Friday, May 11, 2018

Mary Harron: 'I Shot Andy Warhol' (1996)

I Shot Andy Warhol  (1996), director Mary Harron's (b. 1953) first film, centers on Valerie Solanas and her fringe relationship with Warhol. Harron's prior experience as a punk rock journalist probably gave her an insider's perspective -- certainly she recreates the Factory milieu with precision of detail. She orginally envisioned a documentary on Solanas and her infamous works, The SCUM ManifestoUp Your Ass , and her attempted assassination of French publisher Maurice Girodias (she tried to shoot him at the Hotel Chelsea, but he was out) and Andy Warhol, but after discovering that there wasn't enough archival Solanas footage and few who would speak for her, opted for a dramatic account.
Lili Taylor portrays Solanas as a damaged soul. She's been abused and neglected growing up, and is on her own in the world for the most part, street hustling. But she's smart, and very frustrated. A lesbian turning tricks with men, she is drawn into the Warhol crowd through meeting transvestite Candy Darling (played sympathetically by Stephen Dorff), and tries to interest Andy in her writing. His open door policy lets all sorts of weird people into an already weird Factory scene -- open until she later shoots him, which changes everything.

I Shot Andy Warhol  is an interesting exploration of how commercially successful artists and aspiring artists interrelate. Solanas' feminism plays an important role, too -- her SCUM Manifesto cries foul at men and men's power. A la James Brown's 1966 song "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," Solanas believes it, and thinks the world needs a reverse shakeup. Ideally to her, all men should die. 

Though demented in many ways, Solanas has a point. Why are there so few high profile women equivalents of Andy Warhol? Indeed, even by 2018, why have there been no women presidents in the USA? Why is such a crude and brutish man the current American president, beloved (and also hated) by millions? 

Harron herself, as a woman filmmaker and writer, is rare -- only something like seven percent of directors are women.
The actors put in good performances. Taylor (HBO stalwart on Six Feet Under  and The Notorious Betty Page ) is edgy, scary, mouthy and believable. Jared Harris (Mad Men, &c.) plays Warhol with appropriate cool and nervousness. Donovan Leitch (son of the singer) is fun as Gerard Malanga, and Michael Imperioli serves up Warhol's sidekick Ondine with bitchy camp -- and strong hints of his Sopranos' character, Christopher. Mark the scruffy Revolutionary is played by Justin Theroux in his first movie (Joe from Six Feet Under; Mulholland Drive ): it's his Beretta that Solanas uses to shoot Andy.
After I Shot Andy Warhol, Harron went on to write the screenplay for American Psycho (2000), which she also directed. She also worked on HBO's Six Feet Under  ("The Rainbow of Her Reasons," 2005) and made The Notorious Betty Page (2005). She did The Anna Nicole Story (2013), too. There is continuity in all of her work so far -- exploration of gender issues, fame and notoriety. All interesting stuff. And unsettling. Some of it's funny, some of it's gravely serious, not unlike Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, with whom she clearly feels an affinity for women and mystery.

Today's Rune: Gateway. 

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