The Audience Member: The Administer of the Blow Job
An Analysis of Andy Warhol’s Blow Job (1964)
Like a film projector presents images to a blank canvas, the viewer projects his or herself onto Warhol’s Blow Job, for which what is unseen- yet promised, must instinctually be created in the viewer’s own imagination. These personal and intangible depictions vary from viewer to viewer, and may not even remain static during the film’s progression. The unseen provider of fellatio in Andy Warhol’s Blow Job (1964) is therefore the audience member, an idea facilitated by the film’s structural film form- and its importance to the film’s sociopolitical response to mainstream film and sexuality, provide an increased attention to the spectator’s experience.
While penetrative intercourse can lead to physical proof in the form of conception vis-à-vis a new life, fellatio does not have this same ability to procure evidence that the act itself occurred. Like Blow Job, viewers struggle with the need for verification in part because the film’s title is not explicitly shown; yet this “struggle” is encouraged by Warhol’s minimalism enabling an exaggerated scrutiny of the image. Abiding by structural film’s move away from cinematic intricacies, Warhol is able to guide viewers to a goal; yet the goal itself is not to endure until the main character climaxes (if he does), but to allow the mind to consider the possibilities that induce his climax. These possibilities are stimulated by the film’s static framing. Because audiences cannot see anything below the belt, viewers must consider the options as to why the main character oscillates between writhing and relaxation. Is it a woman or a man administering the blow job? More than one person? Anyone at all? These questions are conjured in the viewer’s mind and played out as a means to answer.
What is left in frame is not subordinate to the blow job, in fact, it is in a sense, the action itself. Any justification of off-screen pleasure is gratified by the close-up of the main character’s facial expressions, for evidence of bodily pleasures can be found on the face. By shooting the film at this focal length, the intimate proximity to the man’s face is an involuntary admission into the character’s innermost thoughts, without the use of speech or text. The film’s mise-en-scène allows for the viewers’ acute awareness to every twitch or any reference to the supposed blow job. Actions in the film may be as un-momentous as the poser running his fingers through his hair, or scratching his nose- yet these actions are deemed by the viewer as “events,” which instigate speculation as to if the character is experiencing bouts of pleasure or instances of apathy.
Despite the close proximity of the camera, Warhol compounds lighting and sound (or lack thereof) to distance the audience from the subject. Moments where the poser is in seemingly more climactic states are either illuminated or hidden due to the film’s lighting- a single bulb placed atop the subject’s head, creating high contrasts and dark shadows. At times the poser’s face is indiscernible, providing more fuel for viewers to contemplate how he is perceiving his pleasure or pain. The lack of sound contributes to the audience’s need to conjure what is occurring due to the void of sounds primarily associated with sexual acts like fellatio. The wet sounds of smacking, popping, etc; are voided by Warhol so that viewers have the ability to infer.
Blow Job’s duration allows the viewer to alter his or her experience numerous times, perhaps to attempt to answer what is not seen, or perhaps to combat boredom due to the film’s length. Yet this “boredom” does not hinder the audience, but liberates them- giving them time to think. Much like the recipient of the blow job in the film, the audience experiences moments of pleasure and pain; but more so like the undisclosed producer of the blow job, the audience must work tirelessly, perhaps at times apathetically- to try and provide a climax to the film. While Blow Job gives viewers time, it also distorts their sense of time, forging a feeling of temporal unawareness. In the duration of the film, one is constantly searching for when the poser will climax, guessing and pinpointing moments of seemingly euphoric facial expressions. Yet when the subject reaches for his “cigarette after,” audiences are still left wondering when it was the poser finished- if he even finished at all.
These instances of near climax, or perhaps actual climax, are not only marked by the subject’s writhing and facial expressions, but also marked metaphorically by splices in the film, shown as white flashes and white dots, as film began to run out. The timing of the poser’s euphoria masked by a white screen indicating moments of near-climax, keeps audiences even more in the dark, and yearning for completion. This lack of editing is a self-reflexive attempt to enable the film to further encapsulate the constant and seemingly unending work of the sexual act and of the film itself.
With these formal components, Blow Job was able to challenge mainstream pornography, everyday sex life, and de-familiarize Hollywood film. Hard core pornographic films’ focus on showing penetration with its preference to maximum exposure provided a stark contrast to the “limitation” which Warhol provided. With this “limit,” Warhol enabled audiences to think and critique his film, rather than consume it as readily and passively as a mass produced image. Not only did Warhol provide a film which challenged the industry’s formal conventions, but also society’s sociopolitical norms. By not including the producer of the blow job in frame, one is able to- in his or her analysis or “boredom” during the film, create scenarios catered to his or herself. In an era where gratification was rarely fulfilled for homosexuals, Blow Job could be interpreted as gay pornography, at the behest of the viewer, who could project an image of a man as the deliverer of the blow job.
Due to Warhol’s structural film form, viewers are able to actively participate and depict assumptions as to what lies off screen. These assumptions challenged and continue to challenge Hollywood film form and mainstream pornography by granting viewers the freedom to a more pensive experience. To answer earlier proposed questions: “Is it a woman or a man administering the blow job? More than one person? Anyone at all?” one must look into his or her own thoughts and experiences during the film’s progression- the answer lies in the viewer.