I read Olivia Laing’s book The Lonely City, which had a chapter on Andy Warhol, and posited him as not impossibly arch and clever, but cripplingly shy and unable to communicate with people, which was a revelation to me. So I had to then get a Warhol biography, ending up with the one by Victor Bockris which was fascinating. Next step—to watch the major depictions of Warhol and his factory in films, which led me to this and Factory Girl in close succession. I had higher hopes for this one, given that it stars Lili Taylor and is written and directed by Mary Harron, ingenious feminist filmmaker who found a fascinating way to approach American Psycho. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t fare so well, and is essentially, you know… a piece of shit.
Taylor throws herself with gusto into the role of Valerie Solanis, founder of radical feminist group SCUM, the Society for Cutting Up Men, of which she may have been the only member. She was alternating between sleeping on couches and being homeless, and prostituting herself to men to get by. She meets Stephen Dorff as Candy Darling [the bright spot of the entire film… why didn’t Dorff have a more illustrious career? He’s quite good] and she introduces her to Warhol. She gives Warhol a play she wrote, misunderstanding his vague enthusiasm for everything to be actual interest, and [at least in the film] one of his hangers-on throws it behind the couch, where it is never seen again. This is in the days before accessible copy machines, and that was her only copy. She gets more and more angry at being ignored and shuffled off by Andy, who now has no idea where her play went.
I was most interested in seeing how the Factory was portrayed, and this movie is a bit of a bust in that regard. The biggest thing was that, according to the bio, Warhol always had extremely loud rock music playing, the newest pop single playing on repeat all day along. Here, the Factory is silent. Jared Harris as Warhol, let’s just say, doesn’t provide an inspired turn. The movie as a whole also doesn’t really have much of a story, or any story, except that Solanis is crazy, gets crazier, crazier still, and finally shoots Warhol.
The huge, glaring flaw is that the movie wants to be a feminist film with Solanis as its hero, but at the same time, she’s just crazy and violent, and that’s about the long and short of it. The film takes frequent breaks for Taylor to read excerpts from the SCUM Manifesto straight into the camera, but these are barely-coherent ramblings and contain no insight or sense that we have been missing a lost, crucial feminist document. The film also portrays Solanis and just plain ol’ crazy, eventually edging into violence, and finally she shoots Warhol. It has shown us her life of sexual abuse and homelessness, so we sympathize with her, but we don’t have any insight into her or any reason not to think that, sad as it may be, she’s just a wingnut. At least the movie accepts her insanity and doesn’t try to make it any more than it is. The movie has nothing to offer after she shoots Warhol, then abruptly ends with a screen that the SCUM Manifesto is regarded as a crucial early feminist writing, the end. So, it’s kind of trying to create a feminist hero out of someone who… really is pretty much just crazy. And because of that, the movie is afraid to paint her as just crazy and unlikable and unrespectable, although she certainly isn’t a brilliant [or lame, for that matter] feminist thinker… and thus the movie ends up just a big, shapeless nothing. Too bad, because it’s an interesting topic that could have made for a good film. As it is, though… please continue to ignore.