Warhol was ashamed of Czechoslovak background, says collaborator Paul Morrissey


The independent Prague cinema Aero is this week showing a series of films under the title "Censorship and Obscenity in Film". The festival's special guest is American director Paul Morrissey, who is introducing films he made when he was one of artist Andy Warhol's closest associates. Featuring drug addicts, homosexuals and prostitutes, films like "Flesh" and "Heat" document the seedy side of late-1960s/early-1970s New York. Despite the fact that Paul Morrissey wrote and directed all of his films, they are often credited to Warhol: I asked Mr Morrissey whether not being recognised for his own work was something which bothered him.

"Well of course it bothers me, I don't like it. It's been going on for years but I've lived all my life with the stupidity of journalists. The films came out 'presents', 'Andy Warhol presents', written, photographed, edited, directed by somebody else...because he presented them they just throw his name on them. It's stupid but I recognise stupidity as the essential quality of modern life."

Our listeners will be interested in Andy Warhol from the point of view of the fact that he had Czechoslovak parents. Did he ever discuss his Czechoslovak background with you?

"No, he was ashamed of it. He was not Czechoslovak, he was Ruthenian. At some time Ruthenia was part of Czechoslovakia, or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His best qualities were his sense of humour - he was basically a peasant - he had a kind of common sense sense of humour that came directly from his simple roots in his family's background in a village in the mountains in Ruthenia. The idea that he was sophisticated...is the idea of a peasant being sophisticated, keeping his common sense. He was not a New York sophisticate."

You made some of your best known films in the late 1960s, at a time when Czechoslovak cinema was blossoming. Were you aware of films coming from this part of the world?

"Well, some came to New York. I must have seen [Milos Forman's] 'Fireman's Ball' and things, but I don't think they made an impression on me. The films that made an impression on me were Italian films."

Earlier you mentioned that you had walked around Prague yesterday - what kind of impression has the city been making on you?

"It just looks like a very healthy city with healthy people and beautiful buildings. But every couple of blocks you see a hideous piece of modern glass garbage, vomit, between these beautiful facades. Why the city of Prague allows these stupid, stupid, kitsch, garbage buildings to destroy their beautiful city is a crime...but basically it's a magnificent city, thanks to your past."

You can find out more about the "Censorship and Obscenity in Film" series at www.kinoaero.cz.