He coined the word superstar. And became one. He made fame more famous. Andy Warhol was synonymous with three decades of pop art, its glamour, new wave aesthetics, hype and fortune. SUPERSTAR: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ANDY WARHOL, Chuck Workman's keen, mercurial documentary, peers into the
enigma of Warhol.
Warhol was gregarious Halston said, "Andy would go to the opening of a drawer" and, at least in the view of nearly everyone Workman interviews, a genius. He galvanized the art world with exemplars of fine art framed as commercial iconography. The name of the game was success, and the statement inherent in Warhol's work was a variation on "ha! ha! ha!" The renowned Campbell soup-can collage with a total licensed value exceeding $20 million was an in-joke, a non-statement and a droll creative assertion. The message culture is redundant; here's the proof was psychology of a reverse variety. Mega agency BBD&O wasn't interested in the concept of the can, but the Guggenheim bought it. Moreover, it was autobiographical in a "Rosebud"-type way: Warhol often ate Campbell's soup in the impoverished Pittsburgh of his youth.
The film opens with a TV montage of the rich and/or famous: Jim and Tammy Faye; Jimmy Swaggart; Oliver North; Mike Milken; Geraldo; Trump; the Ayatollah; Reagan; Gorbachev; Bush--all transcendant personalities, both in the eye of a storm, and helping to pump it. Warhol's funeral follows. We begin at the end of a famous life fueled by money and mystique. In this life, he was "praised as a visionary, criticized as a charlatan." Warhol was on the party A-list and kept company with Jagger, Liz, Lennon, Minelli, Hopper, Dali et al. But none of the jet set, it is remarked, attended his home-town
funeral. Was Warhol an immortal esthete, or merely a trendy bon vivant?
Pittsburgh is a land of churches; smoke-belching factories; working class enclaves; wide lawns; and Carnegie-Mellon, Warhol's alma mater. The Warholas, a farming brother and several cousins, seem the definition of reserved. SUPERSTAR skirts what was likely a psychological and physical crossroads for Warhol: as a fragile teen, he contracted St. Vitus's dance, a nervous malady. But after university graduation, he entered the New York fray as a magazine illustrator. He was providentially discovered--or chosen as a promising commodity--by gallery barons Ivan Karp and Leo Castelli, and soon
after his first show in 1962, leapt the threshold from a "commercial" to a "fine" artist, although he was certainly both.
Shortly thereafter Warhol founded The Factory, a studio for his recursive artifacts. Here, as coterie-member Ultra Violet said, "Fame was the cosmic glue." His clique of transvestites, would-be transsexuals, glitterati and rockers symbolized a New York scene that lived in the moment, but dreamed of immortality. Party footage is juxtaposed with resonant words of irony on the hedonistic underground that both created and became the art. Warhol paradoxically aided his success with almost cryptic behavior in interviews, tossing cool, monosyllabic bon mots to the media, while feigning indifference to it. But his charisma was a magnet for ideas and for alienated misfits of all stripes.
Workman revels in the idea that Warhol's life imitated art, and vice versa, and that he was a welter of contradictions. Several note that, while he was gay, he often chose vicarious gratification over physical expression. Ideas were an aphrodisiac; with celibacy he may have conserved his energy for art, to fulfill our "infinite longing for having the familiar codified in some way." He recycled and reproduced common items and faces; everything old is new again. His cult films BLOW JOB, THE CHELSEA GIRLS, LONESOME COWBOY were hypnotic but indulgent. In 1968 he was shot by the disturbed Valerie Solanas (founder and sole member of SCUM the Society to Cut Up Men) who was angry that Warhol had ignored her script; then he founded Interview magazine as a cunning means of access to the New York Film Festival.
Warhol lusted after money, but was notoriously cheap. His friends would be reduced to begging for handouts, but on a whim he would buy all a lavish feast. The spectrum of his eclectic projects was funded by portraits commissioned by pop culture icons and society matrons alike. Their visages devoid of flaws, they were a boon to celebrity vanity and to Warhol's fortune. But all his energy and generosity did not avert a fateful, cruel demise. Warhol's odd 1987 death was the antithesis of his vibrant art and life, and another coda to the 60s.
Workman tightly knits a mosaic of impressions, points of view and a context that is incisive without being judgmental. Like Warhol, and perhaps all creators of engaging art, SUPERSTAR finds the many layers that exist beneath a familiar surface. Dennis Hopper says Andy was "Duchampian," invoking
the French modernist who would point at something and proclaim it art. Workman employs a proficient technique and discovers that Warhol still lives up to his reputation. He certainly had the kind of fame that endures for more than 15 minutes. (Brief nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: NR
- Review: He coined the word superstar. And became one. He made fame more famous. Andy Warhol was synonymous with three decades of pop art, its glamour, new wave aesthetics, hype and fortune. SUPERSTAR: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ANDY WARHOL, Chuck Workman's keen, mercur… (more)