July 12, 1996 in Seven

Enter The Pop World Of Andy Warhol

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Andy Warhol did more to shape today’s attitudes toward popular culture than perhaps anyone. It’s arguable that the term “pop culture” wouldn’t even exist but for this Cleveland-born artist and filmmaker.

That’s a dubious achievement, of course. As it applies to art, pop has a specific meaning: It involves the adaptation of mass-media icons - advertisement images, comic-strip panels, posters, etc. - to a whole other medium. Painting, say, or sculpture.

However, in terms of overall importance (never mind influence), the term pop more resembles the dictionary definition of the word pop itself: “a sudden, short, light, explosive sound.”

No one was more studiedly “pop,” either in style or theme, than Warhol.

In her movie “I Shot Andy Warhol,” former journalist and first-time filmmaker Mary Harron attempts to capture the effete world that was Warhol’s - the soup-can-art posturing, the glittery parties at Warhol’s “factory,” the movies, the entourage of characters bearing names such as Ultra Violet and Candy Darling, the appearances at trendy Manhattan nightclubs, the affectation of cool, etc.

But she doesn’t delve into this atmosphere merely for fun. Rather, she does so mainly to serve up a backdrop for her real concern, a study of the complex, self-styled feminist activist Valerie Solanas.

And the contrast between the hip world of Warhol and the street-guerrilla life of Solanas was pronounced. Solanas, endured a troubled childhood but exhibited brilliance while studying psychology in college. She lived on the streets of Manhattan, hooking and panhandling for money, but she found time to write her legendary “SCUM manifesto” (SCUM is an acronym for Society for Cutting Up Men).

She drifted around the edges of Warhol’s troupe, alternately entertaining and disgusting the artist’s other hangers-on. And then one day, in the grip of emotional demons that have become all too common a contemporary condition, she shot Warhol because - as she later claimed - “He controlled my life.”

It is that tabloid-like sentiment, best captured in her film’s title, that Harron tries to evoke in her movie. And with her depiction of Warhol’s world (buoyed particularly by the acting of Jared Harris), blended with a cinematic style that features quirky quick cuts and superimposed shots, she succeeds.

But only partially. For despite the inherently fascinating aspects of Warhol’s world, Harron’s method of exploring it tends to get in the way.

Harron’s film follows a Solanas as unstuck in time as Billy Pilgrim. It jets back and forth from Solanas’ clever panhandling adventures (selling profanity at so much per word) to her awestruck belligerence in the presence of Warhol, from her attempting to seduce a co-ed in the still-naive 1950s to her open lesbianism of the late ‘60s.

Most of this is eminently watchable. Even so, the most satisfying parts feature the interplay between people, especially when it involves such real-life characters as Warhol, transvestite film star Candy Darling (effectively played by Steven Dorff), publisher Maurice Girodias (Lothaire Bluteau), filmmaker Paul Morrissey (Reg Rogers) and others.

What tends to get lost in Harron’s mix is Solanas herself. We see much of what she did, but we discover little of what made her tick. Was she sexually abused by her father? Did mental illness run in her family? We never find out.

Furthermore, neither Solanas nor Harron are always well served by Taylor, whose performance - though hailed at both the Sundance and Seattle film festivals - seems too one-note. Her version of Solanas is seldom worthy of true sympathy, being little more than a self-destructive jumble of speed rap and nervous gestures, twitches, curses and cigarette smoke.

Much more effective is Harris as Warhol, who has mastered every mannerism, every vocal pattern of the obsessively introverted artist. Harris (the son of actor Richard Harris) makes his Warhol a convincing cross between a manipulative adult and a fun-loving child, someone ultimately just as lost in a universe of his own creation as Solanas is in hers.

In the end, theirs was a connection that managed to bridge their more overt contrasts, a connection emblazoned by the gunshots on June 4, 1968, that severely wounded Warhol, earned Solanas the notoriety that her writings had not and ended up severely changing both their lives.

For Warhol subsequently closed his Factory and virtually stopped producing public art, choosing instead to concentrate on private portraits. Solanas was sentenced to three years in a psychiatric hospital. After being released, she disappeared - until interest in her was revived in 1987 with Warhol’s death at age 59 following minor surgery.

Two years later Solanas herself died, of pneumonia and emphysema. She was 52.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “I Shot Andy Warhol” Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Directed by Mary Harron, co-written by Harron and Daniel Minahan, starring Lili Taylor, Jared Harris, Martha Plimpton, Stephen Dorff, Michael Imperioli and Tahnee Welch Running time: 1:46 Rating: R

2. OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “I Shot Andy Warhol:” Stephen Whitty/San Jose Mercury News: … (Valerie) Solanas is not the star of this story. Andy Warhol is. And not to recognize that is to do him another injustice - and to deny him the billing in death he so single-mindedly pursued in life. Janet Maslin/New York Times: This film’s extraordinary centerpiece is Lili Taylor, giving a great, funny, furiously alive performance that deserves to put her on the mainstream map. Kevin Thomas/Los Angeles Times: In the end, “I Shot Andy Warhol” must be reckoned as a solid, impressive first feature on (Mary) Harron’s part. Bob Strauss/Los Angeles Daily News: Like Warhol’s own, endlessly repeated 15-minute prediction, this movie has a surface-skimming quality that both mitigates and aggravates its discomfort factor. We’re left expecting to have learned more about what made Solanas and the denizens of Warhol’s legendary studio/hangout, the Factory, tick. But by then, we don’t really want to know. Desson Howe/The Washington Post: First-time filmmaker Mary Harron takes what amounts to a mundane, botched gun attack and desperately embellishes it with tragicomic, radical-feminist significance.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “I Shot Andy Warhol” Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Directed by Mary Harron, co-written by Harron and Daniel Minahan, starring Lili Taylor, Jared Harris, Martha Plimpton, Stephen Dorff, Michael Imperioli and Tahnee Welch Running time: 1:46 Rating: R

2. OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “I Shot Andy Warhol:” Stephen Whitty/San Jose Mercury News: … (Valerie) Solanas is not the star of this story. Andy Warhol is. And not to recognize that is to do him another injustice - and to deny him the billing in death he so single-mindedly pursued in life. Janet Maslin/New York Times: This film’s extraordinary centerpiece is Lili Taylor, giving a great, funny, furiously alive performance that deserves to put her on the mainstream map. Kevin Thomas/Los Angeles Times: In the end, “I Shot Andy Warhol” must be reckoned as a solid, impressive first feature on (Mary) Harron’s part. Bob Strauss/Los Angeles Daily News: Like Warhol’s own, endlessly repeated 15-minute prediction, this movie has a surface-skimming quality that both mitigates and aggravates its discomfort factor. We’re left expecting to have learned more about what made Solanas and the denizens of Warhol’s legendary studio/hangout, the Factory, tick. But by then, we don’t really want to know. Desson Howe/The Washington Post: First-time filmmaker Mary Harron takes what amounts to a mundane, botched gun attack and desperately embellishes it with tragicomic, radical-feminist significance.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email