, vast celebrity. He had a more practical agenda, too: to get Dylan to appear in a Warhol movie.

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But Dylan wasn’t having it. After the sullen Screen Test, he walked over to a large painting of Elvis Presley that Warhol had already set aside for him as a gift and, by one account, said “I think I’ll just take this for payment, man.” He and Neuwirth then lifted the painting, which was nearly seven feet tall, carried it out of the studio, down the freight elevator and into the street, where they strapped it — with no protection whatsoever — onto the roof of the station wagon and drove away.

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Apparently, Dylan never liked the painting, Double Elvis, so he traded it with his manager, Albert Grossman, for a sofa. Another Double Elvis sold at auction in May for 37 million dollars. Dylan should have kept his and retired with the windfall before his creative output got stale. Yep, I said it.

Postscript: The exchange Dylan made with his manager is now in the MoMA’s permanent collection. (the painting, not the sofa)

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