Lonesome Cowboys
Lonesome Cowboys
Lonesome Cowboys
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Lonesome Cowboys

ANDY WARHOL, 1968

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Lonesome Cowboys
Andy Warhol, 1968
A set of original 35mm presentation reels of the film that sparked the “Stonewall of the South.”
Six 35mm film reels housed in 2 metal flight cases
Movielab, New York, pritned ca. 1969.

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Lot Essay

On the evening of 5 August 1969, a small crowd of seventy settled in to view Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys at the recently opened art cinema at the Ansley Mall in Atlanta. About fifteen minutes into the homoerotic underground spoof on westerns featuring Warhol stars Viva, Joe Dallesandro, Eric Emerson, Meade, and Tom Hompertz, the film suddenly stopped, and the house lights went up. The police, some in uniform, others in plainclothes, were everywhere, some with cameras taking photographs of the startled movie-goers still in their seats. Those who attempted to depart quickly were blocked at the door and they too were photographed and questioned by Atlanta police officers. Other officers headed upstairs to the projection room to seize the film reels and arrest James Russ, the manager of the Ansley Mini-Cinema. The police mounted the raid not only to enforce local obscenity laws but identify “known homosexuals,” part of a pattern of harassment that members of Atlanta’s gay Midtown neighborhood routinely endured. Abby Drue, a noted LBGTQ activist, was in the audience that night. “They had everybody get up and line up,” she recalled. “We had popcorn in our mouths. I think I had a submarine sandwich I was in the middle of eating. That’s how absurd it was.”

The police raid in Atlanta occurred a little more than a month after the Stonewall riots in New York, and for many members of the city’s burgeoning LGBTQ community, the raid on the Ansley Mini-Cinema was the final straw. Several days after the raid, a group of protesters were pepper-sprayed and some arrested. These events compelled Atlanta’s LGBTQ community to form the Georgia Gay Liberation Front. That organization would mount Atlanta’s first Pride march in 1971 — an unsanctioned march in which many of participants wore paper bags over their heads to protect their identities — starkly demonstrating the risk of physical harm that was an ever-present threat. Despite local hostility, the marches continued, and Atlanta’s LBGTQ community began flourishing over the ensuing decades becoming strong and vibrant. Today, the raid has been dubbed, “The Stonewall of the South.”

Yet the Atlanta police were not the only law enforcement agency to take interest in Lonesome Cowboys. The FBI had been monitoring the film soon after it was filmed in a single day a dude ranch near Tucson, Arizona on 28 January 1968. A Special Agent was dispatched to Arizona to interview witnesses to support a potential charge of “interstate transportation of obscene matter.” The investigation had been prompted by a complaint received at the Pinal County Sherriff, that “some guests at the Rancho Linda Vista Guest Ranch were making an obscene film.” Sherriff’s deputies arrived at the ranch on the afternoon of the 28th and ordered that the filming be halted immediately. The FBI kept a copiously detailed dossier on the film’s production based on eyewitness accounts that offer a window into the chaos of the film’s production covering all aspects from various “unnatural sexual acts” to details on the license plate numbers (redacted) of those on set. One eyewitness recalled that “The movie seemed to have no plot and the actors just said anything that came into their minds.” (Vincent Canby and other critics would take a similar view.) The FBI continued to monitor the film’s production and distribution, noting that Warhol had intended it to be premiered at the Hudson Theatre in New York in late April 1968, but editing was taking longer than planned. Then in early June, Warhol fell victim to an assassination attempt, further delaying production. It finally premiered at the San Francicso International Film Festival on 1 November 1968, and FBI agents were there collecting further evidence.

Meanwhile in Atlanta, the question of whether the film could be considered obscene landed in the courts. Ultimately, Lewis Slayton, the Fulton County District Attorney, allowed the film to be shown after Cradock Films, who held the rights to distribute the film in Georgia, agreed to edit out what the county considered objectionable. By early January 1970, the Ansley Mini-Cinema was once again presenting Lonesome Cowboys. As far as the FBI’s investigation into Warhol’s activities was concerned, federal prosecutors in Arizona, San Francisco and New York ultimately declined to pursue the charges in court, as the film was not considered “obscene within the definition of that word as defined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”

The present copy is believed to have been printed as early as 1969, but no earlier. According to the FBI report on the film’s screening in San Francisco in November 1968, the film opened with “the woman [Viva] and her male nurse [Taylor Meade] on a street in the town,” but the present copy, opens with a sex scene between Viva and Tom Hompertz which appears to be consistent with the currently-known copies. The markings found on the paper sleeves include a red stamp for “INTERNATIONAL AMUSEMENT CORP,” a short-lived distribution and production company based in North Carolina established in 1974. This would suggest this film was in circulation in various art houses up until at least the mid to late 1970s.

The current number of original copies used during the film’s showings in 1969 and 1970 is unclear, but the present set of reels is marked as “Print No. 10” on each of the surviving paper sleeves. Original reels of the film are known to have survived including a master print at the Andy Warhol museum and copies at the Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. It is not clear if other copies survive in any private collections. Provenance: the film was part of an anonymous private collection in Stockholm and subsequently part of a collection in Germany beginning ca. 2010 – Jeschke van Vlient Auctions, 31 March 2021, lot 952.
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Will Butler, “Atlant’as Stonewall: The Lonesome Cowboys Raid at Ansley Mall. 22 September 2021 https://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/blog/atlantas-stonewall-the-lonesome-cowboys-raid-at-ansley-mall/ (Accessed 18 December 2022)
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Subject Andy Warhol. Dossier of correspondence related to the FBI’s investigation of Andy Warhol as relating to the film, Lonesome Cowboys, 28 February 1969 - 27 June 1977.
Keeler McCartney and Tom Linthicum, “Raid Closes Cinema, Warhol Film Seized,” Atlanta Constitution, 6 August 1969, p. 15.
Vincent Canby, “Film: Lonesome Warhol,” The New York Times, 6 May 1969, p. 38
Olle Granath, “With Andy Warhol 1968” https://www.modernamuseet.se/stockholm/en/exhibitions/andy-warhol-other-voices-other-rooms/with-andy-warhol-1968-text-ol/

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