Directed by Andy Warhol, a leading figure in the visual art movement also known as pop art, Sleep consists of a long take footage of John Giorno, his close friend at the time, sleeping for five hours and 20 minutes.
It premiered on January 17, 1964, presented by Jonas Mekas at the Gramercy Arts Theater as a fundraiser for Film-makers’ Cooperative. Of the nine people who thought it would be a good idea to attend the premiere, two left during the first hour.
This film was one of Warhol’s first experiments with filmmaking, and was created as a “anti-film”. He extended this technique to making another similar eight hour-long film.
This 485-minute film is nothing but continuous slow motion footage of the Empire State Building in New York City.
Why would anyone make such an unwatchable film? The bizarre reason was supposedly the unwatchability of the film itself.
Furthermore, the film was over eight hours long and no shortened versions of the film were allowed. However a legitimate Italian VHS produced in association with the Andy Warhol Museum in 2000 contains only an extract of 60 minutes.
Warhol employed Rob Trains to be the projectionist for a screening of the film. Trains miscalculated and mixed the order and speed of the reels for the eight-hour movie. But Warhol actually loved the “mistake” and employed Trains for the entire summer after The New York Times published a positive review!
As if that wasn’t enough, in 2004, the Library of Congress selected Empire to be preserved as part of its National Film Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically and aesthetically important”.
Here is a 10 minute excerpt of the film
Paint Drying (2016)
The young director of this film, Charlie Lyne, is also a film critic who is known for his chatty style, strong opinions and providing concise pop commentary.
In the most unusual way possible, Lyne wanted to protest against the mandatory classification that filmmakers were required to pay for in order to show their films in theatres. It was possible to show an unclassified film in cinemas, but a written permission from the local authority was required in order to do so.
In November 2015, Lyne started a Kickstarter campain to raise money so that he could intentionally create an utterly boring movie.
“My central issue with the BBFC is that it has a government mandate. I’m not against a ratings board, I think that it’s good that people should be able to be informed about what they watch, but it’s the fact that if they refuse to rate a film, then that film is effectively banned.”
-Charlie Lyne speaking to The Telegraph
Lyne’s campaign, called Make the Censors Watch Paint Drying, was created to cover the costs of the certification: a submission fee of £101.50. Furthermore an additional £7.09 had to be paid for every minute of the film, plus VAT. For most filmmakers, the cost of certification is about £1,000.
Within a month, enough people had contributed to make the film 10 hours and 7 minutes long, after VAT. The amount raised was £5,937.
Lyne promised that the film is completely uninterrupted footage of a wall, contradicting suggestions that the illicit content has been spliced in during the editing.
Needless to say, he also admitted that he hadn’t watched the entire film. Why would he? More importantly, how could he?
“I really did think [the campaign] would have limited appeal,” says Lyne, “I didn’t expect it to have a life outside of the film industry.”
The British Board of Film Certification was founded in 1912 by the film industry to classify films independently of the government. This non-profit organisation aimed at protecting children from inappropriate content and help the public decide what to watch, told US website Mashable that its censors weren’t “phased” by watching more than 10 hours of uninterrupted white wall.
“Examiners are required to watch a very wide variety of content every day, so this didn’t phase them.”
-A BBFC spokesperson addressing Mashable
In one sitting, the censors could watch maximum nine hours of footage. Two BBFC examiners watched the first nine hours of Paint Drying on January 25, and the remaining 67 minutes the very next day. After sitting through all that, they delivered their verdict: a U certificate!
“I kind of expected them to be very professional and treat it like any other film, not draw any more attrention to it. But I did expect criticism from other people – censorship and certification is a subject that people are passionate about on both sides.”
BBFC was in the news that week, and for good reason. On Tuesday afternoon, the organisation’s website crashed after news of the certification was posted on Reddit.
The film had its critics who accused it of being “pointless” and said that “it won’t change anything”. But Lyne responded that he only wanted to prompt discussion, rather than actually cause a major change.
“It’s not like if the BBFC hasn’t got to fall to its knees and close the building by the end of the week, it’s failed. People are discussing how the BBFC works and that makes it worthwhile.”
The bizarre film was declared “suitable for all” with “no material likely to offend or harm”.