Andy's Chocolate-Eyed Electric Elf

Steven Watson looks at the assembly line celebrities of Warhol's factory

Steven Watson
Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties
Pantheon Books

Edith Minturn Sedgwick (1943-1971) endured the psychic and sexual abuse of a monstrous pseudo-aristocrat father, conquered the hipoisie of Cambridge, Massachusetts and New York City, and finally made history, at the age of 22, in Andy Warhol's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, called Vinyl. Sitting amid a gaggle of bluebloods, the hoop-earring'd Edie waved about in her chair, making Hawaiian-style hand dances and generally undulating to the beat. The response, according to Vinyl's screenwriter, Ronald Tavel, was "like Monroe in The Asphalt Jungle. People came in to see somebody else and ran out saying, 'Who's that blond?'"

Warhol knew star wattage when he saw it, and the result of Edie's extra work in Vinyl was a run of the greatest director/leading lady collaborations in movie history. Encouraged by Andy to put on makeup, talk on the phone, do her leg exercises, and generally Edie-ize "just like life," Miss Sedgwick discovered a special place between being and performing. The act contained all the exciting sleaze of a Forty Deuce porno and the spiritual revelation of a Noh play or Vermeer painting. Did Andy know what he was doing? Did he just turn on the camera and walk away? And when the results were as profound as what Edie and Andy came up with, did it really make any difference?

Some of the excitement of Steven Watson's Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties comes from the up-close-and-gossipy accounts of the making of Warhol's '60s movies--the masterpieces and the ones that missed the side of a barn. One gets the impression that this portly tome is intended as a sort of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls of the Warhol cinema. The difference is that Peter Biskind, the experienced gossip-hound author of Riders, deliberately patterned the narrative of his book on the rise-and-splattering-fall structure of the '70s movies the book essayed. Watson's book, on the contrary, is recommended only for high school students who have never encountered the Warhol oeuvre, in silkscreens, movies, Love Boat episodes, or any other medium. Tattling tales of amphetamine "pokes," ambisexual fuckathons, and grand-slam heartbreaks and betrayals, Watson never departs from the tone of a high-school textbook that sums up a nation's hopes and dreams with, "Their agricultural output for that year consisted largely of rice, barley, and maize or corn."

Still, there are nice pictures of Edie in her prime--the Edie that Time magazine called "Andy's chocolate-eyed electric elf!" And though Watson mostly cycles through already published Warhol-movie-land confessional literature--he recaps Jean Stein and George Plimpton's Edie in its entirety--there are a few piquant anecdotes that leave one stunned. Did you know, for example, that tucked into Andy's famous "Screen Tests" at the Factory, amid Nico and Lou Reed and Dennis Hopper, there exists, somewhere, a three-minute portrait of film critic Andrew Sarris? Or that Andy took Edie to Paris and sat her next to Salvador Dalí, whom she improbably charmed by cooing, "So what's it like to be a famous writer?" Or that Emile de Antonio nearly killed himself by chug-a-lugging an entire bottle of J&B for an early Andy silent called Drunk? Or that Valerie Solanas was apparently driven to gun Andy down because of a humiliating, never-aired episode of The Alan Clarke Show that skewered her--a metatextual click with The King of Comedy that seems literally too good to be true?

Does Watson's work suggest any attempt to probe beneath Andy's Hitchcock-like, wildly contrived, gee-whiz exterior? No. But the book makes a good introduction for nieces and nephews who've never owned a Velvet Underground CD.

 
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