English & German
This comprehensive profile of Andy Warhol was produced and directed by Kim Evans in 1987, the same year that the artist died following complications from a gallbladder operation. Originally shown in The South Bank Show, introduced by Melvyn Bragg, the film is one of the first (and best) documentaries about the whole life and career of the 20th century’s most recognisable artist.
At the heart of the film are the interviews with many of Warhol’s confidantes and Factory regulars, together with his nephew Jamie Warhola and biographer Victor Bockris. What emerges is the story of the artist’s life and work told through the eyes of those closest to him. It is an amazing story. Andy Warhol, born 6 August 1928 into poverty in Pittsburgh and growing up a shy, nervous child in the Depression, became a truly iconic figure, famous both for his art and his position at the centre of New York bohemia.
From a very early age, Warhol is revealed to have been obsessed with the stars and starlets of Hollywood’s golden age. This idolisation, according to Bockris, served as a form of escapism from the deprivation of his childhood and remained with Warhol throughout his life, informing much of his art. Ivan Karp, the art dealer who first introduced Warhol to the New York art world, also talks interestingly about the young artist’s often-uneasy relationship to even his own work. Karp maintains that right up until he died, Warhol was never sure if his work ‘was good or not. He had to be told’.
The film charts his career as he moved from painting – he declared himself a ‘retired artist’ as early as 1965 – towards film, television and even music promos. Interviews with Paul Morrissey, the director of many of his films and television programmes, Vincent Fremont, executive manager of Warhol studios, as well as many of those who appeared in his underground features, offer a unique insight in to Warhol’s obsessive relationship with the camera.
Perhaps some of the most compelling sequences in the film are of Warhol being interviewed. His interview technique reminds one somewhat of Bob Dylan (who can be seen elsewhere glowering suspiciously around the Factory), where his extreme reticence serves to reinforce the aura of an enigma. Sometimes this can be hilarious. An interviewer, sitting awkwardly next to Warhol as a comatose girl sprawls at their feet, asks what the characters in Warhol films ‘represent’. Warhol immediately deadpans back, ‘Faking it for television’.
Trivia footnote: the researcher on the film was Mary Harron, who later worked at the BBC on The Late Show and then directed the American independent feature film I Shot Andy Warhol.
The series Art Lives, from Arthaus Musik, is a series of arresting documentaries about artists and art movements released for the first time on DVD in the English language.