Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Factory Girl

fFactory Girl (2006) depicts Edie Sedgwick as a plaintive victim of the 1960s and of exploitative males—Andy Warhol, her father, a well known but nameless (in the film) musician. She was definitely a victim, but a victim as much of her own noblesse oblige, her thirst for celebrity and fame, her self-destructive drug use, and her narcissistic self-absorption as of anything or anyone else.

Factory Girl at times seems made in the style of an avant garde documentary, but it is really little more than another biographical picture that never manages to explain or justify the importance of its subject. Edie herself (portrayed by Sienna Miller) narrates much of the film retrospectively, from the vantage point of a drug rehabilitation center in 1970, where she is being treated for addiction. (She died of an overdose in 1971). She is looking back at events, trying to assess her life and what might have gone wrong. The film focuses mostly on the year 1965, when Edie's star was in the ascendant, when she made her mark in Warhol's studio (known as the Factory), and when she had her love affair with Bob Dylan (known in the film as the "Musician"). Edie thinks of herself as an artist but the film shows little if any of her work, so that it is difficult to assess her artistic pretensions, if indeed they were pretensions to begin with. What we know is that Warhol was fascinated with her, gave her leading roles in his strange and aimless films, put her in his artwork, traveled with her to Paris, and then when he grew tired of her, especially after her romance with the Musician, rejected her, finding someone else to replace her, refusing to answer her phone calls or her increasingly desperate requests for money.

Warhol is the most interesting person in this film. Creepily and effectively played by Guy Pearce, he comes off as a narcissistic, self-absorbed poseur unable to comprehend the damage he causes Edie and others, especially after he casts them off. He is a man without guilt or a sense of human responsibility. The Dylan figure comes off better—he is not the one who rejects Edie, in this film—rather, he warns her of the empty nature of the Warhol enterprise and offers her an alternative to the Factory lifestyle, but she cannot bring herself to break away from what Warhol represents—celebrity, fame, stardom. Later, when she is in decline, the Musician tells his assistant to "give her what she needs," but he is not interested in further contact. Edie explains to her therapist in 1970 that her decision to stick with Warhol was the worst of her mistakes—the Musician, she says, was the only person who made her happy.

Factory Girl offers an interesting view of the Factory studio—it shows us an array of strange characters, creating extreme forms of art, but mostly it is interested in their eccentricities. We do see Warhol making films, creating paintings, and we see many of his works—the famous multi-portraits of celebrities, of soup cans, of commercial America—we hear from various characters that in America Warhol is undervalued and misunderstood—but the film makes little attempt to understand him or his achievements, whatever they might have been. From Factory Girl's perspective, Warhol was a conman—he conned Edie, he conned the American public—if there was more to him than that, this film offers no clue.

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