Andy Warhol Was on MTV for ’15 Minutes’

Just before he died in early 1987, Andy Warhol had a show on MTV entitled 15 Minutes. Clips of the show, and especially entire episodes, have proven elusive, preserved only in grainy VHS footage across YouTube and buried on the blogosphere. Now, it’s bubbling over again, hitting Buzzfeed and Fimoculous yesterday and finally available for download in full. In the MTV-as-punchline era of today — post-Yo! MTV Raps, post-TRL, post-Jackass and hell, post-Pimp My Ride — the show is not only a relic, but a gem. 15 Minutes isn’t Warhol watered down, but in complete control. The show’s renaissance online in 2010 is something the man probably would have greatly enjoyed.

In addition to three episodes of 15 Minutes available online now, there are also pieces of the Manhattan Cable show Andy Warhol’s Fashion and his MSG Network program Andy Warhol’s TV. The shows are all quintessential 1980s New York City, including interviews about fashion, acting, opera and more, featuring Frank Zappa, Debbie Harry, Pee-wee Herman, Jerry Hall, John Waters, Ian McKellan and New Order, among other cultural touchstones of the time.

The intensely bizarre, but ultimately perfect pairing of a man who changed the way we consume art of all kinds and a brazen, new sort of network still in its most experimental infancy is exhilarating to watch. MTV — at least in its trailblazing and tastemaking incarnation — died probably a decade after Warhol, but it’s difficult not to see their partnership as a programming pinnacle and his death as the beginning of the end. Maybe the network has been reborn with Jersey Shore, but as good as that is, probably not. The difference is, there’s no irony — even of a retro sort — attached to enjoying 15 Minutes. The interviews are insightful, both as pop-anthropological fossils and as they are. Plus, the music is unbelievable.

Everything from the stellar and prescient guest list (Nick Rhodes, Courtney Love and Marc Jacobs, plus the previously mentioned!) to the public access aesthetic and patient pacing are perfect. For all of the famous or soon-to-be-famous people parading in and out of segments, it somehow maintains a DIY feel, skipping elaborate sets altogether and dumbing down nothing. At the start of one episode, violins wail while someone explains romanticism. Later, a couture evening wear designer comments: “My hair is my color palette because I only wear black,” with a straight face. “I don’t have any goals in life,” she continues.

It is almost impossible to fathom that this was ever on television at all, let alone cable television, let alone Music Television. Remember this: MTV was alternative. And it was awesome.

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