Interview with Gerard Malanga
Published January 21, 2009
Filmmaker and poet Gerard Malanga was Andy Warhol’s right-hand man in the mid-60s. He worked with Andy at the inception of Interview, and they even opened a porn cinema together. They collaborated on screen tests: three-minute close-up videos without narrative or dialogue, featuring visitors to the Factory. For his lookbook and presentation, designer Adam Kimmel has tapped into a Warholian ethic, making screen test videos with a cadre of artists and notables as his models. Naturally, Kimmel asked Gerard to reprise his series of famous screen tests. Gerard was also in town to give a deposition against John Chamberlain.
The presentation was last night in Paris, and Interview has exclusive presentations of Rita Ackermann’s and Jena Malone’s screen tests.
GLENN O’BRIEN: So what’s this all about Gerard?
GERARD MALANGA: What we’re doing here at Adam’s studio is that Adam had this idea to replicate the screen tests for his fashion show in Paris next week. He has a really good crew of people. And he commissioned me and my wife Asako [Kitaori] to put together this situation where friends of his were documented for the screen test. Asako did all the look book pictures. It happened very quickly.
GO: How many people?
GM: We did 13 yesterday and we’re doing probably close to twenty. We have maybe three more people. Two more after you today so, about a couple dozen.
GO: Is it exactly the same method as in the originals, except for the camera?
GM: Well the camera’s different obviously. It’s an Arri [Arriflex]. And we used a Bolex. The set up is a little different, too. I’m not trying to exactly duplicate the screen tests. Many of the screen tests if you look at the originals were tighter, more close-up to the face. I’m trying to get a little bit of the character of the person’s clothes into the frame. So it’s a little bit further away, but it has the feeling of the original space. The lighting also it, it most of it is, half of it is brightly lit the other half may be in shadow.
GO: How many screen tests did you do with Andy?
GM: We did about 500. I think close to that. I would say almost all of them [still exist].
GO: Who was the first one [screen test]?
GM: It was me. It was done as a publicity shot. I had asked for it, I had an idea for a publicity shot for a book, and I had Andy set up the camera. I was gonna get stills made at the lab that we were using at the time. And I came up with this idea that maybe we should do more of these. I think that was around in January of 64, the time we started shooting them more in earnest. GO: So was it one roll of film?
GM: Yeah, each roll was a hundred-foot roll, or about three minutes.
GO: There were a lot of interesting people in there.
GM: It was a very open atmosphere. Anybody who somehow came to the factory that day to visit would have his or her portrait made on film. So it was very full. Also, at some point I was commissioned to do a book. I managed to select, like, 54 images, and in the process of creating the book I sought out a number of people that we hadn’t done screen tests of to be in the book.
GO: Did any of them turn out to be like a screen test in that it was somebody who got to be better known later?
GM: Probably. [LAUGHS] Or didn’t survive the ‘60s-one or the other. I think Donyale Luna was someone. She was the first Black model in America. When she first came to New York we did her screen test. She wasn’t in the book, but she was certainly in the series. And she was a dear a friend of mine.
GO: So what else are you doing now? You got any new poetry books or anything?
GM: Well I’m suing John Chamberlain [CHUCKLES]. That’s my latest project
GM: Oh yeah. He forged and sold a painting of mine.
GO: I did read about that.
GM: It was in the New York Times and it was on the front page of the New York Law Journal. It was a portrait I made of him a while back. He got this idea, without conferring with me, to get this painting authenticated. And it got authenticated as an Andy Warhol and he sold it for five million dollars. So, he’s in trouble.
GO: You wouldn’t think Chamberlain would need the money.
GM: That’s not the issue. Everybody says that, “He doesn’t need the money.” That’s not the issue. He created a fake painting out of a Malanga by turning it into an Andy Warhol. He sold it for three reasons: one out of greed, obviously. Second, once the painting was authenticated he felt protected. Thirdly he felt he could get away with it. So that’s the latest project. Aside from that I’ve been working on a long book of poems for the last six years.
GO: What else?
GM: Happily the photography continues. I find myself doing portrait work more overseas than in America, strangely enough. Whenever I travel I get to see a friend and do his portrait.
GO: Maybe you’ll do some portraits for us?
GM: I would be glad to. I had one great experience last March. I was researching a show I had in upstate New York, my cat portrait series. I had some cat books and a couple of them were published in England in the 1950s. There was one photographer whose cat pictures I somehow felt akin to. There was some kind of spiritual thing that I felt attached to; his work reminded me of my work but I couldn’t say I influenced him because his work came first. I Googled him and his name came up. Wolfgang Suschitsky. He had collaborated with Gerald Durrell at one point on some wildlife photography and a little bit of this little bit of that. His son’s name came up too: His name’s Peter Suschitsky, and he was the cinematographer for Naked Lunch. So I called up Peter long distance and he-first of all I when it, when Wolfgang Suschitsky’s name came up it said something like 1914 dash blank. [CHUCKLES] So I was saying, “Huh?” So I called up Peter Suschitsky and said, “Oh you should talk to my dad.” So I called him up, I got Wolfgang on the phone and we’ve become very close friends, I went to visit him in London. His cat photography was ancillary to the fact that he’s a very distinguished cinematographer.
GO: What did he do?
GM: His most famous credit was Get Carter with Michael Caine. But he was also a great documentary photographer. He documented London from the 1930s to the 1970s, just great photographs. And he’s – he’s literally under the radar here.
GO: That’s an amazing movie. I got a copy of that, like, about a year ago.
GM: He captured a very kind of documentary gritty feel for Liverpool.
GO: I didn’t know you were a cat person.
GM: Yeah, I have four cats. [LAUGHS] They’re up in the country.
GO: I like cats but they make me sneeze.
GM: There’s, you can take an allergy medicine for that.
GO: We have a dog now I don’t know if it would work. We’ve got a great dog, a Rat Terrier. She’s a really interesting breed. They’re really smart.
GM: A big dog or a little dog?
GO: It’s little, like 13 pounds. I never realized they were like farm dogs, because they were good ratters. They’re in a lot of circuses, and if you see a dog in a ballet skirt, it’s probably a Rat Terrier. This dog can walk unlimited distance on its hind legs.
GM: I have friends who live in Red Rock, outside of Chatham, and they had two Portuguese water dogs and they are extraordinary animals and I’ve dog sat for these dogs so, they know me. I’m part of the family. They’re an extraordinary breed; they were trained to dive for the fishing nets for the fishermen in Portugal. It’s in their DNA. They almost went into extinction. And then a fashion model back in the 1950s brought the breed back to life. Back from the brink.
GO: It’s funny the instinct. My older son has a Border Collie. It’ll try and herd anything. Children… You know whatever’s around it’ll try and herd it.
GM: I saw a documentary on PBS about dogs and they had a whole chapter just on the Border Collie. It’s an amazing dog and they love to herd-it’s in the DNA.