Had a (somewhat frustrating) conversation at the Sunday night fambly dinner table this week… and Andy Warhol’s film Empire was the topic of it. Or, rather, one’s motivation for going to see Empire was the topic of it.
I have no idea how we got onto the topic of Empire and its recent screening at Cinematheque Ontario in Tronna but we did, and my brother-in-law Bob just couldn’t seem to wrap his head around the idea of somebody wanting to go see an 8-hour-long film that consists of a static shot of the Empire State Building. At night. In black & white. Overexposed and out of focus. With no soundtrack. And did I mention it is 8 freakin’ hours long?
I told him that a film critic I know at the Tronna Star had gone to see it and had written an article about the experience. Bob read it. “But why would somebody want to do this?” he still wondered.
So, in answer to Bob’s question, I attempted to explain why I thought somebody might want to do this—prefacing my answer by saying it was conjecture on my part and I didn’t know if the reasons I could come up with for wanting to see it would necessarily apply to anyone else. I feel that I can understand why somebody might want to see this film. It requires no stretch of the imagination for me. I just don’t happen to feel the need to see it, myself. I don’t think it’s any different from an art lover wanting to see the Mona Lisa or Guernica, though, and I don’t think that urge causes much head scratching. I explained that this film is one of those things that most students/fans of avant-garde film only ever hear and read about, because screenings are mounted so rarely. I have only ever seen a few minutes of it, myself—just recently, as a matter of fact, at the David Cronenberg-curated Warhol exhibit called Supernova, at the Art Gallery of Ontario (but only until Oct. 22nd, so if you were planning to check it out and haven’t yet, you better get yer ass in gear!). Because of the rarity of its screenings, it does have a shimmer not unlike some kinda cinematic holy grail to those who are interested in film as art and in avant-garde film in particular. Not to mention Andy Warhol fans and Jonas Mekas fans, of course. I suspect there may be still others for whom the film is like the Mt. Everest of cinema: the physical and mental and intellectual challenges it poses for the spectator are what is appealing about it to them. The feeling of accomplishment—“I saw Empire–all 8 hours of it!”—holds an allure.
‘Course, mebbe it’s just the opportunity for 8 hours of canoodling with a date in a dark theatre. I think that’s what would appeal most to me. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to miss any action onscreen if your attention is, y’know, diverted occasionally. Does that make me a heathen? Yeah, prolly. 😉
→ originally published 2006-10-17