The aim of this paper is to provide a critical review of Ric Burn’s movie ‘Andy Warhol: a documentary film,’ (2006) wherein Warhol’s life story is laid bare with the use of interviews, archived collections and artwork. Stylistically the movie is a success and is able to connote the urgency by which, and the chaos in which Warhol lived; it is effective in its chronological organization with numerous speakers and a narrator but is a little one sided in parts in its portrayal of Warhol.
The movie is of four hours duration and broken into two, two hour parts: “Raggedy Andy” and ‘Drella.’ The first provides insight into Andy Warhola’s early life; born in 1928 the son of a poor, religious, Slovakian immigrant family living in the slums of Pittsburgh, Andy was ailing, weak, gay and a poor student. His redeeming virtues were his creativity and artistic flair in drawing and painting with which he was able to graduate from Carnegie Institute and move to New York, whereupon he became known as Andy Warhol an infamous commercial artist. The second part tries to capture the last twenty years of Warhol’s life as a film maker and his unruly, drug induced and frenzied life at the ‘Factory,’ an apartment in the heart of New York city that he had made into a silver colored loft – his workplace and home.
The movie begins with an assortment of people – heads only – who serve as commentary throughout, and alongside the narrator provides an in depth accounting of Warhol’s life. In the opening thirty minutes we are made aware of his ability to see beauty in all facets of life and in everything around him, be it soup cans, movie stars or street walkers. Organizationally and stylistically this exploitation of commentary and narration is effective but is a little one sided in its depiction of Warhol because it provides nothing but praise, admiration and veneration for him – seemingly unrealistic in anybody’s life. Too much time is also spent on Warhol’s shooting and the crazy woman who shot him – Valerie Solanas, leaving insufficient time for what happened in his life from 1968 – 1987 when he died; these flaws aside the movie is successful in maintaining attention.
In order to add grand gesture Burns incorporates stylistic effects such as the use of film-reels and the overlay of film and sound to spice things up. The sound track is poignant and effective. He also inculcates a kind of seeking and searching coverage of Warhol at work, which is shown very quickly – fast paced – to add emphasis to the intenseness that Warhol had towards his work and life.
Burns manages to cope with a profusion of issues pertaining to Warhol’s life; he is victorious in encapsulating the irony in how misconstrued Warhol’s life was, yet was able to become one of the twentieth century’s most influential contemporary artists. Burns portrays him as both a complex, sensitive and absorbing man, and a brilliant but bewildering artist; a man who was in reality obscure but able to articulate his obsession with propinquity through his art.
This movie would appeal to movie buffs and those interested in how new ideas are tested and tried in making films, as well as those interested in Andy Warhol, for it provides footage of what Warhol was doing in terms of new techniques in his film making, and Burns himself cleverly uses stylistic techniques.
Ric Burns in this documentary on the life and art of Andy Warhol is able to expose a complex character and his art without trying to dissect either into rationalized or elucidated little pieces.
Andy Warhol: a documentary film. 2006. DVD. Written and directed by Ric Burns. PBS Home Video: