Booking a 36-minute blow job

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By Johnny Ray Huston. From this week's "Speed Reading" on SFBG.

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ANDY WARHOL: BLOW JOB

By Peter Gidal

Afterall Books

86 pages

$16

It's too easy, really, to say that an 86-page appreciation of Andy Warhol's Blow Job is the critical equivalent of the film's title. One potentially funny — though also provocative — aspect of Blow Job is its 36-minute length, a span of time that would make any jawbone, even a purely imaginary one, ache. As filmmaker and writer Peter Gidal points out, that time span is partially achieved through projection — like Warhol's screen tests, Blow Job is presented at the silent-film speed of 18 frames per second, though it was shot at 24 or 25 frames per second.

Blow Job -- sped up to its shooting time

The temporal is one main focus of Gidal's heady interpretation of Blow Job, which comes and goes much like the many-reeled subject, and which is art historical and philosophical more often than theoretical, and never vogue-ish when it tends toward the latter. One of the unexpected rewards of this book is Gidal's discussion of paintings in relation to Warhol's films, in particular Diego Velázquez's sinister Luncheon or Three Men at a Table and Marcel Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).

Blow Job -- in 15 seconds

His passage about Warhol's Shadow series of silkscreens is revelatory. Gidal persuasively removes Warhol from mere camp interpretation, even if his recognition of or devotion to the sensual aspects of Blow Job and Sleep (1963) is fleeting at best. At times, one wishes he could mirror rather than admire and explicate Warhol's knack for expressing complex ideas in simple, monosyllabic terms. Like Roger Copeland in the new monograph Warhol Live, Gidal is most insightful when addressing the mortal themes and pull of Warhol's art, and the challenging — and not merely transgressive — manner in which he reframes notions of acting and watching.