A Waif Astray

factory_girlFactory Girl
Directed by George Hickenlooper (Weinstein Co. DVD)

The court of the silver-haired pied piper of the Factory has proved a substantial source of inspiration for movie-makers, through which Andy Warhol and his dubious darlings are reaping far more than his promised fifteen minutes of fame. Valerie Solanas and her SCUM gun, Basquiat and his designer dreads, Capote and his mewling mannerisms, and the long-promised story of the divinely beautiful Candy Darling are perfect examples of the lingering allure of trash and tragedy. It is no surprise that the latest trawl through the silver memories of the largely departed Warhol cavalcade is Factory Girl.

Edie Sedgwick was the Massachusetts heiress with beguiling beauty and downwardly mobile aspirations who became Warhol’s muse, and his only superstar to briefly deserve such a title. A competent artist in her own right, after her move to New York in 1964 she gravitated towards the Warhol coterie like a trembling moth to his icy flame. A history of mental instability, the suicide of her beloved gay brother Minty, the bike-smash death of another, and her sexual abuse at the hands of her powerful, handsome, manic-depressive father meant Edie had enough emotional baggage to fit in. She became an actress in Warhol’s cheap movies, a constant bauble on his arm who mirrored his silver-haired exaggerated appearance, and he became her father, brother, and platonic companion. Truman Capote once observed in Jean Stein's Edie, "Andy Warhol would like to have been Edie Sedgwick. He would like to have been a charming, well-born debutante from Boston. He would have liked to have been anybody except Andy Warhol."

Directed by George Hickenlooper (Dogtown), Factory Girl opens with Edie in the mental hospital looking back on the supposed halcyon days. As her story explodes like a million flash bulbs, she is all the legend maintains: sweet, intelligent, beautiful, and rich. The tale grows darker as Warhol becomes more distant. As Edie's doomed affair with a singer-songwriter (a composite character based on Bob Dylan) blossoms, it fuels Warhol’s bitchy, insecure jealousy. Sienna Miller brings a vivaciously vulnerable aspect to her portrayal of this doomed waif. Both her appearance and that of Guy Pearce as Warhol are wonderful studies, not in impersonation, but in becoming their subjects.

Pearce plays Warhol with a steely, diffident air of cold distraction. He has the faltering voice, the blotchy complexion, and the bitchy cattiness of a man who is not at home with himself, or with anybody else. He replaced Edie in the Factory with a poor look-alike, the sadly stupid Ingrid Superstar, who was never anything other than a joke whom Warhol mocked behind her back. This rebuttal crops up in the film. Ingrid von Scherven was to vanish off the face of the earth, after years of weight gain, mental illness, drug dealing, and prostitution. As Ultra Violet relates in her fabulously gassy, missed opportunity autobiography Famous for Fifteen Minutes, "On December 7, 1986, she went to buy a pack of cigarettes and a newspaper, leaving her fur coat behind in the closet and her false teeth in the sink. She was never seen again." A rather fitting end for a Warhol superstar.

Edie spiral towards doom was more immediate. Her father, deploring her New York lifestyle, switched off the flow of dollars, while Andy, disapproving of her attempts at independence, cut her loose emotionally and then froze her out. The movie deals well with Edie's implosion. The ultimate little lost rich girl is touchingly portrayed by Miller, who brings a rawness and intensity to the messy meltdown of her character. Warhol emerges as a voyeuristic user, and if his supposed autism is true, it is the only thing that would exonerate his clinical detachment. Gore Vidal once called him "a born loser…a window decorator type."

The film is really a series of vignettes, spliced and merged in the way that Warhol made his films. At times it can seem trite and superficial, but the strength of the two central roles leaves the audience with a sense of unease about Warhol, who was abusing a young woman who had been abused all her life. It makes you want to shake the deranged Valerie Solanas by the hand; even though what she did was wrong, one can’t help feeling that she was justified in her actions.

The afore-mentioned Dylan composite, played with edgy verve by Hayden Christensen, neatly illuminates Warhol’s vacuous blandishments. Although he always claimed to be superficial, it didn’t stop him from feeling threatened when confronted with someone who wasn’t. The film alludes to Warhol's jealousy over Edie's new, brief squeeze with a more credible talent as the reason for her expulsion from his cavalcade of trash.

Edie is now iconic: A touchstone for dissolute chic, a tragic figure that this film doesn’t glamorize, a short, sad, fucked up miserable life that lasted only twenty-eight years. She deserves to be remembered, and will crop up more and more as the book and film industries rehash the Warhol myth. There will be other Edie Sedgwick portrayals, and a confetti of Warhol cameos on film, but for now Sienna Miller has proved hers will be a hard act to follow.

Poor little Edie, it could all have been so different, but you come away from this film with the sad realization that it was never, ever going to be. - Robert Cochrane

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Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published three collections of poems, and Gone Tomorrow, his biography of the rock singer Jobriath, will appear via SAF in 2008.

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