40 years of faulty wiring

Andy Warhol’s Blow Job Sucks

The first time I saw Blow Job I was at the AGO in Toronto. I was across the room from It, the actual original Blow Job and didn’t get any closer. The AGO was under construction and much of Warhol’s art was crammed into corners and hallways that were more of an insult than a display. Why management didn’t wait until the Gallery was completed to display Warhol I’ll never know. Absorbing so much avant-garde inspiration in one room felt like grabbing for Christmas gifts that weren’t mine: too much greedy splendor to appreciate the moment. Still the unfinished gallery served as a suitable metaphor for Warhol: dying while still in his prime and developing his signature art. Who knows what other social genius he might have achieved?

Years later I happened upon bj on youtube. At first it’s vulnerability and explicit subtlety were painful to watch yet I couldn’t look away. I nearly shut it off but mezmerized that there once existed a young man so socially experimental as to allow himself to be filmed getting a blow I was drawn into the delicious intimacy of the act without actually seeing it; therein lies its artistic power. I’ve seen pornograpy before. This is nothing like it. This is no “acting”, no ridiculously plastic script, or unnecessarily over-sized cocks attached to undesirable, unsexy males. This is purity.

Deveren Bookwalter was the accidental actor in the film, as was the unseen partner, Willard Maas. Initially Warhol booked Charles Rydell, boyfriend of the American filmmaker and artist, Jerome Hill to use as the face of Blow Job. When Rydell failed to show, Warhol stated he used a “good-looking kid who happened to be hanging around the Factory that day”. Fateful chance that Warhol ended up filming what was no doubt the better of the two young men he had in mind. He has the look of a naive small town boy Warhol found and gently exploited in the circus-like atmosphere of the Factory.  

DeVeren Bookwalter became the first person to win three Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for his production, direction and performance in Cyrano de Bergerac in 1975. He appeared in a number of films and television soaps. He made an impressive performance in the highly acclaimed The Enforcer, a 1976 film with Clint Eastwood. Bookwalter died on July 23, 1987 at the young age of 48 of stomach cancer. He was married to actress Ruth Kidder. They had a son, County Wilder Bookwalter.

Not surprisingly there is wonderful social and sexual irony behind the scenes. Both Bookwalter and Maas were heterosexual men who later married (women). Straight men disguised as lovers couldn’t drive the point home more poignantly to clueless homophobes. The implied seduction of the film has critics shying away from calling the film what it is: a blow job. They can’t bring themselves to admit Bookwalter is getting sucked off. They can barely allude to the fact that someone is getting him off orally. Peter Gidal writes “he is apparently being given the sex act named in the title”. Apparently? Sex act? Come on Gidal, man up and say it. Sam Ishii-Gonzalès politely suggests a titular activity. Wikipedia uses the medical terminology fellatio.

It is rumoured that Warhol used the notorious big red couch for his set, and that’s likely true since the couch was seen in the majority of Warhol’s sexual experiments, an iconic element in his films, and an apt metaphor for the 60’s, the era of “free” love, the beginning of rampant STDs in North America, rejection of the Establishment and traditional family. You fucked whomever you chose or whomever chose you and you didn’t seek out that person the next day. In fact you were probably a city away by then. Such was the hard core atmosphere of America’s 1960’s, cleverly reflected in Warhol’s Factory and all of the films that it produced. 

Even so, the 1960’s weren’t for everyone. That could be part of the reason Warhol included unforgettable media images of death in many of his works. Some of the most famous movie stars and musicians of the 20th century died in the 60’s or came damned close to it, hapless victims of their own image, unable to prevent the monster they’d unleased upon the 60’s from destroying their own lives. On a much larger scale death and its continual threat enveloped America in endless waves: the Cuban missile crisis, The Vietnam War, and the end of the 1950’s myth of female roles ridiculously punctuated by the fictional, Beaver Cleaver family, annihilated within the second wave of the American feminism movement  . These define what it was to experience the 60’s every bit as much as Warhol and other pop culture geniuses of the time. Bookwalter’s futile struggle to avoid climaxing is a great metaphor for this decade: ready or not here it cums.

 The 60’s remain a fascinating study of post-modern America, enormously oppositional socio-political forces that will never know its historical equal. To be sure in spite of impressive developments in contemporary art, not every artist has the stamina, the ingenuity and the fuck-you-and-your-little-dog-too attitude of Warhol. That at least partially explains why long after the decadence of the 60’s passed, we lost an art visionary who has never been and will never be replaced.

Watch video Brian Goes to Hollywood

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October 31, 2010 - Posted by | Pop Culture | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I remember the AGO’s Andy Warhol exhibit and yes you’re right, it was poorly done due to the Gallery’s renovations at the time. Though I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of Warhol’s work necessarily, the man was an original. He also was a driving force behind one of my fave bands of all time, The Velvet Underground. Great blog. I enjoyed reading this.

    Comment by Liam | November 27, 2010 | Reply


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