Friday, February 2, 2007

Andy Warhol Documentary Film

I have just finished watching Ric Burn's documentary on the life of Andy Warhol that premiered last year on PBS. I must say that this is among the most moving and truly eye opening documentaries I have ever seen on an artist.
I have admired Warhol's work since I was a teenager but this program really captured the man's life essence in such a fresh and extraordinary way. I expected to enjoy Part Two, which focuses on the factory years, the most but it's Part One's detailing of his childhood and early work as a commercial artist that was so captivating. The early sketches and magazine layouts, although many of which I had seen before, seemed to me so touching and audacious in the way this film presented them.
Burn's captures an emotional intensity at the start of the film with a view inside the church that Warhol attended as a youth, it's rare to see an artist's true origins but the murals adorning this church's walls is clearly it. The documentary also makes clear Warhol's early love of popular culture and it's stars, for too long have works like his Marilyn and Elvis series been viewed ironically. This film shows clearly of Warhol's great compassion and love for his subjects, even at its most selfish and sadistic Warhol's work never completely loses that.
There are a few flaws, at four hours it is not long enough. The years after the attempt on his life only take up about 20 minutes, and yet they contain some of his most interesting work. Many people from the factory years, including any of the remaining Velvet Underground or his superstars, are not interviewed. What is here though is incredibly rendered and this is the best documentary work ever presented on the man.
The tone of the film, for the most part, is also refreshingly unassuming and not at all pretentious. Like a lot of his finest work, there is a real down to earth quality about this film. I also applaud it for not sugar-coating the very humanly flawed Warhol, the chapter on Edie Sedgwick is particularly harrowing.
The disc is a bare bones affair that should have been a two disc set since it had the cooperation of The Warhol Museum. Minor complaints aside this is an incredibly fine film and a potent reminder, as we near the 20th anniversary of his death, of one of the greatest and most misunderstood American artists.

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