The Theatre Junction GRAND was almost too obvious a setting for 13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. The Grand, the Factory, Dean and Britta, and 13 Most Beautiful are all reincarnations of earlier things, remixes if you will.
The Grand, as it was known in its first incarnation when it was built in 1912, was known as the best and most modern theatre in Western Canada and the United States. It hosted a variety of public figures – from Fred Astaire to Nellie McClung – until the Jubilee opened in the late fifties. It then became a movie house, for about 50 years until it fell into disrepair. The Grand was bought by the Theatre Junction Society in 2005 – to refurbish the building so it could once again become a cultural hub for theatre, film, art, and music.
Andy Warhol’s screen tests were shot at the Factory in the mid-sixties. Over a period of two years, Warhol shot about 500 screen tests of a variety of Factory visitors – from famous regulars in his films, to strangers. The set-up was quite simple. Warhol would pop in a cartridge of film, and leave the room – leaving a short, black and white, silent portrait of the subject doing whatever they pleased. The films were shot at 24 fps, but slowed down to 16 fps – each portrait is around four minutes long.
Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (formerly of Galaxie 500, Luna, and Jem & the Holograms) watched 200 of the screen tests, eventually narrowing them down to thirteen picks. The pair, who in their incarnation as Luna had appeared in the 1996 I Shot Andy Warhol, were approached by the Andy Warhol Museum to create musical pairings for the film.
The performance consisted of the flickering screen tests, projected brightly over the band’s muted lighting. The tracks were mostly Dean & Britta originals, with a few apropos covers – including a little known Velvet Underground song to accompany Lou Reed’s portrait. The music was dreamy and contemplative, with the occasional upbeat moment. The songs were punctuated with fascinating anecdotes about each portrait’s subject – apparently Bob Dylan wasn’t a Warhol fan, trading an original painting for his manager’s used couch. The films were a curious window back in time – it was strange to stare at Fred Herko’s inscrutable face, knowing that only months later he danced straight out the window of a friend’s fifth floor apartment to the sounds of Mozart’s Coronation Mass.
Dean & Britta returned for an encore after the screen tests, even taking requests from the audience. The stand-alone music was a nice treat, after the silence the films somehow managed to evoke even through the accompaniment.