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This documentary gets a lot of things right, but it unfortunately gets
a few really important things wrong.
What it gets right: for one thing, his films. It's pretty clear that once Paul Morrissey started directing the movies, Andy had very little if any creative input into them. The films before Chelsea Girls are completely different in approach, and certainly more connected with Warhol's artistic output, than the ones that came after.
As for Andy Warhol the person, I don't know if anybody will ever get to the bottom of that mystery. He was full of contradictions: he was a non-stop partygoer, but also painfully shy. He was a relentless social climber, but also enjoyed hanging out with colorful low-life types (at least until he got shot by one.) He was hardnosed about business and in the way he manipulated people, but full of superstition about his health and about religion. As for "the philosophy of Andy Warhol" -- he may have published a book with that title, but I think it's best to take it with a grain of salt.
What does the film get wrong? I think primarily the nature of his painting. The "experts" they interview all say things along the lines of "Andy wanted to remove himself from the process of painting" or "his work aims to present reality without any comment." Are they even looking at the paintings that are shown on top of their voice-overs? Throughout his life, Andy painted in a noticeably expressive, painterly style. He almost never presented a subject in flat solid colors, like the color-field artists. There is almost always some sign of the artist's hand in his work, whether it be brushwork in the background, or manipulation of the foreground image, by doubling, tripling, overlapping, varying the sharpness or intensity of the image, etc. By no means was he a Duchampian maker of "ready-mades".
But overall, yes, if you're going to see one Warhol documentary, this is the one to see. Just try to go and see some of his paintings in person if you get the chance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This collection contains seven films (directed by Paul Morrissey) and
the long documentary done after his death, his "accidental"
post-surgical death in a New York hospital. It is fascinating to
rediscover "Trash", "Heat" and "Flesh" that really represented the late
sixties and early seventies, the direct post-hippie years. "Madame
Wang's" is a transient caprice in Morrissey's mind. "Women in revolt"
is absolutely ironical today when you see most of these women's
activists being transvestites and and other trans. "Flesh for
Frankenstein" has aged tremendously and time does not redeem it. "Blood
for Dracula" is funny since it is the story of blood poisoning for
Dracula who can only digest virginal blood, I mean the blood of a
virgin. Luckily the collection contains "The Complete picture". In this
documentary, alas, the "intellectuals" and "art critics" who speak are
trendy institutionalized university or artistic academics for many of
them and they impose their discourse (a big word for what Danto has to
say) or rather their fashionable ranting and raving. No, Andy Warhol is
not that trashy mass production fake artist they enjoy describing. He
is a lot more complex and probably a lot more innovative than they
pretend. For one he is dyslexic and that fact is neglected by many
though it dictates the form of his art. In his shakily (at least)
lateralised world Andy Warhol looks for some stabilizing element and
his whole life is governed by that search and even at times chase.
Equilibrium in gayness though his discomfort is in love itself.
Equilibrium in his public image that has so little to do with his deep
personality whose shyness he protects by this artificial surface that
becomes a carapace. Equilibrium in the repetitiveness if not repetitive
obsession of his art along with the variations from one picture to the
next, from one copy to the next. A slight change in color, or a slight
change in light, or a slight change in form. Campbell's soup is always
Campbell's soup, but there are so many flavors and tastes. Equilibrium
in the fixed and unmoving camera of his own films, in the steady speed
and everlasting duration of the tapes of his tape recorder, or the
never thrown away trash-collecting that has become over the decades the
valuable pollen gathering of the bee Andy Warhol. But who is the real
Warhol in this evanescent and calculated surface of things? There is no
return to reality as Danto pretends. It is the covering of a deep fear
with a superficial reality looking drape on top of it. Is it a hearse
for his deep reality? His form of mechanical mass production is nothing
but his own theatricality of his own disappearance through which he
removed himself from reality, from the public eye that could only see
the image he condescended to make public, the defused image of his own
self in a defusing world. Sorry to disagree but he is a pushy type of
man who wants everyone to know he is around but he is around as a
ghost, the presence you may feel being only some kind of scarecrow that
is covered with honey to attract the bees and flies the audience is,
and soaked with wine and cocaine to attract winos and druggies. Just as
he did not steal the S.C.U.M. concept of Valerie Solanas, her shooting
him proved that she was scum, but not from the Society for Cutting Up
Men, just scum, like spam, what you have to discard and dispose of in
some trashcan and she is only surviving as the attempted assassin of
Andy Warhol, and that is already too much for her. And he thus started
as a commercial artist who turned himself into a business artist very
soon because for him, the anti-hippie hero, making money is art,
working is art and good business is the best of arts. It seems simple
to understand that his diversifying and commodifying himself is a way
to build a non-dyslexic surface for his deeply dyslexic reality. The
point is that no one seems to have really seen that fact because
everyone tried to forget this dyslexia of his in the name of his being
a genius and a great artist, not seeing that his genius and greatness
were his answer to his own dyslexia. In other words he is a genuine
fake and that genuine-ness is his genius. But a fake he is for sure and
that is his great art. We can only imagine what he could have been if
he had reached the time of the Internet. Gosh, he would have been
godlike. Let him conclude with: "I have no memory. Everyday is a new
day because I don't remember the day before. Every minute is like the
first minute of my life. I try to remember but I can't. That's why I
got married to my tape recorder. My mind is like a tape-recorder with
one button: erase." Even his discourse, his sentence structure is the
best defense against dyslexia: subject + verb + complement, and that's
about all with a few simple conjunctive appositive "because" and "but".
If you the audience proceed one step at a time, you may not entangle
your pushy speedy and amateurish feet in the carpet and fall down the
staircase right into the buffet of the artist you will never
understand. So let's get together and you alone eventually at any time
on a trip with that poor man who died drowned in his own water in his
lungs in a New York hospital under a fake name during the night because
of a lack of care and probably caring personnel, hence abandoned in
this health-un-care-or-non-care institution.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines, CEGID
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