When pop art icon Andy Warhol filmed nearly 500 screen tests in the Factory — his avant-garde, amphetamine-fueled Manhattan studio between 1964 and 1966 — it’s unlikely he envisioned that nearly 50 years later, taxpayer dollars would support bringing those short, silent films to the National Gallery of Art. But there they were on Saturday afternoon, displayed on the big screen in the packed East Wing auditorium.
“13 Most Beautiful . . . Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests” combined a baker’s dozen of the roughly four-minute, black-and-white moving portraits with a live soundtrack provided by dream-pop group Dean Britta. Commissioned for the project in 2008 by the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the duo sifted through the possibilities before deciding on 13 subjects and composing a song to fit each one. Their choices focused on Factory regulars rather than celebrities, the eager, vulnerable and artistic youth who saw Warhol as a father figure.
Singer-guitarist Dean Wareham and bassist-keyboardist Britta Phillips ceded the spotlight to the hypnotic films while adding crucial atmospherics. During “Ann Buchanan Theme,” the group played a gentle instrumental — lightly strummed electric guitar, soft keyboard chirps — as Buchanan stared out from the screen. When tears started to stream down her face, Wareham delivered one of his elegant solos, the kind he perfected as leader of indie-rock groups Galaxie 500 and Luna.