Lonesome Cowboys (1968) cont.
Kent E. Carroll, "More Structured, Less Scandalized Warhol Aiming for a Wider Play-off,"
New York Times, 7 May 1969 repr. in Margia Kramer, Andy Warhol Et Al: The FBI File on Andy Warhol (NY: UnSub Press, 1988), p. 54
The Leslie Caron film mentioned in the article was also mentioned in the 'Scenes" column of the 24 April 1969 issue of the Village Voice except in that version, the film was being produced by Leslie Caron's husband and was going to star Candy Darling.
"Scenes" in The Village Voice, 24 April 1969, p. 55
As noted in the New York Times article, Lonesome Cowboys had already played L.A., San Diego and San Francisco before opening in New York. In his New York Times review of the film (see page one), Vincent Canby had recalled first seeing it in San Francisco (where it was billed as a "Western spoof") in 1968. The film was included in the San Francisco International Film Festival in November 1968 as noted in The Stanford Daily:
Todd McCarthy ("Renaissance in Review," The Stanford Daily, 8 November 1968, p. 3):
A significant thing about festivals in the United States is that they allow at least a few Americans to see some new foreign movies that they would otherwise never see. Some festival films that have a certain amount of commercial appeal (Yellow Submarine, Weekend, The Touchables, Lonesome Cowboys) are set for local openings in the near future...
The 12th San Francisco International Film Festival, which ran from October 24 to November 3 at the Masonic Auditorium, was represented by an excellent cross section of countries and types of films...
The winner of the Festival's Samuel Goldwyn Award for Best Picture that year was Funny Girl - despite the fact that it wasn't an entry at the Festival.
F.B.I. agents monitored Lonesome Cowboys at the festival and issued a report on 6 November 1968:
From the F.B.I. file on Andy Warhol:
On November 1, 1968, SA's [deleted] attended the midnight showing of the motion picture, "Lonesome Cowboys," at the San Francisco International Film Festival held at Masonic Auditorium, San Francisco, California.
The film was introduced by ALBERT JOHNSON, an official of the Film Festival, and was represented by JOHNSON to be an ANDY WARHOL production made in Arizona. TAYLOR MEAD and two other individuals were introduced as actors in this production. The actress in the film, VIVA, and ANDY WARHOL were not introduced. The explanation given for WARHOL's absence was that he was ill.
MEAD spoke to the audience for a few minutes in a senseless monologue and said something about not knowing whether to put the beginning of the movie at the end or vice versa.
There were no title or credits flashed on the screen. The film was in color and an attempt had been made to synchronize sound with the action.
The characters in the film were a nurse, played by TAYLOR MEAD; a sheriff who resided in a small Arizona town - population, three; and a group of about five cowboys with an additional new member called "Boy Julian." All of the males in the cast displayed homosexual tendencies and conducted themselves toward one another in an effeminate manner. Many of the cast portrayed their parts as if in a stupor from marijuana, drugs or alcohol.
It appeared that there was no script for the film but rather the actors were given a basic idea for a plot and then instructed to act and speak as they felt.
The movie opened with the woman and her male nurse on a street in the town. Five or six cowboys then entered the town and there was evidence of hostility between the two groups. One of the cowboys practiced his ballet and a conversation ensued regarding the misuse of mascara by one of the other cowboys. At times it was difficult to understand the words being spoken, due to the poor audio of the film and the pronunciation by the actors. The film also skips from scene to scene without continuity.
As the movie progressed, one of the actors ran down a hill. The next scene showed a man wearing only an unbuttoned silk cowboy shirt getting up from the ground. His privates were exposed and another cowboy was lying on the ground in a position with head facing the genitals of the cowboy who had just stood up. A jealous argument ensued between the cowboy who was observed running down the hill and the one wearing the silk shirt. The man in the silk shirt was then seen urinating; however, his privates were not exposed due to the camera angle.
Later in the movie the cowboys went out to the ranch owned by the woman. On their arrival, they took her from her horse, removed her clothes and sexually assaulted her. During this time her private parts were exposed to the audience. She was on her back with her clothes removed and an actor was on his knees near her shoulders with his face in the vicinity of her genitals, but a second actor with his back to the camera blocked the view. The position of the male and female suggested an act of cunnilingus; however the act was not portrayed in full view of the camera.
At the end of this scene the woman sat up and said, "Now look - you have embarrassed those children." There were no children in the movie.
There are other parts in the film in which the private parts of the woman were visible on the screen and there were also scenes in which men were revealed in total nudity. The sheriff in one scene was shown dressing in woman's clothing and later being held on the lap of another cowboy. Also the male nurse was pictured in the arms of the sheriff. In one scene where VIVA was attempting to persuade one of the cowboys to take off his clothes and join her in her nudity, the discussion was centered around the Catholic Church's liturgical songs. She finally persuaded him to remove all of his clothes and he then fondled her breasts and rolled on top of her naked body. There were movements and gyrations; however, at no time did the camera show penetration or a position for insertion.
Another scene depicted a cowboy fondling the nipples of another cowboy.
There were suggestive dances done by the male actors with each other. These dances were conducted while they were clothed and suggested love-making between two males.
There was no plot to the film and no development of characters throughout. It was rather a remotely-connected series of scenes which depicted situations of sexual relationships of homosexual and heterosexual nature.
Obscene words, phrases and gestures were used throughout the film. (MKR35-37)
The F.B.I. description of the film notes that the film "opened with the woman and her male nurse on a street in the town," meaning Viva and Taylor Mead. It also says there were no screen credits. It doesn't mention the sex scene between Viva and Tom Hompertz that takes place at the beginning of the current version of the film. Joe Dallesandro's biographer, Michael Ferguson, describes two versions of the film but both open with the Hompertz/Viva sex scene. One version, the version released on video in the U.K. by Vision Video Ltd. in 1991 (and the version I have seen), has a title song by Bobb Goldsteinn playing in the background during the sex scene. Goldsteinn was a songwriter who wrote Washington Square and has also been credited as the originator of the term "multimedia." In the version with the Goldsteinn track, the opening credits roll after the Viva/Hompertz scene. The Viva/Mead scene follows the credits. The other version, which Ferguson refers to as the one "preserved by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc." has no credits and no song. Instead, during the Viva/Hompertz sex scene "you can hear all sorts of extraneous little sounds." (JOE53)
The IMDB page for the film lists Viva as Ramona d'Alvarez and Hompertz as Julian. According to Paul Morrissey, the film was conceived as a Western version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The F.B.I. report, however, noted that the year before it was made, Warhol had referred to the film as a Western spoof called the Unwanted Cowboy. According to the FBI report, "The records of the 'Arizona Republic' newspaper revealed that on November 7, 1967 an article appeared in the 'Arizona Republic' which contained the photo of ANDY WARHOL and VIVA. WARHOL stated that he liked the desert and was thinking about making a movie called the 'Unwanted Cowboy.' VIVA remarked that she would ride bareback in this film." (MKR11) According to Michael Ferguson in Little Joe: The Films of Joe Dallesandro (Laguna Hills: Companion Press, 1998), other names for the project were In Old Arizona, Lonesome Cowboy (singular) and The Glory of the Fuck. (JOE53)
Joe Dallesandro, who had made his debut in a Warhol film in Loves of Ondine, later recalled the phone call he got from the Factory, asking him to be Lonesome Cowboys. At the time, he was living in New Jersey with his father.
They called me back and asked me if I wanted to go to Arizona. I was working in this bookbinding factory and I said all they had to do was make sure that I got my salary - you know, whatever I was making - so that I wouldn't lose that. So basically, I was the only one who got paid anything. [According to Ferguson, "everybody else received a daily stipend beginning at about $10 and including room and board."] (JOE52)
In addition to Joe Dallesandro, Ondine, the star of Loves of Ondine, was also meant to be in Lonesome Cowboys, along with Brigid Berlin. According to David Bourdon, however, they "failed to show up, presumably because of their skepticism about Arizona's amphetamine supply. Brigid was to have played the leader of a rival gang of cowboys, and Ondine had been slated for the role of Padre Lawrence, described in the scenario as a 'degenerate and unfrocked priest who tries to hide his addiction to opium-laced cough syrups.' (John Chamberlain was offered Ondine's role, but turned it down. He was also invited to play the father of the cowboy brothers, but declined that part, too, on the grounds that he wasn't old enough.)" (DB271) According to Paul Morrissey, the reason there were no other girls in the film was because "they had a quarrel with Viva." (FPM21)
Taylor Mead referred to the actors who didn't show up in a KPFA radio interview recorded the day after the film was shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival. The interviewer notes the "tightness" of the film and wonders whether it had to do with the cast - "the combination of your different vibrations together." Taylor responds that the cast consisted of "a number of people who got along very well" and then talks about the people who didn't show up.
Several people who might have showed up and been quite electric in the film, but also might have split asunder certain relations that that were in the air anyay. A certain softness or a gentleness of the whole ensemble would have been wrecked if those people probably had made it. (CCK)
According to Warhol biographer Victor Bockris, there was another member of Warhol's group who wasn't in the film. Bockris claims in The Life and Death of Andy Warhol (London: Fourth Estate Ltd., 1998), that "a thickset young stud from San Diego known as Joey had been flown in to stay with Andy" during the filming. On the second morning in Arizona, "Warhol awoke to the acrid stench of gas in his cabin and sprang out of bed to discover that Joey, who only the previous afternoon had lain tranquilly next to him in bed holding hands over the covers as Viva drew their portrait, had tried to commit suicide." Fred Hughes got rid of him immediately, putting him on a plane. (LD286-287)
Despite the fact that the film may have been conceived as a Western version of Romeo and Juliet, the plot becomes increasingly confusing and generally irrelevant as the film progresses, with the film relying heavily on the screen charisma of the individual actors (as with most Warhol films). As noted in the F.B.I. report (above), "There was no plot to the film and no development of characters throughout. It was rather a remotely-connected series of scenes which depicted situations of sexual relationships of homosexual and heterosexual nature." David Bourdon gives the impression that the lack of plot was a result of Warhol realizing that they couldn't "make a movie out of it" after he started to edit the footage. According to David Bourdon "When the time came to edit Lonesome Cowboys, he [Warhol] would concede, 'You can't make a movie out of it, so we're just going to cut out the best parts and paste them together. I don't really believe in montage, but I guess we've used it.'" (DB275) Taylor Mead recalls that Warhol wanted to avoid too much plot in the movie while they actually filming it. The lack of a cohesive plot was intentional.
I remember once when I was filming Lonesome Cowboys, I had read the synopsis before and, in one scene I said, "Well, Viva has this hacienda, you cowboys are all invited to come up," and Andy said "Too much plot." (Christopher Bollen, "New Wave Cinema," Interview magazine)
The lack of a plot or the disintegration of plot as the film progresses characterises most of Warhol's films. A film with a plot is entertainment. A film that is plotless is "art. " Warhol retained the imperfections of the silkscreening process in his paintings and similarly retained the imperfections in his films of the filmmaking process.
Yet the film has been criticized for its lack of plot. In Stephen Koch's early book on Warhol's films and life, Stargazer, he writes, "Warhol's Western is a bad film, even an abominably bad film. It is sloppily made. It does not do what it wants to do. It is very boring. But, even though it is bad, it is among the most critically interesting of Warhol's bad films, because it is a pivotal work in his career both as a film-maker and as a public personality. It is the last film he completed before being shot, the last properly attributed to him rather than Paul Morrissey, the last he directed entirely on his own." (SG105) The film that came after Lonesome Cowboys was San Diego Surf. Warhol is going to be credited as the director on both of them in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne. Although Paul Morrissey claims to have directed both Surf and Cowboys, in the mid 1990s he waived the right to both of those films in exchange for ownership of other films such as Trash and Flesh. (JHA) (See "Andy Warhol's San Diego Surf")
Not everyone shared Koch's view that the film was "abominably bad." The day after it was shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Tom Hompertz and Taylor Mead were interviewed for KPFA radio by Claire Clouzot. She praised the film, saying "it was the revelation of the festival" and that "may people have seen Andy's flms - but Lonesome Cowboys is starting a new explosion." She concluded the interview by saying that Andy Warhol "will never do anything better than Lonesome Cowboys." (CCK)
Film scholar J.J. Murphy points out some of the confusions in Lonesome Cowboys that make it a difficult film for some viewers:
J.J. Murphy (The Black Hole of the Camera: The Films of Andy Warhol (London: University of California Press, 2012):
The usual confusions abound in Lonesome Cowboys. For one thing it's extremely hard to follow the narrative thread. There are two Julians: the character Julian (Tom Hompertz) and the actor Julian Burroughs (Andrew Dungan). At times, the actors mix up each other's fictional and real names. There's little attempt at realism or verisimilitude for what is ostensibly a period piece. Viva's costume suggests she might be going on a fox hunt rather than playing in a Western She runs a brothel, but we never see any of her prostitutes other than the transvestite sheriff (Frances Francine), and Viva later admits that the brothel is only a cover for her own promiscuous sexual activities. We hear offscreen directions to the actors. An airplane can be heard on the sound track several times, while the camera zooms in on power lines in one of the later shots. We see tourists in the background of another. The performers drink beer in pop-top cans and smoke filtered cigarettes. The cowboys smoke marijuana and discuss surfing in California and the generation gap. Joe Dallesandro and Taylor Mead dance to a Beatles song. When the sheriff dresses up in drag, Romona [sic] suggests that he looks like an Indian, implying that drag queens have always been an essential part of the genre. All of these things help to deconstruct the conventional Western. (JJM217)
The film ends with a backlit conversation with Tom and Eric, with Tom telling Eric how to surf. Eric decides he wants to move to California and calls the older "brother" Louis Waldon over to give him the news. Louis chastises him - "you give up ballet and now you're giving up the chance to become a cowboy" and Eric responds by saying he's not ready to settle down. At the end of the scene Eric sings a song about playing with himself, ending it by staring at the camera and saying "The End." We see the back of two cowboys, presumably meant to be Eric and Tom, riding into the distance, presumably on their way to California.
Most of the actors in the cast of Lonesome Cowboys did go to California about four months later to act in San Diego Surf. According to Popism, "In May, Paul, Viva, and I [Warhol] went out west together to talk at a few colleges, and once we were out there, we started filming a surfing movie in La Jolla, California." (POP269) The filming of San Diego Surf was a bit more complicated than that. In addition to Viva, the cast included Taylor Mead, Louis Waldon, Joe Dallesandro, Tom Hompertz and Eric Emerson - all of whom had previously appeared in Lonesome Cowboys.Warhol edited Lonesome Cowboys after San Diego Surf had been filmed and it is likely that the comments about going to California placed at the end of Lonesome Cowboys were an intentional reference to San Diego Surf. Although Warhol's surf film was not released at the time, comments by Warhol and his actors indicate that it was planned to be the next film after Cowboys. (See San Diego Surf.)