Empire (1964)

Empire is a 1964 silent black-and-white film directed and produced by Andy Warhol. It consists of eight hours and five minutes of slow motion footage of the Empire State Building in New York. Shortened showings of the film were never allowed, and supposedly, the struggle to see the whole film was an important part of the reason the film was created.

Its use of the long take in extremis is an extension of Warhol’s earlier work the previous year with his movie, Sleep. Warhol employed Rob Trains to be the projectionist for screening the film. Trains misjudged and mixed the order and speed of the reels for the eight-hour movie. After an encouraging review in The New York Times, Warhol actually liked the “mistake” and employed Trains for the entire summer.

Empire was filmed on the night of July 25, 1964 from the 41st floor of the Time-Life Building, from the offices of the Rockefeller Foundation. The film was shot at 24 frames per second but is projected at 16 frame/s, so that, even though only about 6 hours and 36 minutes of film was made, the film when screened is about 8 hours and 5 minutes long.

The starting scene is a very white screen with the sun settling, and the image of the Empire State Building slowly emerges. The lights on its exterior come on, the building’s lights flicker on and off for the next 6½ hours. The floodlights go off again in the next to the last reel so that the remainder of the film takes place in nearly total darkness at nighttime. The movie was filmed with Andy Warhol directing and filmmaker Jonas Mekas working as cinematographer. During three of the reel changes, filming recommenced before the lights in the filming room were switched off, making the faces of Warhol and Mekas shortly visible in the reflection of the window each time.

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One thought on “Empire (1964)

  1. I have never really been one for black and white films, or silent films. Although after watching more of them this semester I have warmed up to them. Now after reading your post I have a new silent black and white film to try out.

    Like

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