The New York City art scene is a perennial source of American Myth that every hipster- no matter what generation they’re from- romanticizes at some point in their life. From the Velvet Underground to Basquiat, the amount of books, movies, and music generated that deal with these various icons seems endless- and most of it is empty, self-indulgent, forgettable dribble.
But not Mary Harron’s debut, I Shot Andy Warhol. Even now, this 1996 indie film remains vibrant, intelligent, and the best portrayal of Warhol’s Factory scene I’ve ever seen. Unpretentious and unromantic, it captures all the fascinatingly unhappy characters that peppered this world with a documentarian’s eye. Harron lets her camera wander and her pace flow freely, never judging the hedonistic narcissism she allows to bloom in full display.
Her magic formula is simple: Lili Taylor. Taylor plays Valerie Solanas, who actually did shoot Warhol in real life. Harron clearly has an affinity for her subject, giving her her historical due when the rest of the world decided to forget her. Taylor, too, has clearly done her homework, delving deep to understand the kind of person Solanas was (highly intelligent, highly disturbed.) Together, Harron and Taylor have crafted a wonderful character sketch, relegating all the famous people into backdrop and focusing on Solanas’ doomed revolution as she leads her one-woman quest to rid the world of men.
Harron employs many wonderful techniques to tell her tale, from jumpy montages that emulate Warhol’s own filmic style to detailed sound collages of snippets of conversation fading in and out of earshot. She also makes a series of unorthodox – but perfect – casting choices, such as Stephen Dorff as the infamous Candy Darling, who actually was Solanas’ real-life BFF. Jared Harris may not look like Andy Warhol, but he goes far beyond the cartoony, one-dimensional portraits other films have given us when portraying this oft-worshipped cultural god.
With a fitting score by- who else- John Cale, I Shot Andy Warhol blends authenticity and fiction to deliver a portrait of one singular, fascinating human being. It remains a masterpiece of American Independent Cinema, one that I hope is not doomed to be forgotten, like Valerie Solanas herself.
3 thoughts on “I Shot Andy Warhol”
Great films, really appreciate your sharing a lot of ‘under the radar’ films that are quite enjoyable.
For future consideration, two films I recall liking, but have not seen offered in years:
Comfort and Joy (1984)
Withnail & I (1987)
Withnail & I is available to stream on the Criterion site, actually! But Comfort & Joy is a great request. We will start looking!