Andy Warhol's Sleep

Jonas Mekas, from Movies, edited by Gilbert Adair.

[“Andy Warhol’s famously minimalist eight-hour-long Sleep, filmed in 1964, offered the spectator nothing more to chew on than an endless static shot of a man asleep.”]

I received a letter from Mike Getz, manager of the Cinema Theatre in Los Angeles, reporting on the screening of Andy Warhol’s movie Sleep:

Amazing turnout. 500 people. Sleep started at 6.45. First shot, which lasts about 45 minutes, is close-up of man’s abdomen. You can see him breathing. People started to walk out at 7, some complaining. People getting more and more restless. Shot finally changes to close-up of man’s head. Someone runs up to screen and shouts in sleeping man’s ear. ‘WAKE UP!!’ Audience getting bitter, strained. Movie is silent, runs at silent speed. A few more people ask for money back. Sign on box office says no refunds.

7.45. One man pulls me out into outer lobby, says he doesn’t want to make a scene but asks for money back. I say no. He says, ‘Be a gentleman.’ I say, ‘Look, you know you were going to see something strange, unusual, daring, that lasted six hours.’ I turn to walk back to lobby. Lobby full, one red-faced guy very agitated, says I have 30 seconds to give him his money back or he’ll run into theater and start a ‘lynch riot’. ‘We’ll all come out here and lynch you, buddy!!’ Nobody stopped him when 30 seconds were up; he ran back toward screen. In fact, the guy who had said he didn’t want to make a scene now said, ‘Come on, I’ll go with you!!’

I finally yelled at him to wait a minute. Mario Casetta told crowd to give us a chance to discuss it. Mario and I moved into outer lobby. Thoughts of recent football riot in South America. People angry as hell, a mob on the verge of violence. Red-faced guy stomps toward me: ‘Well, what are you going to do?’

‘I’ll give out passes for another show.’ Over two hundred passes given out.

Decided to make an announcement. ‘Ladies and gentlemen. I believe that Sleep was properly advertised. I said in my ads that it was an unusual six-hour movie. You came here knowing that you were going to see something unusual about sleep and I think you are. I don’t know what else I could have said. However—[shout from audience: “Don’t cop out!! Don’t cop out!!”]—however …’

Sleep continued on. Projectionist kept falling asleep. People are not able to take the consequences of their own curiosity. Woman calls at 11 ‘Are you still there?’ ‘Sure, why?’ ‘I was there earlier. Heard people in back of me saying this theater’s not going to have a screen very much longer so I left.’ Fifty were left at the end. Some people really digging the movie.

[Movie-goers’ impressions of Sleep, from the Internet Movie Database.]

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