Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol begins with footage of Andy Warhol’s sadly under-attended Catholic funeral back in Pittsburgh and not the super-glamorous New York memorial service held on April 1, 1987. Although the documentary soon rejoins the mainstream of Warhol’s New York and Hollywood cronies, this early stop among the Polish crones of Pennsylvania remains typical of director Chuck Workman’s approach, which is to make Warhol an accessible, real person-insofar, of course, as that is possible.
Although the film’s technique is familiar-a mix of interviews and historical footage-the story, at least in places, is not. Everyone knows about the early silk-screens of Campbell’s soup cans, but how many remember they were first shown in Los Angeles at Ferus Gallery, not in New York? New York art dealer Leo Castelli soon changed that, and the idea that “success is a job in New York,” a slogan from one of Andy’s early advertising inserts, remained a principal element in the Warhol formula throughout his career. Rarely has an individual artist captured so completely the spirit and atmosphere of a time and place as Warhol did the Manhattan of the 1970s and ’80s. His knowing glances, deadpan expression, and compulsive socializing add up to a blueprint for the desired Manhattan persona of the period that leaves Woody Allen’s quips and comebacks seeming like the nervous patter of someone trying too hard.
Turning from documentary to historical dramatization, Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol offers an idiosyncratic take on just a slice of Warhol’s career told from the perspective of Valerie Solanas, the mentally disturbed radical feminist who shot him in 1968. The incident had a powerful impact on Warhol, leaving him increasingly paranoid and controlling in relation to his extended retinue and the open workspace he operated, known as The Factory. Lili Taylor plays the antic Solanas with bravado and tenderness, lending her character a sympathetic aspect that it is unlikely the real-life Solanas ever achieved. Jared Harris is also very good as Warhol, and delivers some lines that will be familiar from the documentary Superstar, including the following classic exchange.
Reporter: Mr. Warhol, do you feel that pop art has become repetitious?
Andy: (Smiles.) Yes.
Reporter: Do you plan to resist this tendency to repeat yourself?
Andy: (Serious now.) NO.
I Shot Andy Warhol, while hardly a thorough or measured consideration of Warhol-it’s not even primarily about him-still manages to recreate the Warhol milieu effectively. Watch for indie rock band Yo La Tengo as the Velvet Underground in the marvelous Factory party sequence.
Taken together, these two films make a fine prelude to the UCSB University Art Museum’s upcoming exhibition of Warhol’s work, Andy Warhol Presents. Superstar offers just enough context and analysis to whet your appetite, and I Shot Andy Warhol fleshes out the excitement of his scene, which only shows through in the documentary in fits and starts. If all you know about Andy Warhol is the idea that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, it’s time to put in a few hours renewing your acquaintance with one of the most entertaining, influential, and worldly wise artists of the 20th century.
A double feature of Superstar and I Shot Andy Warhol shows Wednesday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m., at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Call 893-3535 or visit www.artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.