Executed in 1966, Double Marlon celebrates a male icon. Warhol placed the double image of Marlon Brando, taken from his highly influential and controversial 1953 movie The Wild One, at the right-hand edge of a vast, deliberately unprimed canvas. Leaning languidly on his motorcycle's handlebars, dressed in the leather of his role as the menacing and rebellious biker gang leader, Brando is here presented as an equal to Warhol's other favored screen idols, be it Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor or Elvis Presley. And as in his works showing those stars, Double Marlon has a dark undercurrent. Where Marilyn had died, Liz was rumoured to be at death's door and Elvis was shown as a gun-toting cowboy, Brando oozes violence, volatility and antiestablishment subversion. Where Warhol celebrated those other stars in an array of works, he created only eight images of Marlon in 1966, and a single example on silver in 1963.
The Wild One was a hugely influential film at the time of its release, and was banned for many years in the United Kingdom and other countries for fear of copycat crime sprees and because of concerns that the film might glorify and glamorize violence and rebellion. It tells the story of a motorcycle gang -- the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (from which the band would later take its name) -- that descends upon a 1950s town, causing havoc. This chaos only increases when Chino -- played by Lee Marvin -- arrives with his rival gang, the Beetles (also considered by some to have inspired a band's name), intent on picking a fight with the B.R.M.C. The local townsfolk, though, take the law into their own hands and appear as the film's real villains, their actions resulting in the death of a kindly old man. Brando's character, Johnny, would serve as a template for bad boy characters for decades. Just as his role as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire created a vogue for plain white tees, so too Johnny's leather jacket became a must-have for wannabe rebels throughout the United States. Once more, he had defined cool. Brando's brooding performance, his sheer beauty and minimal morals would all echo down the decades in the template of the antihero even this day.
It was only natural that, in 1963, Warhol should have turned to the image of Brando leaning on his motorbike to create a silver-backed altarpiece to cool, subsequently returning to it three years later in Double Marlon, where Brando's raw machismo is reflected in the rawness of the unprimed canvas. Brando's character in the film even has a Warholian aspect in some of his terse dialogue, especially in what are perhaps the most famous lines, when Kathie asks, "What're you rebelling against," to which he opaquely replies, "What've you got?" Johnny's all-out, motiveless, empty war on the status quo was arguably echoed in the gauntlet that Warhol himself would take up with Pop almost a decade later.
Warhol had long looked to cinema for his heroes and heroines as well as his inspiration. Long a worshipper of the silver screen, some of his best known and most celebrated images were those of the era's stars, who found themselves beneficiaries of a strange canonization. The promotional photos and postcards for a range of films became the raw materials which Warhol used to raise them onto new pedestals in the art gallery, within the hallowed realms of High Art. Simultaneously, Warhol, in his own Brando-like rebellion, undermined those selfsame hallowed realms by filling them with all-too-real and all-too-everyday emblems of the popular and the pulp. In his Marilyn, Liz or even his Campbell's Soup Cans, Warhol was gleefully undermining high-falutin' ideas about art and inspiration on the one hand while celebrating the banal on the other.
This would also become the case in Warhol's own movies, for it was at precisely the time that he created Double Marlon that Warhol was at the height of his own brief, meteoric cinematic career. This picture, executed in the same year as films such as The Chelsea Girls, shows how involved Warhol still was in film at the time, both as viewer and director. Warhol had long adulated the stars of the screen; at the same time, during the early 1960s, he had become a regular on the underground film circuit in New York, attending many viewings of experimental movies. From the moment in 1963 when he bought his own first camera, a Bolex limited to three-minute reels, he became a filmmaker, showing his own films on this same circuit. He was a fan of Hollywood movies, loving the glamour and the drama, while also being an inspired innovator in his own right. His films had come to be so important to him that, the year before he made Double Marlon, he had claimed that he had retired from making pictures, and in 1966 reiterated: "I don't paint any more, I gave it up about a year ago and just do movies now. I could do two things at the same time but movies are more exciting. Painting was just a phase I went through" (A. Warhol, quoted in G. Berg, "Andy Warhol: My True Story," 1966, pp. 85-96, K. Goldsmith, ed., I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews: 1962-1987, New York, 2004, p. 88). He exaggerated, but it is noteworthy that Double Marlon dates from a period when he made relatively few pictures, focusing more on film. This shows his clear enthusiasm for the theme, while at the same time the composition of Double Marlon hints at his preoccupation with film: the vertical strip of the two shots of Brando comes to resemble a strip of celluloid, while the large space left deliberately in reserve, heightening the impact of the images, also resembles a screen awaiting projection. In this light, it even recalls the dual projection techniques that Warhol had used in The Chelsea Girls.
Warhol's return to the theme of the biker in 1966 may in part have had something to do with Scorpio Rising, a film made in 1964 by a fellow experimental cinematographer, Kenneth Anger.
Certainly in a 1966 interview, Warhol showed that he had seen and admired Anger's film, saying "Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising interested me, it's a strange film... it could have been better with a regular sound track, such as my Vinyl, which dealt somewhat with the same subject but was a sadism-masochism film. Scorpio was real but Vinyl was real, and not real, it was just a mood" (A. Warhol, quoted in ibid., pp. 92-93).
Anger's groundbreaking film featured a montage following a biker, Scorpio, shown preparing himself, donning his leather, joining a gang who make their engines roar, all culminating in a massive, chaotic party. All this was interspersed with a strange and bewildering array of images, played against a soundtrack that included Elvis and Ray Charles. Importantly, it was not only the technology of the motorcycles that was fetishized through lingering shots of gleaming metal, but also the bikers themselves, celebrated in lingering shots of gleaming skin.
Warhol's Double Marlon reflected the artist's own admiration of and possible desire for the handsome actor. The image of the biker, formerly the outcast and rebel, had been through the dual grinder of Warhol's art and Anger's films, resulting in an image that speaks of a different manner of outcast. At the same time, Warhol doubtless revelled in the chance to puncture the manly appearance of the menacing biker, subversively presenting Brando as, in several senses, a man's man. Warhol would take this notion to a new extreme when he created his own biker film, Bike Boy, the following year.
Warhol accentuates Brando's own sensuality, so evident in The Wild One and in this picture with the warm hues of the canvas itself. Double Marlon is exceptional in terms of depicting Brando, in terms of its scale, and also in terms of the experimental technique of its execution. Using the same screen he had used to create a silver image of the actor three years earlier, Warhol applied the inks to a raw, unprimed canvas, resulting in the unique visual effect of Double Marlon and its handful of sister pictures. In this picture, the effect is emphasized by the deliberate use of a large swath of canvas which has been left in reserve. This serves both to thrust the image's black inks into relief and to heighten awareness of the sensual texture of the canvas itself. Warhol celebrated the raw materials of painting, as well as the image, in Double Marlon.
The Catalogue Raisonné points out that the Marlon paintings relate to no commission or exhibition but were a spontaneous creation resulting from Warhol's own inspiration. This suggests that they may have been the Pop artist's retort to Clement Greenberg's advocacy of Post-Painterly Abstraction. Greenberg, the critic who had hailed Abstract Expressionism as the dawn of a new artistic age but who had so summarily dismissed Pop Art, believed that the purity and truth of the canvas could be revealed through the application, through non-gestural means, of color, as in the paintings of Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella, or in the deliberate techniques for staining the canvas used by Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler. In this sense, the warm, glowing canvas that forms so much of Double Marlon is pure indeed, taking Greenberg at his word, forming a color field that bears no gestural signature of the artist, but whose distinct and emphatic figuration in the double image of Brando adds a sly, critical twist of the knife.