On the evening of July 25, 1964, Pop artist Andy Warhol and five associates armed with a single camera and a bag of 33-minute film cartridges entered an office on the 41st floor of the Time-Life Building in Manhattan. For the next six hours, Warhol and his crew pointed their camera at the top third of the Empire State Building, documenting it first in decaying daylight, then awash in its electric glow, and finally swallowed by the darkness of twilight. The camera never moves, and neither does the building.
The resulting eight-hour Empire (Warhol slowed the footage down from 24 frames per second to 16) is boring, beguiling, and divisive. But 50 years on there’s an air of inevitability about Warhol’s cinematic portrait of the skyscraper. After all, how could an artist so obsessed with cultural icons—Campbell Soup cans, Brillo boxes, Marilyn Monroe—resist the one towering over Manhattan?