Empire is an epic black-and-white silent film that consists of one stationary shot of the Empire State Building taken from the forty-fourth floor of the Time-Life Building in midtown Manhattan. Without characters or a traditional narrative, the work’s aesthetic objective is to explore the passage of time.
The avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas served as Warhol’s cameraman for Empire, which was made from standard twelve-hundred-foot rolls of 16mm film. A flash of light marks the end of each roll, establishing a sense of time as the film unfolds over eight-plus hours. Warhol envisioned a novel connection between viewer and film with Empire and other of his silent film works, which are often lengthy and unedited. Many were intended to be a part of a larger environment that may have included a live musical performance or an elaborate light show. There is a distinct connection between Empire and Warhol’s famous silkscreen paintings: they share rough edges, the repetition of images, and an overt acknowledgment of their materials and the process of their making. In 2004 Empire was added to the United States’ National Film Registry in recognition of its cultural significance.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Empire consists of a single stationary shot of the Empire State Building filmed from 8:06 p.m. to 2:42 a.m., July 25–26, 1964. The eight-hour, five-minute film, which is typically shown in a theater, lacks a traditional narrative or characters. The passage from daylight to darkness becomes the film’s narrative, while the protagonist is the iconic building that was (and is again) the tallest in New York City. Warhol lengthened Empire’s running time by projecting the film at a speed of sixteen frames per second, slower than its shooting speed of twenty-four frames per second, thus making the progression to darkness almost imperceptible. Non-events such as a blinking light at the top of a neighboring building mark the passage of time. According to Warhol, the point of this film—perhaps his most famous and influential cinematic work—is to “see time go by.”
The work on view is a two hour, twenty-four minute excerpt. The film will be screened in its entirety in the Museum theaters during the run of this exhibition.
Gallery label from Out of Time: A Contemporary View, August 30, 2006–April 9, 2007.
Empire consists of one stationary shot of the Empire State Building taken from the forty-fourth floor of the Time-Life Building. Jonas Mekas served as cameraman. The shot was filmed from 8:06 p.m. to 2:42 a.m. on July 25-26, 1964. Empire consists of a number of one-hundred-foot rolls of film, each separated from the next by a flash of light. Each segment of film constitutes a piece of time. Warhol’s clear delineation of the individual segments of film can be likened to the serial repetition of images in his silkscreen paintings, which also acknowledge their process and materials.
Warhol conceived a new relationship of the viewer to film in Empire and other early works, which are silent, explore perception, and establish a new sense of cinematic time. With their disengagement, lack of editing, and lengthy nonevents, these films were intended to be part of a larger environment. They also parody the goals of his avant-garde contemporaries who sought to convey the human psyche through film or used the medium as metaphor.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 240.