Andy Warhol b. 1953
Paul Swan (1965)
Andy Warhol, 16mm, 1965, 66 mins Introduced by Douglas Crimp

Paul Swan is Andy Warhol’s two-reel portrait of the dancer once billed as “the most beautiful man in the world.” In 1965, when Warhol filmed him, Swan was eighty-two years old and still performing his aesthetic dance routines in weekly salons attended by the likes of Marcel Duchamp and Alexander Calder. In Warhol’s film, Swan dances such numbers as “Two Hero’s Slain,” his elegy for World War I soldiers, “The Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, and Air—the Movements Seen and Unseen in Nature,” and “Three Oriental Numbers” in skimpy costumes that he spends a great deal of the time getting into and out of. Paul Swan is one of the few films Warhol shot it color in 1965, and though the camera is stationary in the first reel, trained throughout on the tapestry backdrop Swan uses for a set, in the second reel Warhol zooms right in on Swan’s aging flesh and shoe-polish eye make-up. For much of that reel, though, Swan remains off-stage (and off-screen) looking for a particular pair of black slippers that he insists must be worn with his French peasant costume. Swan’s pianist helps him look for the slippers while the crew behind the camera becomes increasingly impatient to get Swan back in front of the camera. Not surprisingly, Warhol is content to let the action take its own course. Callie Angell wrote that “Warhol’s interest in Paul Swan seems to have been based on the observation that, in his unswerving dedication to his increasingly anachronistic art form, Swan had become the living embodiment of camp.” And in fact Swan had appeared in Warhol’s film of that title around the same time that Paul Swan was made. Angell also noted that Swan’s performance in Warhol’s film recalls “the equally disorganized, equally uncompromising performances of Jack Smith,” with whom he appears in Camp. - DC