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Doubling the Screen: Andy Warhol’s Outer and Inner Space

Callie Angell

Printed in Millennium Film Journal No. 38 (Spring 2002): Winds From the East

The following remarks were presented as an introduction to a screening of Andy Warhol’s 1965 double-screen film, Outer and Inner Space, at the Hermitage State Museum, St. Petersburg, on October 31, 2000. 1

Outer and Inner Space was restored by The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1998 and premiered as an installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art in October 1998.2 Outer and Inner Space was first exhibited by Warhol at the Filmmakers Cinematheque in New York City in January 1966, and was screened on only a few other occasions in the 1960s; by the time of the premiere of the restored film at the Whitney, Outer and Inner Space had not been seen in over 30 years.

The restoration of Outer and Inner Space is part of a long-term collaborative project by the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Modern Art in New York to catalogue, research, preserve, and exhibit the films of Andy Warhol. Since the project began in 1988, MoMA has restored over 270 of Warhol’s Screen Tests and more than 40 other films, including the 8-hour Empire, and the 5-and-a-half-hour Sleep . Since 1991, Callie Angell has served as Curator of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum and consultant to The Museum of Modern Art on the preservation of the Warhol films. She is presently writing the catalogue raisonné of the Warhol film collection, which will be published by the Whitney in two volumes. The preserved Warhol films may be rented in 16mm from The Museum of Modern Art, and may also be seen at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Both the Whitney’s research project and the Warhol film preservation program at MoMA have been made possible with funding from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

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After we premiered the restored version of this film at the Whitney Museum in 1998, Bill Horrigan, who is the film curator at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, wrote me to say that he thought Outer and Inner Space contained virtually all the themes of Warhol’s work in one place, that if all of Warhol’s artworks and films were somehow suddenly lost, it might, he thought, be metaphorically possible to reconstruct it all by extracting some of Outer and Inner Space’s DNA. I like this genetic image because it offers such a vivid metaphor for the complex interweaving of themes and ideas which takes place in this film on both a theoretical and a material level. Some of the most important themes from Warhol’s paintings, such as portraiture, celebrity, repetition, seriality, and the multiplication of images, are literally interwoven through the manipulation of  media technology with the major themes of Warhol’s cinema, in which portraiture is transformed into a kind of self-conscious performance, celebrity is recreated and critiqued in the homemade avant-garde phenomenon of the Warhol superstar, with the result that the moving image media of film and video suddenly become as infinitely expandable and repeatable as Warhol’s seemingly endless series of paintings.  So the complex physical structure of this film works as an image for its complex thematic structure as well.

Before I go on, I should explain what this film is, what you will see in it, and how Warhol came to make it. Outer and Inner Space is a 16mm film of Edie Sedgwick sitting in front of a television monitor on which is playing a prerecorded videotape of herself.  On the videotape, Edie is positioned on the left side of the frame, facing right; she is talking to an unseen person off-screen to our right. In the film, the “real” or “live” Edie Sedgwick is seated on the right side of the film frame, with her video image behind her, and she is talking to an unseen person off-screen to our left. The effect of this setup is that it sometimes creates the rather strange illusion that we are watching Edie in conversation with her own video image. The film is two reels long, each reel is 1,200 feet or 33 minutes long, and the videotapes playing within the film are each 30 minutes long. The two film reels are projected side by side, with reel One on the left and reel Two on the right, and with sound on both reels. So what you see are four heads, alternating video/film, video/film,  and sometimes all four heads are talking at once.

This is the only Warhol film in the entire Collection which incorporates videotape. Warhol was able to make this film in August 1965 when he was loaned some rather expensive video equipment by the Norelco Company. The summer of 1965 was the time when portable, affordable video equipment designed for the home market first became available to the general public; a number of different companies, including Sony and Matsushida, were developing their own home video recording systems and beginning to market them at prices ranging from $500 to $1000 each. The Norelco video equipment was a rather high-end system costing about $10,000, and it was loaned to Warhol as a kind of promotional gimmick.  That is, Warhol was quite well-known as an underground filmmaker at the time, as well as an artist, and the idea was that Warhol would experiment with the new video medium, see what he could do with it, and then report on his experiences in a published interview and more or less give his endorsement to the new medium and specifically to Norelco’s product. The Norelco equipment was delivered to Warhol’s studio, the Factory, on July 30, 1965; in fact, the arrival of the video camera and the ensuing conversations about it between Warhol and his colleagues are some of the events documented in the early chapters of Warhol’s tape-recorded novel, a novel. During the month that Warhol had this video access, he shot approximately 11 half-hour tapes (at least, that’s how many Norelco videotapes have been found in the Warhol Video Collection). One of the interesting things about Outer and Inner Space is that it contains, in effect, the only retrievable footage from these 1965 videotapes. The Norelco system utilized an unusual video format, called “slant scan video,” which differed from the helical scan format developed by Sony and other video companies, and which very quickly became obsolete. There are now no working slant scan tape players anywhere in the world, the other videotapes which Warhol shot in 1965 cannot be played back, and the only accessible footage from these early videos exists in this film, which Warhol, in effect, preserved by reshooting them in 16mm.

Outer and Inner Space is Warhol’s first double-screen film, and in this sense it is an important transitional work, since the double-screen format was very important in his later cinema–for example in The Chelsea Girls (l966), which is probably his best known film. It seems to me that Warhol’s use of video in the making of this film led him directly to the idea of double-screen film projection, that the double-screen format was a logical outgrowth of his access to video. In the interview which was published in Tape Recording magazine, Warhol talked about what he particularly liked about video:

Question:  Have you recorded from a television set with the video recorder?

Warhol:  Yes. This is so great. We’ve done it both direct and from the screen. Even the pictures from the screen are terrific. Someone put his arm in front of the screen to change channels while we were taping and the effect was very dimensional. We found you can position someone in front of a TV set and have it going while you’re recording. If you have close-ups in the TV screen, you can cut back and forth and get great effects. 3

In other words, Warhol is particularly fascinated by the ability of video playback to double the image of his subject–to place a person in the same frame with his or her own image. And it seems to me this doubling of a person’s image would naturally have reminded Warhol of his own paintings, in which he often silkscreened multiple images of the same face onto the same canvas. And once he had doubled the image of his subject, Edie Sedgwick, by filming her in the same frame with her video image, it would seem an obvious step to further multiply her image by adding a second film screen to the first, just as he often multiplied the repeated images in his paintings by adding on additional panels or canvases. So, I think that is what you see happening in this film–the medium of video provides Warhol with a link back to his own practice as a painter, and his practice as a painter then suggests ways to further expand his filmmaking into the new formats of double- and multi-screen projection which will dominate so much of his later film work.

After Outer and Inner Space was shot in August 1965, Warhol began planning other films for double-screen projection. For example, in October 1965 he made a film called The Bed, based on a play by Bob Heide,  which was filmed with two cameras–so you see the same action and dialogue filmed simultaneously from two different vantage points, one head on, and the other at a 45° angle. By January 1966, Warhol had started exhibiting some films, such as Outer and Inner Space in double screen, and he also began projecting many of his films in double and triple screen behind the Velvet Underground during performances of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (EPI), which was the multi-media  light show which Warhol produced to accompany the Velvet Underground during their rock-and-roll concerts, and which combined multiple film projections with projections of colored lights, patterned slides, flashing strobe lights, and so on. Warhol was working very closely with his assistant Dan Williams during this time, and they developed a lot of experimental techniques not only for the exhibition of multi-screen films, but for the shooting of these films as well–for example, using very dramatic camera movements, rapid zooming and panning and circling of the camera and so on, visual effects which would look even more complicated and dazzling in contrast with each other when shown side by side. You don’t see this kind of elaborate camera movement in Outer and Inner Space; there is really only one slow zoom in and another zoom out. But you do see a lot of this experimentation in The Chelsea Girls , with black-and-white images on one screen next to color footage on the other, pans and zooms and out of focus shots contrasting with camera movements in the opposite direction on the other screen, and so on.  In an even later film called **** (Four Stars) from 1967, Warhol further complicated the idea of the expanded cinema format by projecting one reel of color film on top of another, in superimposition, so all of these camera movements and different colors and imagery blend together in an almost psychedelic manner. Outer and Inner Space is a very careful, almost  formal work in contrast with the looseness and expansiveness of this later style, but I think it implicitly contains all the possibilities of these later developments.
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Warhol had, of course, made a great many films before Outer and Inner Space. The history of the Warhol films is, of course, very complex.  I apologize that I am not able to get into it in any detail in this brief talk, but I can generalize enough to say that a great many of Warhol’s films prior to Outer and Inner Space were, in effect, portrait films, and that Warhol’s sense of portraiture in his films was often very confrontational. In the films, the act of portraiture is stretched out over time and, therefore, becomes a kind of performance, and the most interesting and authentic film performances are sometimes evoked or even deliberately provoked in what could only have been experienced by the performer as a kind of ordeal. One of Warhol’s most important works in film is the enormous serial work called Screen Tests, a series of 4-minute black and white silent portrait films of people simply facing the movie camera. There are 472 of these films in the Warhol Film Collection. One of the main themes in the early Screen Tests was the idea that these filmed portraits could be mistaken for photographs; sometimes people were instructed to hold completely still and not even blink, in the hopes that the resulting film would be so static and unmoving that it would be indistinguishable from an actual photograph, as a kind of joke on the viewer. But what happens in these films, of course, is that this performance requirement makes people very uncomfortable; it’s very hard to hold still for three minutes, and it’s nearly impossible not to blink (although a couple of people did manage it), and so instead of pseudo-photographs, what you get are some very intense performances, performances which emerge from the tension that is created when people are asked to behave as if they were their own image. In a sense, the Screen Tests are like little documentaries about what it is like to sit for your portrait, and what you see in these films are people engaged in direct physical conflict with the idea of their own image. This is essentially the same struggle which Edie is engaged in in Outer and Inner Space, except that in this case her image has been prerecorded and she must occupy both the same space and the same moment of time with it, listening to her own voice whispering into her ear like a ghost from the past, while facing down the movie camera that is recording every moment of her existential ordeal in the present.

Edie Sedgwick was, of course, the star of a great many other Warhol films, most of them made in the first half of 1965, before Outer and Inner Space . She was a very beautiful, intelligent, and yet rather unstable young woman who was absolutely stunning on film. As you know, Warhol was also fascinated by Marilyn Monroe and produced many portraits of her, and it is my sense that in Edie Sedgwick he felt he had discovered his own Marilyn Monroe–someone who was as beautiful, as vulnerable, as otherworldly, and as doomed as Marilyn was. Warhol was very ambitious as a filmmaker, and Edie represented, I think, some of his greatest hopes for his own filmmaking: not only did Edie look like Marilyn, but I think he hoped she also might prove to be as big a film star. Warhol made a whole series of films which were basically just films about her, star vehicles for Edie Sedgwick. He began this series with the idea of making a 24 hour film of a day in the life of Edie Sedgwick, a project which was never completed, but which ended up as a series of feature-length portrait films: Poor Little Rich Girl , Beauty #2, Face, Restaurant, Afternoon, and so on. Some of these films are rather straightforward recordings of Edie at home, almost like cinema verite documentaries, but others like Beauty #2, are more confrontational in their attempt to provoke a more authentic or extreme performance. These films are uncomfortable to watch, sometimes even rather cruel, but it is my belief that Edie, like most Warhol film stars, participated in these ordeals with full understanding of their purpose: that is, if she didn’t know exactly what was going to happen in a particular film, she would nevertheless have fully agreed–at least in principle–to the idea of being pressured for the sake of a more interesting or more authentic performance.

Outer and Inner Space is one of the last Edie Sedgwick films from 1965. She also appears in another film called Space, shot around the same time, and later in Lupe, her last film from 1965, in which she re-enacts the suicide of the Hollywood actress Lupe Velez, and dies repeatedly, at the end of three different reels, from an overdose of sleeping pills, with her head in the toilet. In both of these films, interestingly, Edie’s image is also doubled but through the use of mirrors: that is, in both Space and Lupe Warhol places Edie in front of a mirror and then films her face to face with her own reflection, recreating the double-portrait which he was able to achieve with video. This technique of repetition of an image evokes a technique which is most familiar in Warhol’s paintings–repeating the image of a strong and beautiful face as a way of making it both more powerful and somehow emptier of meaning–and the use of this technique in the Sedgwick films underscores the direct equivalence between Edie Sedgwick and Marilyn Monroe in Warhol’s aesthetic pantheon. Lupe was also shown as a double- or even triple-screen film–there are, in fact, three reels of this film–and was at one point projected in triple screen as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Edie ended her association with Warhol around January 1966, but returned briefly in the summer of 1967 to appear in a couple of reels of **** (Four Stars). She died in 1971 at the age of 28, six years after Outer and Inner Space was made, from an accidental overdose of barbiturates.

Outer and Inner Space is a very carefully constructed film. You will notice that in the video image of Edie, she’s positioned on the left side of the frame, on the videotape, leaving a space on the right side of the video image where the head of the “real” Edie can fit in the foreground. The film begins with Reel One on the left, with a close up of Edie’s two heads, one video, one film; after a while, the camera slowly pulls back into a medium-long shot, in which you see the upper half of Edie’s body positioned in front of the television monitor and the dark space and foiled-covered windows of the Factory behind her. Reel Two, on the right, begins with this same long shot, and then gradually zooms forward into close up. When the two reels are projected side by side, with Reel One on the left, these two camera movements, the in and out zooms, gradually pass each other in the middle, with each reel ending where the other begins. The end of each reel arrives twice, first on video, and then on film–and you get effects such as the electronic breakdown of the video image at the end of the videotape followed by the flare-out of the film image at the end of the film reel. Another interesting thing that happens in close-up is that the video image of Edie’s head is larger than her real head, and this creates a sort of optical illusion–that is, the video image of her head, being larger, appears to be closer to us than her real head, which is smaller, so our perception of the depth in the image is reversed.  I think this spatial distortion, this sense of penetration into and then withdrawal from the complex visual depths of these images, may be what the title of the film, Outer and Inner Space , refers to. Of course, the title also makes reference to Edie’s psyche, the exteriority of her image versus the interiority of her subjective experience.

There is a similar manipulation on the soundtrack: just as the film images move in and out, the sound also moves in and out. There is sound on all four channels in the film–in other words, there is the sound of Edie speaking on both videotapes and there is also the sound of what Edie is saying on film in both reels, so sometimes you get all four heads speaking at the same time. But audio levels of the video monitor were also being adjusted while the tape was playing and also the sound levels of the audio recording on the film while it was being shot, so you get this weaving in and out of the audibility of the soundtracks, which I guess was probably meant to parallel the zooming in and out of the film images. This effect was not particularly successful; in fact, I should point out that this soundtrack, in double screen anyway, is almost totally incomprehensible. But I think the effect of a babble of overlapping and inaudible voices works well with the rather overpowering complexity of the film and video images.
I also wanted to point out that you can notice Warhol’s presence in the film in a couple of places, where you see Edie looking at the camera, or slightly above it, to get directions from Warhol. At the end of the second reel, on the right, she sneezes several times on the videotape, and you can see Edie looking above the camera while she waits for Warhol to give her the signal when to sneeze back, since he is cuing her to sneeze in response to her own sneezes on the videotape. So you can read the presence of Warhol into the film, and you see some of his filmmaking assistants as well–for example, Gerard Malanga, who is briefly visible behind the television monitor on occasion. There are some very complex lines of communication in this film, all of which are, of course, very distracting for Edie–the presence of her videotape behind her speaking into her ear; the person off screen left to whom she’s talking “now”; the camera she’s facing; Warhol above the camera, looking down upon her and giving her directions about what to do; the ends of the film reel and the videotape approaching simultaneously; other noises being made by other people at the Factory, and so on. This would drive almost anyone crazy, but Edie is not all that stable to begin with, so it makes her even more fractured. It’s a painful film, very beautiful, but very painful as well.

Now, a final point of some considerable historical interest, and that is that Outer and Inner Space does indeed seem to be the very first documented use of videotape by an artist. By the mid-sixties, some artists were working with television as an art object, especially, of course, Nam June Paik, who had his first exhibition of electronically and sculpturally altered television sets in 1963, but–as I said–affordable video equipment became available only in the summer of 1965, and Andy Warhol actually used it before Paik did. Nam June Paik’s first videotape was shot with portable Sony equipment on October 4, 1965 and exhibited the same day at the Café-au-Go-Go, in an exhibition called “Electronic Video Recorder.” Outer and Inner Space predates that moment, since it was shot in August, and in the film you see Warhol deliberately experimenting with some of the techniques specific to the video medium which other artists would explore more fully only in the 1970’s. They are playing with the electronic breakdown of the video image while the tape is playing, they distort the scanning of the image, they manipulate the vertical roll on the tv set so the image goes flipping by very quickly, they pause the tape so the image freezes on the tv, and they even turn off the tape at the end so you get a little bit of a broadcast tv image. A number of video artists like Paik, Al Robbins, and Joan Jonas explored these specific electronic aspects of the video medium in later works in the seventies–like Jonas’s tape Vertical Roll from 1972–but this film was made seven years before that.

I’m a little puzzled by what this discovery means. How can we think about this film today in relation to the history of video art? Outer and Inner Space was made at a time when there actually was no such thing as video art, the film was shown only a few times in the 1960’s, so it really had no contemporary impact in that context at all, and was probably not seen by anyone who was then identified as or likely to become a video artist. So I’m not convinced that the discovery of this film will–or should–rewrite the history of video art retroactively. Instead, I think its real import lies in what it tells us about Andy Warhol and his particular genius for instantly and intuitively grasping the conceptual possibilities of any media technology he got his hands on. Warhol did go on in the 1970’s and 1980’s to make a great deal of video, but very little of this work falls into the category of video art; most of this later video work belongs to much more commercial genres, such as magazine format television shows, music videos, promotional videos, celebrity interviews, and so on. Perhaps Warhol didn’t find video very interesting as an artistic medium; perhaps he had set his sights on larger ambitions, like broadcast television. In any case, the Warhol Film Collection, all 290 hours of it, still stands, I think, as the best example of how far Warhol could–and would–in fact go in exploring the possibilities of moving image media. But Outer and Inner Space demonstrates what a quick study Warhol was once he got his hands on a new medium. This makes me think what a shame it is that Warhol is not still alive today. The Internet, to give just one example, might be a much more interesting place to visit if he had been able to spend a month or two fooling around with it.

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this article was printed in Millennium Film Journal No. 38 (Spring 2002): Winds From the East