In honor of Lou Reed’s recent death, here he is in 1966, in a still from the last of this week’s five “Screen Tests”, on loan from the Warhol Museum and now being projected at the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design. (There’s a bootleg clip of the Reed piece on YouTube.) This is what most people who know the “Tests” imagine them to be: Footage of one gorgeous or compelling or (soon-to-be-)famous person, seen staring impassively, revealingly into Warhol’s camera for a solid four minutes. (Although each shoot took only three minutes, Warhol wanted the “Tests” screened in slight slow motion, exaggerating the duration of the encounter.) This particular “Test” could almost be an ad for Reed, the new-minted rock star: The black turtleneck and half-moon lighting clearly echo Robert Freeman’s famous “With the Beatles” cover from 1963. With his head enlarged by the projector to many times life size, Reed comes across as the archetypal teen idol, a true “Face” in the Mod sense of the word. It’s how Warhol might have shown Dylan in the “Screen Test” that I Pic’d yesterday – but didn’t.
With Reed, Warhol isn’t digging deep into the soul of his sitter, although that’s the ancient cliche that’s often attached to all of these portraits. We watch instead as Warhol, manager and “discoverer” (in theory) of Reed’s band, asserts that the singer is his own private creation. It’s a portrait of Reed, but it shows us Warhol as he plays Pygmalion.
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