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Film File: FBI gives public a peek at Warhol ‘obscenity' file 

"I guess if tweeting is sex, this is sex too."

click to enlarge In 1968, FBI agents spent time and resources investigating Andy Warhol and the making of his film Lonesome Cowboys in Arizona. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ANDY WARHOL MUSEUM
  • Photo courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum
  • In 1968, FBI agents spent time and resources investigating Andy Warhol and the making of his film Lonesome Cowboys in Arizona.

If you're looking for smut in the Andy Warhol film Lonesome Cowboys -- as the FBI was when it investigated the film's production in 1968 -- you'll find more explicit sex in the agency's report than ever made it onto screen.

The report was suddenly made available on the FBI's website for the first time on May 19, then pulled from view on June 20. An FBI spokesperson, who would not give his name, said it just hadn't gotten enough hits to stay public -- which is too bad, because it made for some good reading.

Until May, the 77-page investigation into possible "Interstate Transportation of Obscene Matter" had been known mostly to readers of an obscure, long-out-of-print small-press book and a four-page fragment posted on "The Smoking Gun" website.

In 1968, Andy Warhol and Viva, the star of previous Warhol films, accompanied a dozen or more men to the redundantly named Rancho Linda Vista Guest Ranch, in Oracle, Ariz., for a week. Within days of arriving, the crew attracted complaints from locals who were disturbed by the nude, outdoor sex scenes.

The FBI, or at least the people it was interviewing, may have been looking for dirty activities, but seemed obsessed instead with the hippie hair and clothing of the participants -- and that they were, it appears, just too darned gay for the American Southwest. 

For example, the "girlish" mannerisms of one crew member are noted. Warhol's unnamed companion "acted like a big sissy," the ranch owner volunteered, and "wore ankle-strap thongs" (happily, a kind of shoe). One ranch guest and his sister watched several pairs of men being filmed in sleeping bags "for about an hour. [The guest] gathered the idea that these naked men were doing acts of sexual perversion. They used very foul language. He stated that night they made a film inside one of the cabins for about an hour and would not let them watch."

No matter how much they begged, apparently.

The FBI interviewed ranch employees (down to a visiting plumber), passersby, two locals who rented horses to the film, local sheriff's deputies and reporters, as well as the University of Arizona art professors who had invited Warhol's group there. 

All of the witnesses' names are blacked out -- even the names of the horses. Most interviewees were content to make a profit off the spectacle, then contribute to Warhol's possible arrest. 

In one scene central to the complaint, a whip-wielding Viva is dragged from her horse, disrobed by several men and made to perform various sex acts with them simultaneously. 

Matt Wrbican, archivist for The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side, calls it "a very simulated rape scene. It's Viva writhing on the ground and these guys are on top of her. But they're fully clothed. Does this constitute sex? I guess if tweeting is sex, this is sex too. But it's all done for the camera. They were acting."

Few FBI witnesses agree on the details. One saw a naked Viva but "did not see any obscene sex acts." Another who offered the most details had gotten a call from a ranch employee, saying "a movie was being made at the guest ranch and he should come over and watch it because he couldn't believe what they were doing." 

He found the filmmakers' language "vulgar and ‘hippish'. He heard them mention Marlon Brando once," and quoted another actor saying "that he enjoyed sexual relations with a horse more than he did with a man or girl." That actor then sat on a horse while another actor hung upside down in a tree and kissed him.

As for Viva, the same witness said, she suffered through a bout of breast-licking, a 10-minute session of what the report calls "an unnatural act" by a man with his face between her legs, while "a third male actor was trying to stick his hat up her rectum." 

Some of the men climaxed; or they didn't -- the witness isn't sure, or maybe isn't sure how to tell. "The men cooled off and wrestled among themselves," he adds. 

 The man who rented Warhol Films a pair of horses sent his wife and kids back home quickly but stayed himself, for the horses' sake.

click to enlarge A still from Lonesome Cowboys - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ANDY WARHOL MUSEUM.

"[T]he thing was getting vulgar and foul," he reported. "One of the male actors said, ‘Let's go boys. This water hole is dry.' The girl, Viva, said, ‘You son of bitches, this hole will never be wet for you.'" He "did not see any acts of sexual perversion" but got $35 for the horse rental and repair of a broken strap.

Still other witnesses saw the same scene but no nudity, or no sex acts. Only one university student was brave enough to tell the FBI that "no one had any right to decide what was or what was not obscene."

 An FBI agent reviewed the movie later that year. While the males in the cast "displayed homosexual tendencies and conducted themselves toward one another in an effeminate manner," there were no actual dirty deeds on screen, natural or unnatural. 

 "I remember the funny scenes," Wrbican says, "especially one cowboy in chaps practicing ballet against a hitching post." 

 The U.S. Attorney in Phoenix passed the case to his New York City counterpart, who declined to prosecute. After all of the time and effort, nothing in the finished film met the U.S. Supreme Court's definition of "obscene," even in Arizona in 1968.

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