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.
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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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