by Maximilien Luc Proctor
Ann Buchanan stares back at us across nearly six decades. She might wonder who will watch this in the future, how long this spool of film will persist as a visual experience. We might wonder what her life was like. The longer it goes on, the more acutely aware we become of the fact that she has not blinked. She starts to cry. A single tear falls from her left eye as the right one collects a small pool in the lower lid, not quite enough to spill over. She is beautiful: dark hair framing a rounded square jaw, parted across her forehead and waterfalling on either side of her face, which betrays no emotion. It is startling to see her unwilling tears fall against a Kuleshov neutrality, a purely physical reflex provoking a purely emotional reaction.
There are 472 surviving Screen Tests, each filming a static, familiar portrait head-on for an average of 3 minutes (a standard 100-foot roll of 16mm film, albeit played back at a lower-than-standard projection speed). Warhol filmed stars and friends (Sontag, Duchamp, Dalí, Sedgwick, Reed, Ono, Dylan…) and referred to the films as ‘stillies’ (as opposed to movies), until 1965, when they grew into ‘screen tests’. A collection of screen tests for a film never meant to exist. Each Screen Test subject seems to be looking for something — wondering why anyone would spend the time and money to produce such a massive body of immobile work, perhaps.
As a tear makes its way round her cheek and down to the bottom of Buchanan’s chin, threatening to fall forever in a collected drop, the edges of her lips curl into a miniscule admission of what is happening. Is Buchanan trapped under our gaze, or are we held captive by hers? She flickers into gray, disappearing slowly, each final reappearance another chance to take one last look. Warhol’s film is cruel and human, void of emotion, and deeply moving.
Maximilien Luc Proctor (MLP) is a French-American filmmaker and critic with a special interest in the avant-garde. He is a contributing editor for photogénie, the founder and editor in chief of Ultra Dogme, and a curator for Fracto Experimental Film Encounter.