Sleep (1963)

Genres - Avant-garde / Experimental  |   Run Time - 321 min.  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Vick

Andy Warhol's Sleep sparked an instant controversy in New York's avant-garde film community that would continue throughout the '60s. The film's detractors dismissed it as a practical joke. Its adherents hailed it as a revolutionary use of cinematic time. The most often-applied description of it as a film of a man sleeping implies that Warhol simply turned the camera on his subject and walked away. In fact, Sleep was shot over a period of several weeks and contains six separate shots of the nude figure of sleeping poet John Giorno, each of them very deliberately composed, and looped to extend their duration. Like all of Warhol's silent films, it was shot at 24 frames per second, but projected at 16, resulting in a barely perceptible slow-motion effect. This effect, combined with the film's unheard-of length -- over five hours -- challenges the audience's patience, but also creates a Zen-like stillness that makes even the slightest of Giorno's movements seem like a revelation.