Friday Trivia: That Time a Warhol Flick Almost Caused a “Lynch Riot”

by Corinna Kirsch on May 22, 2015 Blurb

Installation view of Andy Warhol's "Sleep" at MoMA. The film shows artist John Giorno sleeping for nearly eight hours. Image courtesy of MoMA.

Installation view of Andy Warhol’s “Sleep” at MoMA. The film shows artist John Giorno sleeping for five hours. Image courtesy of MoMA.

Welcome to Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend. Let’s face it, your attention span is wrecked, buzzing with thoughts of chill-out time. To accommodate your mindset, here’s some trivia: one of the first screenings of Andy Warhol’s five-hour-long film Sleep (1963) caused an angry mob to threaten the theater manager with lynching.

Filmmaker and critic Jonas Mekas’s 1964 Village Voice column recounts this odd affair, occurring at a Los Angeles screening of the film. The movie-theater manager, Mike Getz, wrote a letter to Mekas, recounting the scene:

Amazing turnout. 500 people. Sleep started at 6:45. First shot, which lasts about 45 minutes, is close-up of man’s abdomen. You can see him breathing. People started to walk out at 7, some complaining. People getting more and more restless. Shot finally changes to close-up of man’s head. Someone runs up to the screen and shouts in sleeping man’s ear, ‘WAKE UP!!’ Audience getting bitter, strained. Movie is silent, runs at silent speed. A few more people ask for money back. Sign on box office says no refunds.

7:45. One man pulls me out into outer lobby, says he doesn’t want to make a scene but asks for money back. I say no. He says, ‘Be a gentleman. I say, ‘Look, you knew you were going to see something strange, unusual, daring, that lasted six hours.’ I turn to walk back to lobby. Lobby full, one red-faced guy very agitated, says I have 30 seconds to give him his money back or he’ll run into theatre and start a ‘lynch riot’. ‘We’ll all come out here and lynch you, buddy!!’

By the end of the film, 50 people out of the initial 500 moviegoers still remained in their seats. Another 200 were given refunds—to avoid that aforementioned “lynch riot.” And now you know.

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