Warhol the Burger King

On February 3rd, a familiar face made an appearance during the commercial breaks of the Super Bowl. The familiar face was gaunt but lithe with a snowy mop brimming the crown of the head. Andy Warhol sat before all 98.2 million viewers of the 2019 Super Bowl face to face and burger in hand. Some connoisseur’s may have recognized where the video came from immediately, but assuredly most did not. The film that Burger King used came from a 1982 film titled 66 Scenes From Across America created by Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth. His film is now considered a classic of documentary film-making however in its time it was avant garde.

While contemporaries of Leth were involved with making what’s known in the jargon as Direct Cinema ; a fancy highfalutin term for being a fly on the wall. Essentially, this method of documentary creation is aimed at minimizing the interference of the documentarian on the subject that they are exploring. For those familiar with the western art historical canon, the 20th century photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was wildly important to this movement. Simply, Cartier-Bresson’s conception of the decisive moment was a powerful tool to be used; Direct Cinema filmmakers sought to simply observe these decisive moments and let them tell the story without any intervention. While this obviously is a bit paradoxical–who other than the most experienced of actors is able to forget the camera pointed directly at them? Leth’s technique is more akin to a Dusseldorf School of Photography school of thought, or New Objectivity, which can be crudely summarized as a sort of devotion to naturalism but tinting it with aspects of subjectivity to show the disparity between objective reality and subjective reality.

Leth explores this idea through a series of 66 scenes with no narrative linking them save a calm comment after each scene describing the location, “Lubbock, Texas” for example. Eventually this collection is seemingly unconnected scenes cuts to our dear friend Andy eating a hamburger in uncomfortable yet fairly sublime–in the art historical sense–silence. In 2011 Leth was interviewed and disclosed the following:

[Warhol] is told that he has to say his name and that he should do so when he has finished performing his action, but what happens is that the action takes a very long time to perform; it’s simply agonizing. I have to admit that I personally adore that, because its a pure homage to Warhol. It couldn’t be more Warholesque. That’s of course why he agreed to do it.1

There is indeed something wildly Warholian in just watching a man, let alone Warhol himself, eat a hamburger in deeply unnerving silence. Just like the Coke, a hamburger

is relatively the same whether you are rich or poor. But what is most supremely Warholian about this is, there is a certain fame trap being employed here. Warhol, who was keenly aware of the power of fame, of “the 15 minutes” is almost confrontational here as if to say “would anyone really care to watch just some random guy eat a burger?” Maybe but I think it’s safe to say if that were the case it would not have become a Super Bowl advertisement 20 years later.