Revealing Warhol Documentary on Sky Arts.

4172660325_d98f2b485f_zThere’s a very inter­est­ing the­sis at the heart of Ric Burns’ Andy Warhol: A Doc­u­men­tary Film, cur­rent­ly being shown on Sky Arts.

The gen­er­al con­sen­sus has always been that Warhol’s out­put can be divid­ed straight down the mid­dle, by Valerie Solanas’ attempt on his life in 1968.

There was all of that fre­net­ic yet incred­i­bly focused ener­gy that he put into an extra­or­di­nary vari­ety of work before. And then there was a long and pro­tract­ed decline as the shock of com­ing so near to los­ing his life shat­tered his con­fi­dence and sent him for­ev­er into a pre­ma­ture shell.

By the ear­ly 60s, the shy, asex­u­al worka­holic had estab­lished him­self as one of the most suc­cess­ful art direc­tors in east coast adver­tis­ing. When he then launched him­self as a full time artist his suc­cess was mete­oric. And between 1962–8 he was one of the key peo­ple respon­si­ble for trans­form­ing New York into the cen­tre of the world.

velvet_underground_a_pFirst came Pop art. The seeds of which, the film con­vinc­ing­ly argues, had been sown in him by the sight of the stained glass win­dows at his local church. His pious moth­er had tak­en her sick­ly child there every week­end and he’d gaze up at them for hours on end.

That was fol­lowed by the now famous and gen­uine­ly icon­ic silk-screen por­traits. The Marylins, Elvis­es and the Jack­ie Os. But there were also the avant garde films, the hap­pen­ings and the music. All of which cul­mi­nat­ed with the Vel­vet Under­ground and the four sem­i­nal albums they produced.

It seemed like the entire artis­tic uni­verse was cen­tred around Warhol’s whirl­wind and increas­ing­ly infa­mous Fac­to­ry on East 47th Street.

But, the film points out, Warhol had acquired his nick­name Drel­la for a rea­son. A com­bi­na­tion of Cin­derel­la and Drac­u­la, it clev­er­ly sug­gest­ed an ingénue who sits inno­cent­ly watch­ing. But one that’s secret­ly and silent­ly suck­ing all the blood from all who come into con­tact with him.

The drag queens, pimp, push­ers and assort­ed wannabes that Warhol was open­ly encour­ag­ing to gath­er there and hang out might have been fan­tas­tic fod­der for his art, music and film. But he was demon­stra­bly using them. And there were few of any of them pro­duc­ing any­thing of worth. The Vel­vets were the excep­tion not the rule.

Promis­ing so many lost souls the earth was always going to cost him, even­tu­al­ly. And when Soli­nas shot him for not car­ry­ing her with him up into the heav­ens, there was a sense of inevitabil­i­ty rather than sur­prise about it.

ufzetxepkmvbbig.jpg.pngRic Burns is the younger broth­er of Ken, and the pair made the sem­i­nal The Civ­il War in 1990, which was fol­lowed up by Jazz in 2001. They’ve carved out a rep­u­ta­tion for aus­tere if slight­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, old school doc­u­men­taries. And there’s noth­ing wrong with that. As this fine 4 hour plus film demonstrates.

And although it does sail dan­ger­ous­ly close to hagiog­ra­phy, as the NY Times sug­gests in its superb piece here, Andy Warhol: A Doc­u­men­tary Film nonethe­less makes a very con­vinc­ing case for its claim that he was the most impor­tant artist in the lat­ter half of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Keep your eye out for it.

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