From the Archives: Factory Girl (2006)

15 Feb

Given the glut of biopics that have emerged from Hollywood in recent years, it is surprising that a character as captivating as Edie Sedgwick has been ignored for so long. Of course, Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd has been considered before in Basquiat and I Shot Andy Warhol amongst others, but Sienna Miller’s Sedgwick makes a far more compelling subject than the graffiti artist or the feminist Valerie Solanas. Perhaps it is fitting that Sedgwick has only just been afforded the biopic treatment, given society’s incessant fascination with the cult of celebrity. Sedgwick is referred to as a “poor little rich girl”, a tragic figure, a 1960’s manifestation of a Kate Moss or Paris Hilton, yet George Hickenlooper’s examination of her rapid rise and fall, from Warhol’s muse to washed out drug addict proves to be both mesmerizing and frustrating in equal measure.

Hickenlooper’s hectic account charts Sedgwick’s arrival on the New York art scene in 1965, where she is quickly spotted by Warhol and enticed into the Factory fold before being callously discarded by the artist within a year. Hickenlooper’s interpretation of Warhol’s world is interspersed with the artist’s most famous works, with Brillo boxes cluttering the Factory and Marilyn Monroe prints littering the streets. A very knowing nod to Warhol’s filmEmpire betrays Hickenlooper’s determination to completely immerse his audience in the Pop Art scene. But while his faithful frame-by-frame interpretations of Warhol films Horse and Beauty #2 are effective and involving devices, the screenplay’s less than subtle mentions of Lichtenstein, Pollock and Jasper Johns feel a little forced, instilling a vague sense of Pop Art by numbers to the picture. Similarly clunky are Hickenlooper’s attempts to explain Edie’s waywardness that essentially stems from a childhood blighted by tragedy and abuse. Particularly ill-conceived are the tacked-on retrospective hospital scenes and an uncomfortable restaurant meeting between Edie’s father and Warhol.

Such explanation is unnecessary, given Miller’s credible portrayal of the vulnerable and manipulated Sedgwick, a figure whose innocence and naivety was consistently exploited by more selfish individuals. Miller excels in her first leading role, delivering a performance that effortlessly captures Sedgwick’s tragically optimistic but ultimately doomed character. Similarly, Guy Pearce is utterly convincing as Warhol; seeming to have perfected every nuance and character flaw, he essentially portrays Warhol as a vapid, unsympathetic and childlike individual. Less successful is Hayden Christensen’s obvious and wooden musician Billy Quinn (a thinly-disguised Bob Dylan), who steals Edie’s heart. Given that his role is pivotal to Sedgwick’s story, Christensen should deliver a performance that would explain Edie’s infatuation and Warhol’s motivation for abandoning his muse. Instead, the situation feels labored and threatens to come across as a caricature.

Despite its flaws, Factory Girl is ultimately successful in depicting the vacuous and artificial world that Sedgwick found herself a part of in the mid-1960s. Sedgwick was defined by her image, and her fame came as a direct result of her association with Warhol. Once that disappeared, what else was there? She was 15 minutes of fame personified – that is the real tragedy of the story of the Factory girl.


(originally featured at on 21/03/07)

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