How did something as industry arcane as the ‘screen test’ come to be such a prominent part of Spoleto this year? Traditionally the stuff of DVD extras and YouTube’s dustier corners, screen tests feature prominently, even critically, in not one but two of this season’s big theatrical offerings.
In the Cripple of Inishmaan, the play’s eponymous main character is a sweet young Irishman whose physical disabilities lie somewhere on a line between Long John Silver and The Elephant Man. He pines for the affirmation and escape a successful screen test might bring, with just such a chance on offer by a film director briefly in town. At Emmett Robinson Theatre, indie musicians Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips lay down 80 minutes worth of aural accompaniment to a baker’s dozen of Warhol’s screen tests, their subjects hovering over the on-stage proceedings like silver-toned specters, not unlike Charles Wadsworth at the Dock Street.
Have screen tests so completely entered the mainstream culture? Will western civilization next pull the curtain away from the mysterious doings of the best boy? Perhaps it’s a result of the mass videofication of modern life, in which every waking moment is a screen test, if not for a feature film then for the next viral clip. Fitting, as Warhol himself famously predicted that, in the future, we’d all be famous for 15 minutes. It didn’t work out so well for Crippled Billy in 1934, but who knows, today he might mount a challenge to David After Dentist.
What is known is that the Andy Warhol Museum, having in hand some 500 of Warhol’s 4-minute screen tests from 1964-66, commissioned Wareham and Phillips to write a soundtrack of sorts to 13 of this number, a collection that includes many of Warhol’s Factory chums: Edie Sedgwick, Paul America, Lou Reed, International Velvet, Ingrid Superstar. The opening performance Wednesday night was far from the first time this gig has been presented, but it certainly had the ambiance of originality. The show was low on chatter and high on aesthetic, with Wareham or Phillips filling the short spaces between clips and dreamy pop songs with brief anecdotes about the test subjects, much of which sounds like it was scripted by Edward Gorey: W is for Freddy Herko who waltzed out a window.
In the audience were a mix of curious youths, local hipsters too cool to miss the one Spoleto event where the main artist drinks a beer on stage, and graying former fans of the counterculture and Velvet Underground. At the recorded pre-show announcement that cellphones should be turned off and any recording of this event was strictly prohibited, they all obediently and without irony turned off their phones. One suspects Warhol would not have submitted so easily.