Warhol's Screen Tests are revealing portraits of hundreds of different individuals, filmed between 1963 and 1966. In these short films, Warhol created his own cache of Superstars. Superstars are actors interesting enough to carry a film on their own--not by playing a particular role but simply by being themselves. His subjects included both famous and anonymous visitors to the studio, including poet Allen Ginsberg, actor Dennis Hopper, and artist Salvador DalÃÂ. When asked to pose, subjects were lit and Warhol filmed them with his stationary 16mm Bolex camera on silent, black-and-white, 100-foot rolls of film. Each Screen Test took exactly three minutes to create, lasting as long as the roll of film took to spool through the camera. The standard formula of subject and camera remaining almost motionless for the duration of the film results in a "living portrait." When Warhol showed the films, he slowed them down slightly, extending their run time to about four minutes each, imparting a dreamy, slow-motion effect to the finished works.
While Warhol's process was standardized, there are subtle lighting and focus variations in the Screen Tests. Jane Holzer's is in soft focus and suffused with light, creating an ethereal, hypnotic effect, while Piero Heliczer's is darker in mood. In addition, there are a number of Screen Tests that diverge from this format entirely, the sitter purposely moving, gesticulating, or using props.
These film portraits, referred to by the Hollywood term of "screen test," were not created for the purpose of actually testing or auditioning actors. A traditional Hollywood screen test is a method used to judge whether an actor is suitable on film, and beyond that, if he or she is right for a specific character. Usually he or she is given a scene, a script, and instructions to perform in front of a camera. The director then watches the test to make a determination about the actor's appearance and qualities on film.