Sienna Miller’s Edie Sedgwick Premieres as the S.B. Film Fest

by D.J. Palladino

As far as myths go, she was undeniably our biggest export. Look
on the Internet: Young women still dress like Edie Sedgwick and
hold parties in her honor. Maybe she came from old money and became
a 1960s East Coast It Girl, but she also came from a Santa Barbara
ranch and her meteorite-bright life ended in an I.V. apartment one
night in 1970 after she’d attended a Santa Barbara Museum of Art
society party. She was 28.

In the meantime, she traveled from Vogue pictorials and
underground films to a meth and alcohol auto da fé. She dazzled
Andy Warhol, the immovable. She claimed Bob Dylan, another
legendarily distant icon of the day, as a lover — though he has
denied it.

“She was born to be a muse,” said actress Sienna Miller, 25, who
plays Edie brilliantly in Factory Girl, which premieres next
Thursday, January 25, as the opening night film for the Santa
Barbara International Film Festival. “The album Blonde on
Blonde — that’s Edie, the whole thing is a note to Edie,” asserted
Miller, who is sure of the Dylan-Sedgwick romantic link. “I mean,
come on,” she laughed last week, while on the patio of Hollywood’s
Chateau Marmont, a very Edie habitat. “When Dylan sings, ‘With her
fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls’?” she said, trailing off and
shrugging her shoulders in assurance. Miller offered the well-known
gamut of references: Sedgwick is “my debutante” in “Stuck in Mobile
with the Memphis Blues Again,” and the song “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box
Hat” is about her. But Miller, an It Girl now herself, seemed
surprised to hear the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” was
inspired by Edie, too.

The self-proclaimed “huge Velvet fan” took that in and then
looked up brightly. “See what I mean? A muse.”

Apparently, she came by it naturally. Hilary Dole Klein knew the
Sedgwicks growing up, often attending dinner soirées at their
stunning home, known then as El Rancho de la Laguna de San
Francisco. Klein’s father, William Dole, the famed artist and UCSB
professor, was close to Duke Sedgwick, Edie’s now-controversial
father, also an artist and philanthropist. (Duke painted big glossy
classical canvases; he sculpted the cowboy statue on display at
Earl Warren Showgrounds.)

“I was only 15 or 16 the first time I saw Edie,” said Klein,
owner and editor of Destination Wine Country magazine and longtime
contributor to this paper. “But she was the most beautiful and
charismatic woman I had ever seen. At the time, I assumed there
must be a lot of women like that in the world. But even today I
think she was the most beautiful. And she was tons of fun. She was
always laughing.”

Klein recalls Edie with a black eye after a car accident, and
finding her cutting up lace underwear to create fashionable
patches, laughing and chirping. “You know, in many ways she was
very sheltered,” said Klein, whose older sister, Heidi, was close
friends with the future Manhattan cause célèbre. After the two of
them went out to dinner, “Heidi told me Edie didn’t even know how
to tip. She thought you were supposed to give as much as the bill.”
She prefers such memories to the darker visions seeping later from
the seemingly halcyon ranch.

She Aches, Just Like A WOMAN

“I couldn’t read that book,” Klein said, referring to 1984’s
Edie: An American Biography, edited by Jean Stein and George
Plimpton, where allegations of daddy Duke’s sexual abuse of Edie
(among other transgressions) first emerged. It was a hard
revelation for Patty Look Lewis as well, who grew up on Gaviota’s
Las Varas Ranch and attended innumerable Sedgwick ranch lunches. “I
never experienced any of the weirdness you heard about,” she

Both Klein and Lewis saw only the charming side of Duke — though
both agreed he could be imperious — and his wife Alice Delano.
(Duke and Alice came from American old money, dating back to the
signers of the Declaration of Independence on her side. She
apparently rode sidesaddle on the ranch.)

The myth was cut to order from a Boston Brahmin fantasy. “What I
do remember is they lived very large. Their ranch house was
beautiful. They had a butler and a cook,” said Klein. “The house
was big and full of light. It was an artist’s house,” said Lewis, a
landscape painter and gallery owner now. “But what I can remember
best is that Sedgwick voice. I can hear it now; it’s like they had
an extra vocal cord. All eight kids were born and raised on the
ranch. But they sounded like, well, you never heard that voice
anywhere else.”

But you can hear a great take on that voice in Factory Girl.
Miller, a slight woman who seems shy to the point of fragility,
made it a point of fierce pride to be Edie, without seeming to do
an impersonation. (One of Edie’s most intimate friends, who craves
anonymity, told me, “Sienna looks, sounds, and acts like Edie.” The
same person had problems with the roughness of the film.)

Miller auditioned for the role in 2005, knowing one producer had
her in mind. “She saw me in a shoot I did for W,” said Miller,
“where I posed in a bowler hat, and she said, ‘That’s my Edie.’”
Katie Holmes decided to back out of the role, reportedly at her new
husband’s request. Subsequent delays gave Miller a year to

“I was keen to prove I could take on something of substance,”
said Miller, who was born in New York but was mostly raised in
England, where her mother ran the British Lee Strasburg studio.
Miller found various books, films, and tapes but hit pay dirt in
Pittsburgh at the Andy Warhol museum. “Andy taped everything,” said
Miller, who lost herself in the archives with costar Guy Pearce,
who plays Warhol. “We stayed in the Chelsea Hotel and I would dress
up like Edie and he’d paint his nails and we would go out as

She Makes Love, Just Like A WOMAN

If this sounds like a lark, the results are far from
lighthearted. The film wastes no time in presenting Duke’s sinister
side, it paints a brutally uncaring portrait of Andy, and — most
widely controversial — traces the relationship between Sedgwick and
Dylan, barely disguised here as “Billy Quinn.” The reports of
litigation are not quite true: “There is no lawsuit, that’s been
blown out,” said Miller. Edie’s older brother has letters to and
from him concerning obvious intimacies, including a pregnancy.
Miller also correctly adds, “This movie does not make Dylan look

The course of making the film, she admitted, was smooth yet
arduous. Though Miller respects director George Hickenlooper, who
made his bones as a documentarian (Hearts of Darkness: A
Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Mayor of the Sunset Strip), she has seen
this film through a number of reshoots, and is only slightly
facetious when she said, “There have been about 20 versions now.
But,” she added, “I love this film so much, if they asked me back
in, I would go.”

The results are haunting. Film fest director Roger Durling
thought so. “I’ve never gone after a film so fiercely. Both because
it begins and ends in this town but also because it examines both
sides of celebrity. After I saw it, I couldn’t shake it,” he said.
Many of the recent spates of druggy biopics like Ray and Walk the
Line dwell on an orgy of drugs and stumbling. Factory Girl courts
the image and the painful fall. You can credit the script and
supporting performances, but the star is clearly Miller, who sought
an understanding and then the tics and gestures. “She’s just so
dynamic and multilayered,” confirmed Durling.

“I think underneath everything Edie was just a charismatic light
that burned a little too brightly,” explained Miller, who speaks
with a smart London hipster’s accent. “She was a tortured soul, but
really pathologically optimistic at the same time. She had so many
bad experiences, a really destructive childhood. But I also think
she was just love incarnate. She gave absolutely everything she had
to anyone who would take it, and really left nothing for herself.
Ultimately that’s why she burned out. She gave it all away.”

Miller said the film focuses a bit much on the tragedies. “She
was a rich girl who took too many drugs. So why do we care about
her?” Maybe it’s Miller. She does that voice so well. Maybe it’s
the clothes, or the painfully winning self-conscious laugh.

But She Breaks, Just Like A LITTLE GIRL

The Manhattan artist B. Wurtz, who was born and raised in S.B.,
had dinner with Edie in 1969, after she returned home a broken
addict. He was a young artist, curious about the Factory. Dinner
was arranged by Wurtz’s sister Susanne, a school friend of Edie’s
who had to borrow her out of Cottage Hospital for the evening.

“The first thing she said to me, before hello,” Wurtz said, “was
‘I love Andy Warhol.’ But before the evening was over, she made it
abundantly clear it was Bob Dylan who she literally loved.” Wurtz
found Edie both gracious and strong, forgiving of both the men who
were blamed for her downfall.

Was Edie a muse or an avatar? The appropriate myth might be
Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. “That’s perfect,” said
Miller. “Burnt wings.” Perhaps a female Odysseus, who conquered a
city, lost her friends, went to hell, and returned home only to
die. The people who knew her young found her grand, doomed, and
irresistible, a figure from Aeschylus. Warhol called her a
superstar. Her closest friends at the end find all these efforts at
canonization a little funny. During her rehab, she dwindled well
below 90 pounds. Then she was a wraith.

The retired UCSB drama professor and playwright Bob Potter knew
the family when he was a teen, too. He thinks maybe the proper myth
should take in the whole family. “I think maybe it was Kronos, who
ate his young,” said Potter, who found much to delight in his
visits to the ranch — though he wasn’t surprised at later scandals.
He even tried his hand at a screenplay about Edie years ago. His
version began and ended on the ranch.

The film Factory Girl begins and ends at Cottage Hospital.
“Everybody who knew her has a different story to tell,” said
Potter. “And each story is the beginning of another myth.”


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