‘Outer and Inner Space’

by paul a.

As its title vaguely implies, Outer and Inner Space is primarily concerned with personal (inner) and public (outer) spheres of societal life — even as the film itself is sinuously situated between these two opposing ideologies and operates in something of an intermediate territory. It’s a title that also reinforces a stark cultural dichotomy, fueling a never-ending conflict fought since the inception of “stardom” some hundred years ago, only to slowly reveal itself, over the course of the film’s 33-minute runtime, as a product of such manufactured and illusory ideals. The first deception: that of witnessing an actor’s face on the big screen, to ponder their glorious facial features, secretly wishing to be them from afar, as an act of intimate engagement. With his screen tests, Warhol — in a combative manner that only the most idiosyncratic and deeply personal of moving image artists would dare to execute — took this basic concept to its natural endpoint by locking onto (in)famous visages (his “Superstars,” as he labeled them) to emphasize how his given artistic medium’s intrinsic qualities (light, movement, rhythm, limited duration) were crucial in constructing these perceived components of glamor. Outer and Inner Space can thus be considered a natural extension of this portraiture style that exposes both this first lie and another: that these stars retain their humanity, their privacy, and their sense of self after becoming famous. 

Employing a free video camera courtesy of the now-defunct Norelco, Warhol produced his first dual-screen piece by means of dual-image recording mechanisms. He utilized both this gifted video equipment as well as his standard 16mm Bolex camera, the machinery by which he was able to crank out roughly a film a week during the mid-60s. So in a sense, Outer and Inner Space isn’t just a transitional exploration between social sectors, but also one of emerging technologies and contemporaneously conventional practices — or, more abstractly speaking, between mediums of the now and of the future. Reel 1, which composes the left side of the doubled screen, has Warhol Superstar Edie Sedgwick’s likeness replicated — not mirrored, but altogether reconstructed. We first see her face on a video monitor, taking up the left side of the frame, with her “actual” body appearing next to this imposed image (she’s actually positioned a little in front of this screen; an optical trick playing on the viewer’s depth perception). Reel 2 takes on the same basic composition principles and is meant to run simultaneously with Reel 1, ultimately providing four different Edie’s on the screen at once: two recorded on the Norelco, two recorded on film celluloid. In a sense, the concurrent use of both the Norelco and Bolex creates another dialogue of sorts, one that emerges from this aforementioned technological tension: one that appears as a literal conversation between the “real” Edie and the “fake” Edie, as the sound shuffles between the four who seem to be speaking with one another. Alas, the only readily available copies of Outer and Inner Space (including one on YouTube) have such poor sound quality that it’s nearly impossible to clearly make out exactly what’s being said, an issue that plagues most of Warhol’s digitally accessible film works — yet, the amorphous quality of the dialogue ends up working in Warhol’s favor. The barriers between these two distinct zones begin to erode, with the visual difference between the video and analog film portions being the only one remaining. Soon, the private (16 mm) and public (video) worlds of Edie Sedgwick begin to converge on one another, superimposing until we hardly begin to notice, evincing all too clearly the ways in which there is little to no difference between these domains after all. 

paul a. is a New York based lifeform who enjoys writing about experimental cinema, rap music, and anything else that tickles his fancy. You can find him on letterboxd, where he spends far too much of his free time, or catch up with his writing via In Review Online and MUBI Notebook.

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