Doodad Kind of Town


Another Weekend and "Factory Girl"
February 18, 2008, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It was partly due to a busy schedule and partly due to the head cold I caught from my nephew, but I didn’t make it to any new movies this weekend.

Not that I’m worried that I missed anything. I was intrigued by the premise of “Jumper” – but then it’s got Hayden Christenson. Has he been worth watching in anything other than “Shattered Glass”? (We’ll get back to him later.) I also thought about “Definitely, Maybe” which got decent reviews, most notably from the New York Times. But isn’t Ryan Reynolds a little young to play Abigail Breslin’s dad? And is it just me, or is Breslin already getting annoying? I loved her in “Little Miss Sunshine” where her unapologetic prepubescent awkwardness was a refreshing antidote to the generic cuteness of most child actors. But now it seems she’s become the go-to wise child for romantic comedies, the precocious moppet with all the great, insightful lines who gets the grown-ups around her to pull their lives together and find love. (At least that’s my impression from trailers.) And that’s the kind of character I can do without.

At times like these, it’s great to have a Netflix disc on hand. Here’s what I watched:

“Factory Girl,” George Hickenlooper’s film bio of Andy Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick, surprised me; it was better and more affecting than I had expected.

Sedgwick came from a distinguished, old money family, albeit one in which incest and mental illness were recurring problems. Two of her beloved brothers committed suicide in their ‘20s, and it’s more than hinted that Edie herself was repeatedly molested by her father. Bright, beautiful, possessed of both a strong subversive streak and a need to escape her family, Edie attended art school in the East then moved to New York to be a part of the modern art scene. She made fast friends with Warhol, starring in many of his experimental films, while modeling for Vogue on the side. He found her glamorous (“New York is whole lot more fun since you got here,” he tells her in the deadpan tones that are as close as he gets to gushing), while she found in him a sort of father figure and substitute brother all in one. She ran through her trust fund helping to support Warhol and his crew of hangers-on, and eventually spiraled downward into serious drug addiction, dying of an overdose at 28.

Sedgwick’s story is a classic tragedy of one whose flame burned too brightly and was extinguished too soon. It was tossed around for years as a potential film property (at one point, Warren Beatty was set to direct with Molly Ringwald in the lead), before Hickenlooper, known primarily for documentaries, made it with Sienna Miller in the coveted lead.

Miller wouldn’t have been an obvious choice to me, despite her beauty and her own experience as a celebrated fashion icon. As an actress, she’s usually left me cold, and her audition tape for “Factory Girl” (which is included in the DVD extras) did little to change my mind. But Miller plays Sedgwick with a Holly Golightly-esque combination of breathless charm, flightiness and fragility that’s ultimately very touching. She evokes both Segdwick’s iconic look and her overwhelming personal tragedy.

She’s well matched by Guy Pearce as Warhol. Pearce’s performance sneaks up on you as the film progresses. He captures Warhol’s weird, affectless reserve in a way that initially seems strange but harmless; only in the later portions of the film do we realize (as Edie finally does) how cold-hearted and dysfunctional Warhol really is.

The early sections of the film capture a crazy, heady excitement around Sedgwick and Warhol, while slipping in a few ominous warnings of things to come. In one scene, Sedgwick blithely announces she’s buying dinner for the entire crowd of friends at her restaurant table, while she pages through a stack of unpaid bills. Warhol marvels at how much she owes and she teases him “You might have to start paying me. Otherwise I might have to move to a one-bedroom or studio, and where would I keep all my clothes?” Warhol responds with awe: “I just think what you’re doing right now is so glamorous.” The scene is played ever so lightly, but the undercurrent of Warhol’s utter disinterest in the desperation and instability behind his friend’s “glamour” is palpable.

“Factory Girl” seriously falters by introducing an unnamed ‘folk singer’ character. As played by Hayden Christenson, he’s obviously meant to be Bob Dylan, although he is, coyly, never named. Christenson’s Dylan impersonation is grating (and especially hard to take if you’ve seen the fine work of Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale in “I’m Not There”). But the character’s failure to work is not entirely his fault. Why introduce a character with Dylan’s voice and mannerisms and then refuse to acknowledge that he’s Bob Dylan? It’s such an obvious, half-assed sidestep around potential legal problems. (And it didn’t work anyway. Dylan ended up suing the filmmakers.) Besides, he’s not so much a character here as a plot device: the clear-seeing Concerned Friend and Lover who warns Edie that Warhol and his Factory friends are using her and will eventually abandon her when her money runs out. He makes a stab at saving her (and, in real life but not in the film, uses her as an inspiration for several songs) , but eventually abandons her and marries another woman, proving himself to be nearly as cruel and callous as Warhol.

If you’re interested in learning more of Edie Sedgwick’s true story, you can check out “The Real Edie” among the DVD extras, but you may be in for a disappointment. It features a half-hour of interviews with Edie’s friends and family members that seem to be shaped and edited for the sole purpose of underscoring the film’s main plot points, and there’s not one photo or film clip of the real Edie to be found, just scenes from “Factory Girl” itself. A better choice might be the book “Edie: An American Biography” edited by Jean Stein and George Plimpton. This compilation of interviews with Edie’s friends and family is a great, absorbing read, and as complete a portrait of Edie Sedgwick as you’re likely to get. I suspect it is out of print now (it was published in the early ‘80s), but it’s worth looking for if you’re interested in the subject.

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I hadn’t intended to see Factory Girl. I just might now.By the way, I’m solidly with you on Abigail Breslin. Too earnest, too cute. Isn’t that why we were so sick of Dakota Fanning, and wasn’t Breslin’s lack of those qualities what made her so refreshing? Of course it’s as much the fault of her writers and directors. I recently heard Anna Paquin say, when asked about her Academy Award for The Piano: “I’m not sure how much credit I can take for something I did when I was nine. I just showed up and did what I was told, and I guess it turned out all right.”

Comment by Nayana Anthony




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