Friday, November 30, 2007

From Lux to Louche in One Brief Life

Factory Girl (2007) directed by George Hickenlooper

Cruel as it sounds, there is something irresistible in a tale about a beautiful, rich girl who fails as spectacularly as pop icon Edie Sedgwick did in the 1960s. She has fascinated me ever since I read the oral history Edie: An American Biography by Jean Stein and edited by George Plimpton. And Warhol still fascinates as a recent documentary attests.

Edie Sedgwick, the so-called “It Girl” of the 60s, quickly became the poster child for the most vicious aspects of celebrity-obsessed culture in America. I don't really understand the negative reviews around this film such as this Village Voice article. I thought the performances were wonderful and I am not a particularly big fan of Sienna Miller who plays Edie. But she gives a sensitive and textured performance about a very fragile, troubled individual.

Sedgwick was a Harvard educated blue blood whose descendants date back to 1635 and include a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. She has a trust fund and a taste for the Bohemian and modern art. This, and art school, eventually leads her to New York with best friend Chuck Wein (Jimmy Fallon) and into the lair of
Andy Warhol, creepily and effectively played by Australian actor Guy Pearce, and the Factory, a former downtown hat factory which becomes the apex for the avant-garde scene in New York where film, visual art, poetry, drug use and general debauchery collide. The scenario is convincingly wrought, beautiful and enticing (utterly unlike the real Factory apparently). It is appealing despite the fact that we know it will lead to Edie's destruction.

Anyone here in Toronto who saw the exhibit Andy Warhol/Supernova: Stars, Deaths and Disasters, 1962–1964, which was guest-curated by film director David Cronenberg last summer/fall, will understand the appeal of this messed up, exciting, sometimes frightening world that Warhol created.

Fascinated by Edie, Warhol senses an opportunity to make use of this enchanting girl who favors the louche to the lux. Edie becomes the star of Warhol’s movies and an object of fascination for the media and the fashion industry. Edie's descent into drug addiction and mental illness is well known and well documented. This film attempts to gauge Warhol's role in that process. He is presented as fixated, even obsessed with Edie and her lineage.

Edie draws away from him and becomes romantically involved with a Dylanesque figure. The film presents a fictionalized representation of her love affair with Bob Dylan (Hayden Christensen) who is not specifically named as such in the film but is known simply as the "Musician". There were news reports that Dylan was going to sue the filmmaker if he was named.

Warhol is fascinated by the Musician as he seems to be by all stars. The Musician, in turn, seems repulsed by the world that Edie inhabits
eventually abandons her to marry someone else (fashion model and Playboy bunny Sara Lownds in real life). In the film, Edie's decline is clearly linked to his rejection of her.

Her addiction, lack of confidence, depression, implications of sexual abuse by her father, all debilitate her, scar her physically and emotionally so that she is no longer the media and fashion darling that she once was. Warhol wonders despairingly "Why does she want to be ugly?" He, too, abandons her as do Vogue fashion mavens such as
Diana Vreeland. She has become all that repels him: unkempt, slovenly, out of control. Warhol adherents advocate that she abandoned Warhol, thinking Dylan's stardom would bring her greater fame.

After she ODs, is robbed, nearly dies in a fire, and is repeatedly humiliated, Edie finally leaves New York for California, broken, broke, almost destroyed. She lives on, checking into a number of psychiatric institutions, eventually marries
Michael Post, a fellow psychiatric patient, but overdoses fairly soon after in 1971 by accident, or design. is unclear.

Michiko Kakutani said in her review of the 1982 Stein book, Edie's story "is not simply the story of one girl's tragic loss of innocence or one family's decline and disarray. It is also the story of what happened to this country during the 1960's and the consequences of those years when the past was disavowed and replaced by a hectic new gospel of sensuality and outrage".

What is that saying ... some people live only to serve as examples of how not to live?

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