Factory Girl

March, 2007, Drama

Can it be argued that Andy Warhol combined narcissism with ju-jitsu, using his consistently fawning interest in the stable of crazies with whom he surrounded himself to actually attract feverish attention to himself?

Warhol’s artistic output was as eclectic as the works he personally collected, but to my knowledge no one has yet documented his role as the precursor of digital art, a staple on the contemporary scene. Experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakage have been turning out convention-bending films for decades, but didn’t it take Warhol’s cachet as a painter/printmaker to turn nontraditional movies into fine art? Any trip through the galleries of Chelsea and SoHo these days offers proof that Warhol’s most pervasive contribution to 20th century art may not lie in his soup cans or Marilyn/Elvis prints, but in freeing “movies” from conventional subject matter, styles and running times. Thanks to Warhol, what used to be a commercial medium whose form and shape were dictated by theaters is now the object of reverential display at The MET, MOMA et al. 

Like other aspects of his ostensibly haphazard creative process, Warhol’s movies emerged from “The Factory”, his downtown loft studio, a cavernous space filled with various works in progress and a contingent of resident groupies that took roles in his loosely organized celluloid productions. The most famous member of this entourage was one Edie Sedgwick, a young socialite whose penchant for drugs and stylishly-garbed rebellion fused her waif-ish good looks with media hype into fodder for fashion magazines and gossip columns until she burned out in her mid-20’s. Institutionalized for various addictions and dead before her thirtieth birthday, she remains the most notorious of Warhol’s human menagerie, which also included a male hustler turned gay movie hero named Joe Dellasandro and Valerie Solana, the deranged hanger-on who garnered her 15 minutes of fame by shooting Warhol. (The 1996 movie of that incident, entitled I Shot Andy Warhol, featured a slyly observant performance by the much under-rated Lily Taylor).

George Hickenlooper, a director whose oeuvre contains a pair of reverential critiques of others in his craft, shepards Guy Pearce, (Memento, L.A. Confidential) and Sienna Miller, (Layer Cake, Alfie) through this high-concept, fleeting glimpse into the obvious. The director, his screenwriters and the cast struggle to find motivation and meaning behind Sedgwick’s self-destructive behavior and Warhol’s apparently callous treatment of her. But despite Hickenlooper’s desperate efforts at gravitas, Warhol’s much-photographed muse turns out to be just what she seems; the perfect mannequin for an artist of shallow subjects. People magazine could deliver a more thoughtful analysis of her psyche than this cliché-ridden movie. 

The director burdens his flimsily tale with pretentious observations about New York’s art scene in the “swinging sixties” and dark suggestions about the relationship between Edie and her father but Hickenlooper’s lubricious approach is as contrived as Pearce’s blond wig. Adding insult to injury, Hayden Christensen’s hilariously dreadful impersonation of Bob Dylan, (who supposedly loved Edie but lost her to Warhol’s heroin-accommodating lifestyle) should constitute grounds for a lawsuit based on defamation-of-character.

Ms. Miller, lithe of figure and vacuous of expression, manages to look a bit like the real thing, but her efforts to project both meaning and sympathy into this overheated portrait of a self-absorbed mini-celebrity never succeed, making Factory Girl’s 91 minutes feel like a long stay in a dentist’s chair.

The verdict? Movies don’t get more pretentious and god-awful than this.  

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