During Tribeca I screened Taylor & Ultra: On the 60s, The Factory and Being a Warhol Superstar. The thing is this 15 minute short packs in so much footage and unearthed unbelievable amounts of information on Andy Warhol, it just be longer film. By rehashing stories with two of Warhol’s closet companions, creator Brian Bayerl and producer Michael Huter shined light on the artist we never knew through the humor, brash honesty, historical candidness of Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet.
After screening, I met with Brian to chat about a work that has forever changed my view of Andy Warhol. and
The idea of the short came from, because you have an art background or is it just something you …
I have a film background. The producer, Michael Huter, he has an art background. This is our third collaboration together. Our first collaboration was about an archive, a lost archive of photography of Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana and Marisol and a bunch of Pop artists in the ‘60s, in New York. It had never been seen for the most part before.
We wanted to document these photos and what was going on. One of the ideas that we had originally was to go back and meet the people in these photographs. Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet were two of the people that were in these photographs. We went and we interviewed them. You can see on screen, you just fall in love with them. They were there at this pivotal time in New York, in the ’60s, in Warhol’s inner circle. We just kept capturing footage. We were just like, “This is great. This is great.” We’re archiving it for ourselves because we sort of knew.
We put together a movie called “Full Circle” which was about the photography of William John Kennedy and had bits of them and Robert Indiana, Taylor, and Ultra in it. Then, when Taylor and Ultra both passed so close to each other, we wanted to do something to honor them. Eric Shiner, who is from the Warhol Museum, knew that we had had a bunch of footage and asked us would we put something together. We were like, “We were just thinking that.”
We cut together exactly 15 minutes to the second, which is a little homage to Warhol, and we put this story together about these two fascinating and very different kind of people together. That’s what we did.
How was it meeting them? Did they ever meet up?
Yeah. They knew each other from the ’60s. They had had a long relationship knowing each other. Taylor was probably the most interesting. Taylor reads his poetry at the Bowery Poetry Club on Wednesdays. He opened up for the Drag Queen Bingo. I met him there. I had no idea what to expect. We just had these crazy pictures and some stories of what we knew about him. He was there. He was surrounded kids, 20-something kids. They’re all hanging on his every word. I had some pictures, pictures that he had never seen from the William John Kennedy archive. I showed it to him. He remembered Bill.
The next day, we agreed to meet at a restaurant. We were going to talk some more. I brought my camera. From there, we kind of talked him to going around. That’s what you see in a lot of the movie, when we went up to Warhol’s factory and when we did this stuff in the park there. That was my first day shooting with him. You can imagine … At the time, I don’t think I knew how good it was. It wasn’t until I got back and Michael and I started to go through it that we’re really like, “Wow!” He was always kind of on and always kind of performing.
Then, the same way with Ultra. When we did Ultra, Michael had gone up there and put a mic on her and everything. I didn’t meet her until we were actually shooting because she hadn’t seen William John Kennedy in years, so we wanted to capture that whole thing. We went in not knowing what to expect. You get sucked up into her world, which is pretty incredible.
Yeah, there were just both unique experiences. Then, through the years, we all became friend. We interviewed them multiple times in multiple locations over different things. When they both passed, we had all this footage. We put it together. That’s why we’re using the outtakes and the little bit of my voice. It was to give it more of a behind the scenes sort of homage, sort of feel to the film.
When did you first meet them? Like a timeline of it.
That would have been 2009. 2009 is when we both met them. Then, we finished the “Full Circle” film in 2010. That film and those photographs went around to different art galleries and art festivals. We would be there with them. We’d do panels and stuff like that. It was really fun.
What were their feelings towards Warhol? At times it seemed as though Warhol didn’t give them the proper credit.
Both Taylor and Ultra were artists in their own right. Taylor was an actor. He was a poet. He did some pretty incredible drawings that people don’t ever see too much. Ultra Violet, too, was an artist. Even late in life, and she was from a very wealthy, aristocratic European family, she considered herself and a starving artist. She lived that way. That’s what she wanted to be. Taylor was the consonant Beatnik poet, Bowery, living in the tiny rent control apartment. That was who they were. They were artists. Warhol did refer to Ultra Violet as his muse for a period of time. Actually, so did Salvador Dali.
That part was so interesting too.
Just to jump back for a second, Ultra Violet came, as I said, from a rich, aristocratic European Family. She was just herself. They say in the film, her parents actually had her exercised because of her behavior. She comes to New York looking for artistic freedom. That’s really what she was doing, trying to get away from them. Within a week, she has her picture on the front page of the Society page in “New York Times” and is friends with Salvador Dali. How do you do that? (laughs) In a week?
She was just a remarkable person. She had a lot of dealings with other artists, John Chamberlain, the sculptor, and Man Ray, for instance. She was around a lot of artists and she always wanted to be an artist herself. What she did as far as influencing Warhol’s art beyond just being a muse, I don’t think we’ll ever really know. Obviously, she was there.
Taylor’s relationship with him was a pretty intimate one. Warhol used Taylor as much Taylor used Warhol. In the films, especially, you can see the layers in our movie that we have, where you see “Taylor Mead’s Ass.” Then, you see the pictures from behind the scenes of “Taylor Mead’s Ass.” We structured that and we layered that purposefully, so you see what they were doing. Those movies are rarely seen. To see that and then to see the behind the scenes pictures, which are rarely seen. Then, to go another step beyond that and to see Taylor, who’s no longer with us, commenting on what they were doing. To see Warhol smiling, to see all of that, it’s a pretty unique film experience to get the sort of layers.
There was part I thought was really thought-provoking.; when Ultra mentioned all the people who said he was with them the night before he passed.
The people, yeah. That was an interesting story that she volunteered one day. It’s that the day after Warhol passed, she got calls from hundreds of people that said that they were with him the day before. Apparently, that was what Warhol’s presence was like. It was very intimate. It felt very one-on-one. It was like you and Warhol. He had that personality about him. People felt very connected to him. People thought that they had been there the day before, even though they hadn’t. There’s no way there were that many people in the hospital. That was the Warhol persona and that’s what it did.
Have you gotten any feedback on the film yet?
People seem to like it. The Tribeca people loved it, which was great. You sit in the theater and you have different crowds because you play with a bunch of movies in the New York Then thing. “The Mulberry” people are there. The “Joe’s Violin” people are there, but we’ve been getting good laughs. That’s what we’re looking for. It’s supposed to be funny and it’s supposed to just be fun. It’s not necessarily fact checked. It’s just their reflections back on that time. That’s what we wanted to do because they were both such consonant New Yorkers.
Taylor, too, has a similar story to Ultra, where he was born to a rich Detroit family and couldn’t have his private life there, couldn’t be himself. So he came to New York. That’s just like Ultra did, to be an artist and to be himself. Just as an aside, New York at that time was … I’m jealous of what they had. Living in a $70 studio. Robert Indiana had a $70 studio in Coenties Slip, down here in the Financial District. It’s not even there anymore, and was able to work. Warhol was there and all of these different artists and people. It must have been an amazing time, especially early on, as the Pop Art movement was coming into existence, before it was famous and well-known. That must have been a really cool, very interesting time.
Do you think that there is anything similar to that now? Like if he was alive today and growing up, because of social media and everyone just being accessible … Even if you try to move Bumphuck Nowhere, people would still find them.
Do you think that people are more accessible or do you think people are less accessible?
I think they’re more accessible.
Through social media.
Yeah, and also with the whole cell phone thing. Before, you would have to call someone’s house. If they were there, if they weren’t, leave a message. You know what I mean?
I think in the ’60s, probably, there was a little more accessible. William John Kennedy, the photographer, for instance, that took pictures of Warhol and Robert Indiana and all these people before they were famous. He had that access just because it was like, “Oh, you’re a photographer?” “Yeah.” “Come on in.”
Or Ultra Violet, who’s sitting at a table having tea with Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol walks up. In that time, in this time and place, there was an incredible amount of accessibility to people. When Warhol came up to her, she really didn’t know who he was. He wasn’t really well-known at that time.
I feel as if people of that stature aren’t accessible right now. But I think people always … You can call someone and if they don’t answer, it’s kind of like, “Oh, what do they do?” People freak out with stuff like that. I feel that if they were alive today and they’re younger, we would always know where they are, what they’re doing?
Yeah. I understand what you’re saying. Taylor wasn’t looking for that. Taylor slept in Central Park for the first two year he has here and wanted to be anonymous. They call him a free spirit. I think that that’s the best way to put it. That was what we encountered with him. He did his thing.
Talk about the other films you’ve done.
I started with Michael Huter a nice collaboration. This is our third movie. We did “Full Circle” which was about the photography of William John Kennedy. Our second movie was called “Datuna: Portrait of America.” It’s the story of a Brooklyn artist who came to America from the USSR, wanted to be an artist his entire life. He couldn’t do it in Russia, came to America for artistic freedom, and is now a contemporary artist. While we were shooting him, he was building this piece called The Portrait of America. He does flags, icons, and portraits. Then, he covers them with glass frames. Inside your glass is the actual glass. He makes these elaborate patterns of glasses. When you go up to the Portrait of America, for example, you can look through it. Inside of the flag, there are little pieces of whatever the piece is about.
For the Portrait of America, it was about technology. There was like Tesla and Steve Jobs and different little things. Then, what he did was he utilized wearable technology. He used Google Glass at that time. That would interact with his artwork to give you an extra layer. While we were doing it, David was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer. He is going back and forth from chemo to working on his art, to displaying his art. Ultimately, it gets accepted into the Smithsonian. Then President’s Day weekend, there were tens of thousands of people that got to experienced this. That will be coming out in July. We’re working on that right now, but that’ll out in July. It made the rounds of film festivals. We actually won best film at the London Raindance Film Festival.
Yeah, which was very cool. That’ll be out in July and then this is our third one. Just recently, I completed a documentary called “Foster Shock.” We spent 18 months documenting the abuses in the Florida foster care system. We actually premiered that on Wednesday the 13th, and I flew to Tribeca from here. There was a dichotomy. That’s like hard, gut wrenching feature documentary about foster kids, and then the Taylor and Ultra and ass jokes.
I’m working on a project right now about Uni Records in the ’60s and ’70s. We’re about halfway through shooting. That’s going to be a pretty cool doc up, looking like 2018 or something, that’s going to have some big name acts and stuff.
Wait, like Universal?
Uni Records was MCA’s independent record label. It was a little startup that they did. It’s about this man, Russ Regan, who basically with $100,000 turned Uni Records into the largest independent record label in the world in 7 years. With names like Elton John, Neil Diamond, Olivia Newton John, Barry White, Love Unlimited, and stuff like that. That’s going to be cool.
Why do you choose these genres? Did you ever think to make, I don’t want to say like an “X-Men” type of film, but like one of those films?
When I started working with Michael Huter specifically about the art stuff, we both had pretty similar ideas about things that were historically significant and things that may have been lost if we hadn’t done it. Like the photographs that he unearthed really would have been lost and the stories behind them would have been lost. Taylor and Ultra stories would have been lost. That’s really what we like to do as far as like the art stuff goes. That’s our passion. It’s really cool to share it with people.
I had someone tell me that they learn more about Warhol in the 15-minute movie than they had in their entire life. That’s kind of cool to hear. Warhol is arguably the most influential well-known contemporary artist anyways. Everybody knows him. You know a little bit of the mystique of him, the glasses and stuff, but you don’t really know a lot of the inner workings. It’s pretty cool to see behind the silver aluminum foil of the factory walls, to go in and see like those pictures of him and Taylor on the toilet together where he’s not wearing his glasses and is smiling. That’s a pretty rare thing to find.
Yeah, I’ve never seen an image of Andy smiling.
If you look, too, there’s a pretty incredible photograph of Robert Indiana, the love artist, if you’re familiar with him, and Andy Warhol in the MoMA. Andy’s actually wearing a suit and he’s smiling. He’s not wearing glasses. This was before he really launched into the fine art world, when he was still in the advertising world. That’s a pretty incredible picture as well; two people who are going to be known as some of the most influential art of the 20th century. The two people standing right there.
Have you seen any other films or docs?
I saw “The Family Fang,” which I enjoyed. Christopher Walken was in it. The other films in my short series, which were all really cool. It was neat the way they put that together. Actually, I’ve also done three cross-country flights because of the Uni Record doc. Everything was kind of back and forth, so I didn’t get to see as much as I wanted to.
We’re looking to do a series of shorts that are 15 minutes, Michael Huter and I, that aren’t necessarily Warhol-related, but have some sort of aspect of that. We hope to be back at the Tribeca Film Festival after we complete another one of those.
Is this your first one at Tribeca film?
Yeah, this is my first time in Tribeca. I edited a movie that was in Sundance.
This past Sundance?
No, 2010, which was “8: The Mormon Proposition.” I did some of that. I didn’t get to go because I got hired to shoot another documentary.
I also did a lot of work for a movie called “For Once in My Life” which also came out in 2010. That won the audience award at SXSW. So had some big movies and big festivals, but this is special because I got to come. Then our producer, who I wish was here, being able to bring this up here and have, I don’t know if I’d call it a last hurrah, but just a remembrance of Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet, who really were New York icons. I was having a drink in the bar at my hotel last night. I was having a glass of wine. The bartender was a chauffeur in the ’80s and drove Ultra Violet around. I said, “Well, you know, she passed.” He was visibly sad. So many people knew Taylor and had seen Taylor at his poetry readings and his art things. They were icons in the Lower East Side and in New York. They were consummate New Yorkers and it’s nice to be able to bring something back and just let some people laugh one last time.
Do you know how your film at Sundance did? I went to Utah in January and it’s a huge Mormon state. Were there any backlashes?
There was some, but there wasn’t much that they could about it. Sundance is very … They weren’t going to back down, if you know what I mean. It was listed as one of the top 10 films to see at Sundance that year. It wasn’t in competition, so it didn’t win. It was a special screening, but it did fairly well and it got distributed from there. You can get it on Netflix now. It’s an interesting slice of history because it was that time, but so much it’s changed legally that it’s a little bit out-of-date. But if you were interested in seeing what that fight was like in that one election in California.
Proposition 8 was …
Prop 8, okay.
… the fight against gay marriage that was one of the first ones that was put on the ballot. Spoiler alert, when it passed, (laughing), it was the first time that the constitution of any state had been amended to take rights away from a group. It was a pretty big deal. Gavin Newsome, who’s the lieutenant governor of California now, he’s in the movie. It is pretty much laid out as what was going on in the people’s lives that were involved in it. Like I said, so much has changed since the Supreme Court ruling and everything.