Sunday, February 18, 2007

All Yesterday's Parties

I've been trying for weeks to write something about George Hickenlooper's Factory Girl, but there's really nothing much to say about this lazy biography of Edie Sedgwick, which plays like a superficial, generations-removed-from-the-facts account of a life which leaned too heavily on the side of superficiality to begin with. You probably know the outline of the story, its cult like status due largely to the popularity of Jean Stein and George Plimpton's exhaustive 1982 oral history "Edie: An American Biography": Poor Little Rich Girlfalls in with the Andy Warhol crowd, becomes the Flavor of the Week but quickly makes a sharp descent into drugs and mental illness. It's a tragedy of sorts, but there's not enough in "Factory Girl" to overcome the film's gossip-driven "People Magazine" view of history.
Yes, there are entertaining moments. Sienna Miller provides many of them, even though the script often makes her sound like a bubble-headed freshman art student. Guy Pearce also has a few good scenes as enigmatic Warhol, but just as many in which the film simply has him mimic some of the artist's familiar tv appearances. Warhol utters some naive quip, Edie gushes about what great work he's doing and the filmmakers hope that creating a resemblance to an old photograph of the Factory crowd will pass for substance.
For a few scenes, it almost works (though the depiction of Warhol's film work is completely off-track)but the credibility factor is strained. That strain becomes completely and irrevocably unsalvageable with the appearance of Hayden Christensen as a character labeled only "Musician". (Earlier versions of the credits called him "Billy Quinn". Perhaps the change was intended to make him more mysterious, but I prefer to think that all of the world's real-life Billy Quinns raised an objection..) It doesn't take much more than a look at his album-cover inspired wardrobe to realize that he's a thinly disguised Bob Dylan, but Christensen seems to have gotten his Midwestern rebel icons all mixed up and falls into an confusing imitation of James Dean. To the degree that "Factory Girl" has a coherent storyline, it seems to be that "Musician" is the serpent to Edie's Eve, placing doubts in her mind about Warhol and causing the artist to banish her from his silver-lined Eden. (This may be a slight exaggeration of whatever real relationship existed between Sedgwick and Dylan; at any rate, it merits only two-and-a-half pages in the Stein and Plimpton book.) Once the bubble of the Warhol Sixties has popped, neither the film nor its version of Edie has anywhere to go but down.
The real Edie's decline was no less rapid, but it's been well-documented, not just in the Stein/Plimpton book but in "Ciao! Manhattan", a stoned mess of a film that she was working on in her final days. Completed after her death and released almost a decade later to benefit from the book's popularity, it's an unpleasantly exploitative film, but so blatant in its use of the brain-fried actress that it reveals as much about her sad end as you would probably ever want to know. It would be interesting to see it placed side by side with one of her Warhol performances, like "Poor Little Rich Girl", a lengthy close-up of the young woman rambling on about very little on a typical day at the height of her Factory career (It actually adds to the effect of the film that more than half of it was shot out of focus..). Exposed for the camera, these two films might serve as bookends to her short and unfortunate life, the Edie in her prime no less (or more) shallow than the stumbling, topless train-wreck of the final work.

No comments: