Last week, I contributed a piece to Architectural Record on the making of Andy Warhol’s Empire, the eight-hour masterpiece of anti-cinema that celebrated the 50th anniversary of its shoot on July 25. (For the uninitiated: The film is a single take of a static skyscraper, shot over a period of six hours, from dusk to twilight, from the 41st floor of the Time & Life Building in midtown Manhattan.) For the story, I spoke with iconoclastic filmmaker/critic/organizer/flaneur/patron saint of underground cinema Jonas Mekas, who documented the Empire shoot in his “Movie Journal” column for the Village Voice as well as participated in its. (He also helped organize the first screening of Empire in New York in 1965.)
As on most topics, the 91-year-old Mekas was a font of knowledge, opinions, and anecdotes about the film and how it was (and continues to be) received. His collected criticism, Movie Journal, is a wealth of valuable information about Empire (fun fact: Andy Warhol’s famous quip, “The Empire State Building is a star!” originates from Mekas’ writing) — but the writing pales in comparison to hearing from Mekas directly about his experience with the film and its legacy.
I met him at his Brooklyn loft/studio on July 29, where we sat at a table surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of work, books, and mementos. And then there are the works in progress. Despite his age, Mekas is a dynamo of creativity. In the hopper are film projects, book projects, and visual arts projects, and he routinely travels the globe to present his work. (A couple days before we spoke, he had returned from Germany where his 365 Films project had just opened at ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe.) Yet with all his myriad endeavors, he spoke to me for nearly an hour, not only about Empire and Warhol but also topics ranging from art in time to MoMA’s gross mishandling of Warhol’s cinematic work.
Of course, I couldn’t possibly pack everything into the Arch Record piece. So I’m sharing the (lightly edited) transcript of our conversation. I hope some of the energy of the thing comes through the text.Read More