In Celebration of Interview
The influential magazine has thrown in the towel after nearly 50 years
into account even the most numbing of popular interests for the sake of keeping audiences interested over time, Interview always innovatively underlined the pop cultural interests of its founders and ensuing editors, no matter how esoteric. It kept in touch with Warhol’s instantaneously recognizable idiosyncrasies.
When Warhol and Wilcock founded the magazine about five decades ago, though, it was definitively underground — nowhere near the lavish, fashionable publication it came to be. Made in the zine style, it was initially passed around between friends rather than sold on a wide scale.
At first, its inception was kind of a joke. Warhol wanted free passes to the New York Film Festival of 1969, but was turned down. He then retaliated by offhandedly founding Interview (then called inter/VIEW), which would enable him to truthfully assert that he was a member of the press. Warhol, however, has claimed that the real reason for starting the project was to give his
“Factory” something to do to pass the time.
At the outset, Interview was primarily a film publication, with B-list movie stars strutting their stuff on its first front cover. But the periodical grew in seriousness when Bob Colacello, who would later prolifically work with Vanity Fair, was hired as an editor in 1970. Colacello asked Warhol what he thought about the magazine going in more orthodox territories — meaning doing more standard-format articles — and Warhol shrugged. “I think you should write less and tape record more,” Warhol said. “It’s more modern.”
This suggestion stuck. From then on, each issue of the magazine would principally be defined by one-take, structureless interviews, generally captured on a tape recorder and published verbatim. Even “ums” would be included. Of course, as interest and popularity grew, the format became slightly more accessible, a result of a constantly shifting bloc of section editors and owners. (It was sold to Brant Publications after Warhol’s death in 1987.)
Until its most recent issue, whose cover featured the actor Joaquin Phoenix, Warhol’s vision remained intact. Each edition continued to highlight uncut interviews — usually between a pair of celebrities — accompanied by glossy, provocative photographic spreads that evidently sought to make an impression.
But whereas like-minded magazines like W and V might prioritize imagery over content, thus contributing to ideas that celebrities are alien and hyper-glamorous, Interview always both immortalized and humanized its subjects.
The photographers employed, including Craig McDean, Bruce Weber, David LaChapelle, and others, would visually contribute to notions that celebrities were, in fact, not at all like us. But the interviews, usually raw, unfocused, and sometimes reflective of blasé small talk, humorously undermined the allure of everything else. In Interview, celebrities were characterized both as deliriously cool and sort of silly. It was treated as something to be both celebrated and underwhelmed by, which was reflective of Warhol’s own celebrity-obsessed body of work. It turned its celebrities into art objects.
So much about Interview has stuck with me over the years. I subscribed to the magazine in high school, and I always looked forward to the beginning of each month, when one of its massive, lacquered issues would be haphazardly stuffed in my mailbox by the mailman.
I remember being bewildered by the January 2014 cover, which featured a post-Yeezus Kanye West in extreme close-up and covered in red paint, looking diabolical. I’d never seen anything like it. I remember the time in 2013 when Scarlett Johansson told the director Darren Aronofsky that she scored a 1,080 on the SAT, doomed because she didn’t answer half the math questions. I still remember the 2015 #Me issue, which prominently featured eight alternative covers defined by Instagram selfies. And I’ll never forget about the time Beyoncé Knowles interviewed her sister, Solange, in 2017, either.
Interview had the sort of prestige that could beckon even the most private of celebrities to participate in its long-standing tradition. And make their interviewees comfortable enough to act as centerpieces in visionary photographic spreads.
The magazine’s closure feels, as so many have expressed, like the end of an era. I cannot think of an obvious torchbearer. Few periodicals have emphasized the beauty of the celebrity interview quite as well, and few have featured photography and layouts quite as inventive and boundary-pushing. But perhaps that’s a good thing: There was nothing quite like Interview, and there may never be again. I’m sure Warhol would have wanted it that way.
- MAY 25, 2018
This piece also appeared in The Daily.
arlier this week, it was announced that Interview, the pioneering art and culture magazine founded by Andy Warhol and John Wilcock in 1969, was shuttering following a long period of behind-the-scenes tumult and financial instability. Nicknamed “the Crystal Ball of Pop,” the premature death of the monthly publication was probably inevitable from the start. While other industry-focused periodicals might take