There’s a serious problem that arises from loving Andy Warhol too much and that’s the fact that by most, he’s not considered an artist in the traditional sense of the word, which makes you feel betrayed as well as superficial, coming across easily impressed. He copies, he photographs, he paints over. He chooses the easy way out/in. At the same time, however, there’s a serious problem that arises from rejecting him because of these things, and that’s the fact that you limit your notion of art to something extremely narrow, one-dimensional, colourless and somewhat boring. Ric Burns’ four hour Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film strikes a beautiful balance and saves you the trouble of having to pick a team. It accepts and recognises Warhol’s art, philosophy and career as something utterly shallow, plastic, commercial, poppy and attention-seeking. But also, he never fails to firmly stress the artist’s inventive intelligence, his focus on beauty and honesty, his cultural significance, his mind’s and skill’s depth, his complexity as a character and the artistic world he changed when he took commercial illustrations numberless levels up, and by giving them a twist, he made them worthy of representing a time, a place, a culture, a movement and a revolution.
Ok, perhaps the documentary’s argument is leaning a bit more to the side of Andy Warhol being a creative genius and the most unbelievable artist of the second half of the 20th century, if we want to recognise Picasso as the art king of the first half. Because if not, then this leaves Andy Warhol to occupy the whole century, which would not be such a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. The fact remains, however, that all accusations and truths regarding easy art, obsessive love for fame and plastic superficial beauty are accepted and deemed necessary for the change that Warhol was meant to bring.
The two-part movie was broadcast in the United States on PBS as part of the American Masters series and played over two evenings, on September 20 and 21, 2006. Written by Ric Burns and James Sanders, produced by Diane von Furstenberg and Daniel Wolf and directed by Ric Burns, the film is narrated mainly by Laurie Anderson and follows Andy Warhol as a child and a teenager in Pittsburgh, through his move to New York and his work as a commercial artist, his accidental but meaningful change from Warhola to Warhol, his soup can years that established him as the pop art master, his portrait years that took him to a culture icon level, his Factory years that marked an entire generation, his experimental underground filmmaking efforts, his attempted assassination by Valerie Solanas to his final death on February 22, 1987 in New York. Rarely seen before footage intertwines with interviews by people close to the artist (namely, photographer Billy Name and director Paul Morrissey) and writers, studiers and art critics (among them, Dave Hickey and Wayne Koestenbaum). Quotes from his various books and passages from his Diaries are read by Jeff Koons and numerous fragments of him talking, discussing, working, painting and walking around New York are also included.
This romantic and inspiring intellectual history of the pop art master discusses Warhol as the poor, feeble, shy, homosexual boy who knew nothing about the bourgeois life but rose to tease it, manipulate it and ultimately rule it. It presents him as the greatly talented artist who used that artistic talent way less than he did his ideas, his knowledge of modern society and his strong desire to transcend his origins and become the biggest thing the world had ever seen. Andy Warhol comes across as a revolutionary who embraced a do-it-all-while-you-can, do-it-all-yourself kind of attitude and he’s declared the only commercial artist to have ever dared perform a radical experiment in American culture and demolish the barrier between commerce and art.
What’s more than this, he makes pop art respectable, he gives a Brillo box and a Campbell soup can a colour they always had but no one ever wished to notice, he creates silk screen paintings and sculptures out of products stacked in a supermarket and forces everyone to not only see the world differently, but to find beauty in everyday mundane life, and art in the most commonplace things.
I never think that people die. They just go to department stores. Andy Warhol.
Ric Burns’ Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film is a very detailed presentation of the artist’s life, with a focus on the years from 1962 to 1972, the peak of his career as an artist and filmmaker, his attempted assassination and the beginning, rise and fall of his Factory. The narrative never gets anywhere close to becoming boring or even slightly tiring. On the contrary, a lot more could have been said on his writing era and one would have wanted to explore the years of The Andy Warhol Diaries, Popism and The Philosophy Of Andy Warhol even further. Still, this is a very informative, engaging, affectionate and entertaining documentary that everyone –Warhol fan or not– should seek out.
Watch the entire documentary here:
Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film at IMDb
Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film at Rotten Tomatoes
Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film at Wikipedia
Andy Warhol at Wikipedia
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts at warholfoundation.org
Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film at pbs.org