Art majors can now skip over the chapter on Andy Warhol in their Introduction to Pop Art textbooks: At four hours, Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film may be half as long as Warhol’s 1963 opus Sleep, but its overview of the pop aesthete’s life and art is nothing if not encyclopedic. The film is engaging but more uncomplicated than anything Warhol ever imagined, beginning with the artist’s birth to immigrant Ruthenian parents in Pittsburgh to his death from gallbladder surgery at the age of 58. The first part is devoted to Warhol’s difficult rise to fame in New York’s exclusionary art world, the second to his Factory hey-day, innovative film work, attempted assassination, and business-minded exploits during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Director Rick Burns amasses a group of intellectuals to shrewdly parse Warhol’s art—sometimes breathlessly, sometimes pretentiously (here’s looking at you Wayne Koestenbaum)—and how it was shaped by the man’s personal neuroses. More light is shed on the culture vulture’s personal life than ever before, and though we are told over and over again why Warhol and his art still matter, the documentary doesn’t shill for the man, often criticizing Warhol’s propensity for exploiting the people around him, namely Edie Sedgwick, and how his eerie passive-aggressiveness was in part responsible for fueling Valerie Solanas’s rage against him. So much is covered here, from Warhol’s stalking of Truman Capote to the brilliance of his Exploding Plastic Inevitable collaboration with The Velvet Underground, it’s amazing how much is left out, namely discussion of his Clockwork Orange riff Vinyl and My Hustler (his film masterpiece) and his work with Paul Morrissey. The voicework is sketchy, namely kitsch artist Jeff Koons’s affectation of Warhol’s voice, and the incessant soundtrack is dubious (evoking, intermittingly, background music for The Sims, an Unsolved Mysteries crime recreation, and a Philip Glass orchestral drone), but the documentary permits rare insight into Warhol’s philosophy of stardom and way of looking at the world.
- 233 min
- Ric Burns
- Irving Blum, Donna DeSalvo, Pat Hackett, Dave Hickey, Stephen Koch, Jeff Koons, Paul Morrissey, George Plimpton, John Richardson, John Warhola, Ronald Tavel, Wayne Koestenbaum
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