Factory Girl

Factory Girl


Reviewed by: Chris

During my brief stay at art school I only once produced anything my teachers thought worthwhile. It was a painting made under the influence of LSD, a psychedelic drug. I never did anything of equal quality before or afterwards, with or without chemicals. I didn't know it, but the drug had temporarily distanced my interfering conscious mind so some inner creativity could take over. The artist Andy Warhol would 'distance' himself as a way of life, with or without chemicals. In his own words, "The more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel." Not only did he direct attention to something till it lost its meaning, he brought a new 'meaning' out of the emptiness - an iconic and very memorable 'meaning'. He could do it with silkscreen prints, with cinema and, when they let him, with people. One of those people was Edie Sedgwick, the 'Factory Girl'.

Edie (Sienna Miller) leaves her best friend and her art class to head off to the Big Apple. She gets herself noticed by rising artist Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce from Memento) who sees a certain something in her. For a while she holds an almost muse-like hold over him. He successfully launches her as a celebrity in underground films made at 'The Factory'. But her attention wanders to a Bob Dylan-like character who is artistic in a different way; articulate and heterosexual. Warhol loses interest.

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With no firm artistic anchor, Edie descends into a downward drug spiral, eventually blaming Warhol for her inability to get work. We see a magnificent performance by Miller, but only a sentimental hint of the star quality of Edie that Warhol developed. This artsy Sedgwick tribute could have been better served by using the insights and techniques of the Warhol Factory that it so trendily references, simultaneously bridging the acrimony that has blown out of proportion between her supporters and those of Warhol.

Guy Pearce delivers a very acceptable performance. Hayden Christensen, playing a fictional character so obviously meant to be Bob Dylan, is ludicrously weak, having none of the self-containment and gravitas of a great musician and poet, even a young one. Miller is a revelation, and worthy of a much better film than this one, which is flawed by poor conceptualisation. Even before it was completed, Factory Girl alienated the people who could have helped to make it great.

Some of the Factory denizens who bought into and eventually shared Warhol's artistic vision became products of his genius in a conscious way. They achieved independence and recognition in their own right. People such as Paul Morrissey, the Velvet Underground (including Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico). Edie Sedgwick, sadly, lost sight of the artist within her and never quite made it. She wanted to be famous - Warhol gave her that. She would have needed her own creative diligence to consciously realise what made her a star and so become autonomously successful.

To be fair to the film, the complaints, lawsuits and criticisms of the likes of Lou Reed and Bob Dylan seem without substance. The film does not blame Warhol or Dylan for Sedgwick's demise. The panda-eyed, drug-abusing wash-out that is the Sedgwick nearer the end of the movie does, but the audience can hardly say anything except that she brought about her own downfall: she ingratiated herself to Warhol and his world when she was a nobody without even a job, then moaned that she couldn't work when he dumped her, when in fact she was obviously unemployable because of her drug habit.

The film's only real crime is perhaps that it celebrates the life of Edie rather than Andy, and does that not particularly well. Seeing her at her height through the eyes of Andy Warhol would have achieved much more. Both 'sides' of the bitter split between the two of them agree she had, at one point, remarkable presence, charisma and onscreen talent. An occasionally more Warholian approach to the cinematography, while keeping the film accessible, could have emphasised such qualities. Instead, we have determinedly Hollywood-style continuity editing. Warhol devices such as split-screen are used for window dressing rather than any discernible emotional impact. Similarly, variations in film stock pay lip service to a Warhol vibe rather than building an awareness of Edie's inner persona.

Warhol was not only the most famous exponent of Pop art, but one of the most important exponents of New American Cinema. His techniques influenced both Hollywood and experimental film, and his style affected censorship laws and developed the 'camp aesthetic' (defined by Susan Sontag as, "the love of the exaggerated, the 'off', of things being what they are not"). Factory Girl capitalises on the name but is mainstream through and through.

If the producers had worked with people of real vision; if they had secured song rights for music by the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan (which would have helped establish historical and cultural context); if they had portrayed the beauty and sparkle of Edie Sedgwick through the eyes and genius of Warhol or someone like him; if they had made insightful recognition of her weakness and her greatness, then this could have been a work of art. For Warhol and Dylan enthusiasts it is full of Campbell's Soup Cans and shots reminiscent of album covers - but without depth. Some will see a slightly offensive depiction of Warhol as a bloodsucker (he didn't pay the experimental artists who gathered at his studio or appeared in his films). For more casual viewers it is a slightly poignant story of the rise and fall of a quintessential American IT girl in a Pop Art universe bursting with sex, drugs, art and rock 'n' roll. Factory Girl is Hollywood factory rather than Warhol Factory. But should it be decried because of that?

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2007
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A biopic of artist Edie Sedgwick, part of Andy Warhol's Factory.
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Director: George Hickenlooper

Writer: Aaron Richard Golub, Captain Mauzner, Simon Monjack

Starring: Guy Pearce, Sienna Miller, Hayden Christensen, Jimmy Fallon, Meredith Ostrom, Beth Grant

Year: 2006

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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