'Sleep': Warhol's 5-Hour Fever Dream

By -- Lavanya Ramanathan
Thursday, April 3, 2008

In 1963, as his painting career was taking off and he himself wasn't getting much shut-eye, Andy Warhol began his first major film project, "Sleep" -- in which he hoped to capture his lover, the poet John Giorno, doing nothing but sleeping. Nude. For eight hours.

"Sleep," which gets a rare screening Sunday at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as part of its "Cinema Effect" exhibition, ended up clocking in at less than 5 1/2 hours. (Warhol hit a snag with his camera, which could shoot only four minutes at a time.)

Trust us: Unlike real life, no one ever complains they just didn't get enough "Sleep." When the much-buzzed-about movie was screened in Los Angeles in 1964, one report said that of 500 filmgoers present, only 50 remained at the end. (The rest? The theater manager wrote that some threatened to riot if they didn't get their money back. He also noted that the projectionist kept falling asleep.)

"Sleep" begins with a 20-minute scene of Giorno's belly. Followed by Giorno on his back. Then there is some quality time with Giorno's armpit. Then something else -- perhaps a knee?

According to Callie Angell, curator of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art, as simple as "Sleep" may seem, it wasn't shot in a night; Warhol got about four hours of actual footage over several months' time, then used less than 30 minutes of that, stretching it out by repeating much of it and requiring that the movie be run in slow motion.

Um, why?

Well, for one thing, Warhol was in love. "Watching someone sleep, it's kind of a love affair," says Angell, who'll be on hand for a talk about the film tonight at the Hirshhorn (sorry, you'll have to come back Sunday to see the entire film). He was also looking to make films that were as much art as any painting.

And although Giorno and the artist didn't last long as a couple, "Sleep" lives on. Says Angell: "You don't know if the relationship is about getting the film, or if the film is about holding onto the relationship."

Warhol continued to make movies -- hundreds of them, even as he was prolifically painting. Not long after making "Sleep," he finally made his eight-hour epic: Called "Empire," it consists of hours and hours of just one view of the Empire State Building.

Lecture by Callie Angell, tonight at 8. "Sleep," free, noon-5:30 Sunday. Both at Ring Auditorium, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Seventh Street and Independence Avenue SW. 202-633-4674.

Save the Date

CONCERT: The Raconteurs, at the Club Surely big enough to sell out the Patriot Center or something comparable, the Raconteurs (Jack White's side project with Brendan Benson and others) are pulling a second surprise after releasing a record, "Consolers of the Lonely," only a week after announcing it was even in the works. Their tour is bringing them to the 9:30 club for two intimate shows May 27-28. We hope you are reading this bright and early, because tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. today, and will not last long. $40. 9:30 club, 815 V St. NW. 800-955-5566 or http://www.tickets.com.

ON STAGE: Janeane Garofalo The funny liberal actress and thinking man's hottie has reemerged, after leaving Air America Radio in 2006, for a role on the television show "24." And she's definitely still a hot act here; her stand-up show was sold out at the State Theatre a year ago. But you have a second chance: Catch her next week at one of three shows she's doing at the Drafthouse Comedy Theater (as in Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse). But get tickets in advance, because this will likely sell out. $25. April 11 at 9:45 and April 12 at 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. 2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington. 703-486-2345 or buy tickets at http://www.arlingtondrafthouse.com.

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