Art History at the Movies: The Andy Warhol Trilogy

In this entry, I analyze the portrayal of Andy Warhol in movies such as Factory Girl, I Shot Andy Warhol, and Basquiat.  All three feature Warhol in a supporting role than the main character.  In real life, he did act as a supporter from his Factory days to the late eighties. The PBS documentary notes how he often acted as a passive observer who helped promote various people to stardom.  The films show that as well.

Factory Girl

Plot wise, this movie recounts the days of Edie Sedgwick in the Factory.  She became Warhol’s main friend and this movie shows the beginning and end of their friendship.  This movie has already gained a notorious reputation as a bad movie.  I first heard about it from an Agony Booth recap which pretty much nails everything wrong about this film.  Furthermore, an article on Slate also took apart why this film misrepresented everything when depicting the sixties, the Factory, Edie, and Andy.  Having finally seen this film, I agree with everything the reviews said.  First of all, while beautifully made, it basically dumps on everything and everyone that it strives to emulate.  However, the weird part of this film were the things they depicted right.  The filmmakers obviously read Popism, Andy Warhol’s book about the sixties.  With that, this film waffles between being extremely wrong and being extremely accurate.

On Hayden Christenson’s character, he’s supposed to be Bob Dylan.  However, Edie never had an affair with Bob Dylan, for she did have one with Bob Neuwirth.  Did the screenwriters get their Bobs wrong?  For more information, check out the Independent’s profile on Edie.  By the way, this movie is not the first time that people accused Andy of ruining Edie’s life.  If you read his book Popism, he actually addresses the accusations.  He never told her to take drugs, and calls to attention to the fact that even when he told people to stop something, they would take more drugs.  He notes that only they can stop taking drugs.  (1)  By the way, Andy met Edie while recovering from an injury, not meeting at a showing as seen in the movie. (2) On meeting Dylan, the real encounter with Dylan did go as badly as the movie would want you to think.  In Popism, Andy mentioned that Dylan kept to themselves while visiting the Factory and that Andy admired and respected him and Dylan bought a painting from him.  However, he did hear rumors that Dylan did get mad at him about Edie.  (3) In the movie, Edie screamed that Andy’s movies “made a fool out of her”.  According to Andy, Edie, thanks to the drugs, would have mood swings over whether the movies were good for her reputation.  By the way, she made one last film with him entitled Lupe(4)
While I am forgiving of errors in movies, this film just felt so hateful.

A lot of people have accused this movie of depicting Andy and the Factory in an evil light, but Edie does not come off well either.  As the good people on the now defunct Agony Booth message board pointed out, this movie’s has this obsession with depicting Edie as a victim, so we do not see her as a muse.  For example, we do not see her work on Ciao! Manhattan.  Even characters that the film want us to root for come off as bad.  Such as Edie’s boyfriend Sid.  The scene where he practically forces Edie on Wrong Bob when they meet? He resembles a pimp prostituting her out to a rich man.  Not to mention the face he makes when he watches Edie gazing at Wrong Bob performing.  Sleazy much?  ETA:  The Agony Booth pretty much confirms that this happens.   On Wrong Bob, while the movie depicts him as Edie’s savior, he comes off as a homophobic jerk especially when he first encounters Andy.

On the plus side, out of all the movies reviewed for this entry, Guy Pearce stands out as the most physically accurate Warhol.

I Shot Andy Warhol

Another woman who hung around Warhol.  Similar to Edie, Valerie Solanas lived a very difficult life.  The big difference was that Edie came from wealth and Valerie did not and had to support herself through less than savory means. Because of how this film works and that I love Mary Harron as a director, this stands as my favorite film out of the three.  Plus, Lili Taylor as Valerie Solanas?  A force of nature.  When one makes a movie about the life of a person, they should give us reasons why we should remember them.  Mary Harron succeeds with that when she has Taylor read out Solanas’s SCUM manifesto.

In my opinion, this is what Factory Girl should have been.  While not slickly produced as the other two reviewed here, the rough and raw cinematography and setting captures Valerie Solanas and her conflict between intelligence and poor mental health, her looking trapped in a world that could and would not help her.  As previously said, Taylor shines when she plays Valerie.  This movie makes no judgments on Valerie’s attempted assassination of Warhol, although one does feel sympathetic towards Warhol in the last scene. On Jared Harris, he creates a great Warhol, but he resembles Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a Warhol wig.

Basquiat

Could the cast of this film be anymore star-studded?  It almost overwhelms the story.  My favorite scenes come from the ones between Basquiat and Andy.  Jeffrey Wright and David Bowie have such wonderful chemistry together and they play off each other so well.  However, compared to the other two actors who practically disappeared into the role of Warhol, Bowie did not.  For me, I just saw David Bowie in a Warhol wig.  The main weakness of this film comes from it feeling so polished and glossy, the result felt so hollow.  Basquiat’s life felt so glossed and rushed, especially when dealing with his personal problems.  It left me feeling, “…Okay?”

Except for one scene where the Christopher Walken character interviews Basquiat.  After Walken lectures to the viewer of Basquiat’s accomplishments (translation: did not have the budget to film this), he and Basquiat discuss the meaning of “Black artist” versus “Artist.”  A standout moment from an otherwise okay film.  This comes from a sorely needed discussion over who receives the default treatment over who receives the label of the Exotic Other.  Another minor weakness comes from the odd musical choices.  The movie plays Fairy Tale of New York by the Pogues and Kristy MacColl over the credits.  While a nice song, it really had nothing to do with Basquiat other than his status as a New Yorker.

The final verdict?  In my opinion, I Shot Andy Warhol stands out as the best.

Bibliography

1. Andy Warhol, Popism (Mariner Books, 2006), 136.

2. Ibid., 119.

3. 134-6.

4. 155-161

Update:  I decided to rewrite this review.

ETA 3-3-2015: Added links and moved my update.

Update 12-11-2015:  Rewrote a sentence.

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