I Shot Andy Warhol directed by Mary Harron
Aug 29, 2007, 18:21
I SHOT ANDY WARHOL directed by Mary Harron; 1996, Orion Pictures
Lili Taylor (The Addiction, Household Saint) gives the performance of her young career in the story of Valerie Solanas who, in 1968 shot the King of Pop Art with a .33 Baretta. Knowing the story of Solanas, her descent into psychosis which eventually led her to this deed, I expected the focus of this portrayal to center on Solanas's out-of-control antics and her mental illness. I was pleased to discover that more emphasis was instead placed on the strength and intensity of her intellect, her humor and her creative drive. Yeah, Valerie surely had her problems, mental illness being chief among them, but you've got to give the girl credit for pursuing her goals with such a single-minded fervor—however skewed those goals might have been. Taylor's portrayal certainly did not fall short of bearing out those aspects.
I've heard numerous criticisms of this film based primarily on the portrayal of The Factory aspect and the development or lack thereof of the Pop Art scene's primary players. I am in agreement with those criticisms to varying degrees; perhaps my limited knowledge of that whole scene surrounding Warhol in the late '60s colors my perspective somewhat differently... they've never really held much interest for me anyway. Harron seems to be a bit heavy-handed in portraying The Factory residents in a single faceted and limited perspective. They come across as being singularly flat-affected, boorish and uncharacteristically tame. Perhaps Harron was attempting to better illuminate the Solanas character by setting her within such a gray context; perhaps she was attempting to use contrast in character to sharpen the impression of Solanas's volatility and intellectual energy versus the jaded and elitist Factory inhabitants. While this didn't carry the importance with me that it did others I've spoken to with regard to the overall quality, I found The Factory scenes to work in the film's favor about half of the time—the party-scene really out and out sucked—and the character under-development of the inhabitants is apparent, but I think, not terribly critical to the story as a whole. Warhol, on the other hand, was well represented—Jared Harris' portrayal of him as a simpering, self-absorbed and skittish introvert was right on the money.
The strength of this film definitely lies in its depiction of Solanas who swears like a sailor, is belligerent, tough and ambitious yet sadly gullible and vulnerable. She put herself through the University of Maryland turning tricks and after graduation continues to earn money that way as well as any other way she can outside of getting an actual job—at times she earns as little as five or fifteeen cents panhandling or asking someone if they want to pay to hear a dirty word. Solanas storms through life attracting curious interest from some, like the oily-suave Olympia Press Rep, Maurice Girodias who offers and eventually publishes her “S.C.U.M. Manifesto”; the wary but loyal Candy Darling (Stephen Dorff) and a significant number of kinky johns. Others treat her with dismay and disgust or bored indifference. A few, like Warhol examine her with a long stick, cautiously turning her over for a look as one might poke at a dead turtle.
The world is chock-a-block with people like Valerie Solanas. They are but a few slippery steps from the rubber room or maximum security but some manage to allude complete self-destruction or a lifetime of sociopathic behavior because they have managed to attain creative outlets for their vision and a safe means of expression (R. Crumb being a perfect example). The most interesting part of I Shot... was witnessing the struggle of a very disturbed, albeit brilliant and talented woman to attain that outlet. Once she has determined that it has been denied her, she unravels completely and succumbs to virulent paranoia and delusion. She convinces herself that Warhol has not rejected her “Manifesto” but is involved in a conspiracy with Girodias to steal it from her. Solanas even goes so far to believe that Girodias has managed to have a transmitter implanted in her uterus as part of the plot to steal her manuscript. When asked why she shot Andy Warhol Solanas explains, “He had too much control over my life, he was trying to steal all my work.”
Overall, this was pretty well done, somewhat flawed but redeemed by and large by the skill of Lili Taylor. I'm glad I saw it at a matinee and didn't throw down the big bucks. It's a good “wait for video” flick and provides a palpable first taste of Mary Harron's capabilities as a director and writer.