Wednesday, October 24, 2007
“Andy Warhol looks a scream, hang him on my wall. Andy Warhol, Silver Screen, Can't tell them apart at all.” - David Bowie (“Andy Warhol" off the album Hunky Dory - 1971)
Pop-art pioneer (and filmmaker - though the worth of his cinematic output is highly debatable) Andy Warhol has been portrayed by a host of notable actors since his death in 1987. The latest was Guy Pearce earlier this year in the Edie Sedgwick bio-pic FACTORY GIRL (newly released on DVD and reviewed below). How does Pearce rate compared to the other Andys? Well, let's see...we'll start off with:
Crispin Glover in THE DOORS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) Definitely the best Andy though the next contender comes close, Glover scores because he is in real life almost as eccentric and creepy as Warhol was. Appearing very briefly in an extremely caricaturized version of the Factory scene Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) in his usual stoned haze stumbles upon Andy holding court and fondling a gold telephone - "Somebody gave me this telephone... I think it was Edie... yeah it was Edie... and she said I could talk to God with it, but uh... I don't have anything to say... so here...this is for you...now you can talk to God." Morrison takes the phone but doesn't make an attempt to speak to the Grand Deity - perhaps he knew he'd get his chance soon enough.
David Bowie in BASQUIAT (Dir. Julian Schnabel, 1996) With his incredibly informed interpretation (he even wore some of Andy's actual wigs) of Warhol's mannerisms Bowie benefited from actually personally knowing the man. Though from everything I've ever read possibly nobody really personally ever knew the man. Bowie's performance is all verbal ticks and unctuous posing framed by a laid-back lackadaisical hands-off approach. Warhol reportedly hated Bowie's song "Andy Warhol" (quoted at the top of this blog post) but something tells me he would've been honored by this depiction. He probably would've thought Bowie made him look fabulous.
Jarred Harris in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (Dir. Mary Hurrin, 1996) This movie perhaps has the most accurate, or at least most believable, simulation of the Factory scene. Extra points for casting indeliable indie-rockers Yo La Tengo to play The Velvet Underground too. Harris has quite a bit more energy than the others in his characterization of Warhol but it's convincing and captivating at the same time. Dealing with the odd assassination attempt by radical feminist and sociopath Valerie Solanas (played by Lili Taylor) the film, despite a non-endorsement from Lou Reed, made quite a case for how Warhol's smug indifference to the violent nature of the turbulent times could be deadly.
Gregory Sullivan in 54 (Dir. Michael Christopher, 1998) This isn't really a performance - more like a costume party likeness. That is almost any pale skinny bloke can don the glasses and astronaut-silver wig and pull off a Warhol impression. Especially in the crowd scenes that dominate this empty as Hell misreading of historical decadence.
Mark Bringleson - AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (Dir. Jay Roach, 1997) Ditto. It's a throwaway fake cameo - nothing more.
And the rest : Warhol was also played by Bob Swain in DEATH BECOMES HER (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1992), Sergio De Beukelaer in ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS (Dir. Tom Barman, 2003), Todd Boyco in DRUG-TAKING AND THE ARTS (Dir. Strom Thorgerson, 1994), and Allen Midgette in CALDO SOFFOCANTE (translation - SUFFOCATING HEAT - Dir. Giovanna Gagliardo, 1991) which I haven't seen but the guy was in actual Warhol movies like LONESOME COWBOYS (1968) so maybe it's worth a look.
So again, how does the new guy Guy Pearce rate as Warhol? Let's take a look at the evidence:
FACTORY GIRL (Dir. George Hickenlooper, 2006) "You're the boss, apple sauce" Pearce as Warhol says early on to Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) and that stands as some of the only believable dialogue in this glossy mess of a movie. Sedgwick was indeed a sad victim of 60's excess and her story could make an engrossing and profound film - but this sure isn't it. Despite the use of period methods like split screen and tilted angles - the aesthetic is purely TV movie quality and we're never convinced that we're anywhere but the current day with actors playing dress up.
The basic story is this - ambitious girl comes to the big city and falls into the wrong crowd and dies because of it. Got it? 'Cause there's nothing else going on here. I mean, the only artistic analogy this film tries to make is that Edie is like one of Andy's silver pillow balloons that floated away from his fragile Factory scene. This is displayed in a none too subtle shot of one of said balloons drifting upwards in the New York sky. Is that all you got in your bag of tricks, Hickenlooper?
Bob Dylan lobbied against this movie and wouldn't allow his name or music to be used so we have Hayden Christensen playing a character only billed as "musician" and referred to as "Billy Quinn" though a shot of a newspaper article has him called "Tommy Quinn". That's just one of the many things this film gets wrong. Dylan was right to protest (was he ever wrong to protest?) - the dialogue Christensen spouts is embarrassing and unfathomable that Dylan ever said such garbage : case in point - "Lady, you don't know shit about shit."
I get and appreciate that the premise is that Dylan offered a way out of the Warhol dungeon that Edie stupidly refused and that led to her downfall. It's just that it's such a simplistic dumbing down of their legacy that it leaves a disgusting taste in my mouth. But wait, what about Pearce as Warhol - the conceit of this entire blog-post? He's very good - maybe the saving grace of the entire project. I'd rate him between Bowie and Jarred Harris. He obviously did his homework. But back to the film - as Miller (who does more than a passable performance - the film's failings are far from her fault) as Sedgewick says at one point in the film "Andy took ordinary objects and made them iconic" - FACTORY GIRL, a misguided attempt to make a pop-art ALL ABOUT EVE, takes icons (Sedgwick, Warhol, Dylan) and makes them ordinary. Before seeing it I would have thought that would be impossible. I stand corrected.
Postnotes : I can't leave without mentioning that Warhol actually appeared in some films (always as himself) - in DYNAMITE CHICKEN (Dir. Ernest Pintoff, 1972) with Richard Pryor, TOOTSIE (Dir. Sydney Pollack, 1982), and BLANK GENERATION (Dir. Ulli Lommel, 1980) to name a few. As for television he did a fair share of guest shots - he even did an episode of The Love Boat for Christ sakes!
Also I have to mention that Hank Azaria voiced Warhol in a brief surreal dream bit on The Simpsons. I doubt when Warhol conceived his famous quote "In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes" he factored in the effect that a few seconds on the pop-culture juggernaut that is The Simpsons could have. To be fair he later amended the line to "In fifteen minutes everybody will be famous." Today that line is more apt.