Posted by: Anya Martin | October 25, 2008

13 Most Beautiful, a Moving Goodbye Toast to the Festival

13 Most Beautiful

13 Most Beautiful

I feel a little sad and a little relieved entering the Byham Theater for the world premiere of 13 Most Beautiful…Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. The 2008 Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts is at an end, and the entrancing performance of 13 Most Beautiful was a perfect toast to a truly memorable and transformative festival.

In 13 Most Beautiful, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips formerly of the indie rock sensation, Luna, compose 13 original songs to accompany 13 short films by Andy Warhol. The films are a selection of Warhol’s four-minute, silent film portraits called Screen Tests. Made between1964-1966, visitors to Warhol’s studio were often asked to pose, while he filmed them under a strong keylight on a stationary 16mm silent, black and white camera.

In an arts age where multi-media feels like a necessity in contemporary performance mediums, 13 Most Beautiful was a refreshingly simple and elegant fusion of live performance and film. Projected onto a basic large screen directly above the band, Warhol’s subjects confront the camera and ultimately themselves. The unsympathetic eye of the camera seems to evoke an inward gaze in Warhol’s subjects as they stare down, defy, or flirt with the mirror of the camera lens.

Young women wear thick eyeliner and heavy mascara, and youthful men often project a 60’s cool and confrontational persona. Screen Test subjects are so honest and unadulterated, it’s like going back in time to stand face to face with a young and hopeful 60’s generation. And yet, this is all history. These men and women must now be in their 60’s or 70’s, if even they are still alive.

In front of you, the live band performs with a hip and relaxed perfection, never overpowering or manipulating the images. The music is mesmerizing, driving, and soothing at times, with complexly designed rhythms and repetitive melodies subtly layered and interwoven. Not just a live presentation of a film underscore nor a rock concert with media, 13 Most Beautiful finds instead a symbiotic relationship between the live band and the 40-year-old film footage. In this way, time and emotion are intertwined in a hypnotic and charismatic performance.

The show creates a perfect harmony for the Festival itself, as the performances are all now history. And yet, the Festival’s influence and ambition is sure to continue to inspire and motivate this city and its arts in this present time and the future.


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