Much of Sunday night’s episode of Vinyl involved the aftermath of the premiere: The shaky deal with Polygram comes apart, Richie Finestra is starting to come down off his bender, and his suck-up subordinate Max Casella can’t see what Jamie does in a bratty British punk band. This week’s flashbacks go to a legendary time and place: Andy Warhol’s original Factory, around 1966, as Richie and his not-yet-wife Devon take in a Velvet Underground show with her arty Euro friend, Ingrid.
It’s certainly plausible that Richie would have been there. There’s a longstanding myth that the Velvets were ignored by the record business, in part based on a remark, attributed to Brian Eno, that “the VU sold only 5,000 copies of their first album, but everyone who bought it started a band.” The quote is almost surely spurious, as this page persuasively asserts: Nobody can find it, and a royalty statement from MGM shows sales of 58,476 copies in the album’s first two years. Even a second-tier label like American Century would’ve been paying attention, certainly if its chief executive was looking for the next big thing.
Toward the end of the episode, Devon sits for one of Warhol’s Screen Tests — the short films of which, in real life, he made hundreds between 1964 and 1966. Unlike Hollywood tests, they are not exactly meant to assess acting or musical ability, in part because they are soundless. They’re static shots, in which the subject faces the camera for several minutes, barely moving, just being. They were shot at 24 frames per second and run at 16, so the subjects seem like they’re on Quaaludes (maybe as a correction for all the amphetamines some of them were doing), and in Vinyl, as Andy’s shoot takes place, the scene itself slows down in homage. These four-minute films mostly tried to reveal whether an individual’s face had the expressive ability to crack through the screen and connect — whether he or she had that thing, a fundamental part of media fame, that makes people look and look again.
Edie Sedgwick (like the fictional Devon) did almost nothing in hers except blink and be beautiful:
Baby Jane Holzer brushed her teeth. (The music on this video is a recent and quite nice addition, by the musicians Dean and Britta, but if you want to see the film as it was originally screened, turn off your sound.)
Ann Buchanan let a tear roll down her cheek.
Bob Dylan just looked sort of annoyed (more added music, this time Dylan’s; test starts at 0:24).
And Dennis Hopper did it three times.
It all happened at the original Factory, on East 47th Street, where Warhol associate Billy Name covered the walls with aluminum foil at Andy’s request. It’s probably no coincidence that Martin Scorsese, co-creator of Vinyl, was at NYU film school during those very years — or, for that matter, that Andy made a movie at the Factory in 1965 that was itself called Vinyl. The one thing that doesn’t feel true to period here? Only the production team knows for sure, but when we see a snippet of Devon’s actual screen test, it seems a little too crisp — like video with fake grain added digitally to make it look like 16 mm film. I hope I’m wrong, but if not, c’mon, guys! Get out the Bolex!