Edie Sedgwick is one of Andy Warhol s superstars at the Factory in New York in the late 1960s. Stephen Koch describes her a “poor little rich girl” and Lou Reed dedicated “Femme Fatale” to her. She is fuelled with amphetamines and consumed with “self-absorbed narcissism” and “posturing chic”. He concludes: “Edie Sedgwick had what used to be called class,” as if this were the ultimate platitude.
Warhol s voyeurism ran to an unbelievably crass extent bordering on ghoulishness. He prophesied Edie s tragic, if inevitable, death: “If Edie ODs, we must film it.” Is this the cost of 15 minutes of fame? The Factory evokes a time “when drugs were new, sex wasn t dangerous and art was still shocking.” Unlike Oliver Stone s rose-tinted nostalgia for a time that never was, however, perhaps we should shrink back in horror at the logical outcome of the decadence and permissiveness of the period: that is, death of the soul and an emotional holocaust.
Do I sound here like the tabloids raging at the ‘hippy murderers (Charlie Manson et al)? What I really mean to say is cut the COSMIC SCAT! How many casualties with fried brains, collapsing noses or pickled livers are necessary to take away the ‘buzz when you reminisce? Jaded? Bitter? Disillusioned? Bought out by ‘the system (the big THEM)? Well, then, join a long and doleful queue!
Warhol knew how to create an iconoclasm out of the banal. Living on the telephone, a plastic existence, was a declaration of intent: not only anti-social but anti-society in a Thatcherite sense. Don t get me wrong, I m not claiming that Warhol was a conservative with a small or capital ‘c , but in an artistic sense, it is surprising how effortlessly the avant garde is assimilated.
Warhol, of course, hates the idea of a movement or even a ‘scene . He is more concerned with achieving a kind of spectacular boredom with all its inherent contradiction intact. One could argue that the films (which very few people watch just as no one actually reads Derrida) appear to be an exercise in the ultimate tastelessness. In fact the very notion of taste, beauty or aesthetics of any kind are thrown out of the window.
The anti-scene that was the Factory - spiked with sex, drugs and rock n roll - still makes great copy. But, like a good party, everyone s gone the morning after and there s very little to remember. Pop Art is the last gasp of Modernism before the Postmodern banquet began. Looking back, it seems inevitable, but the real irony is that Warhol rejected all concepts of cultural discourse.
He tells us: ‘That s all there is. We watch the films, view the prints, read A to B and Back Again with an attitude that rather than being a form of ennui is closer to the feeling at the end of a shopping trip. Bland yet not insipid; dull but not quite zombified. Warhol himself declared: “We re up for the Academy awards for shopping”. The only other ‘artist I could compare him to is Malcolm Mclaren. Warhol admits: “I ve made a career out of being the right thing in the wrong space. And the wrong thing in the right space. That s one thing I really do know about.” Does this describe Punk as well as Pop Art?
The performance is technically flawed which perhaps contributes to the slightly wooden acting as the play starts. Teething troubles aside this is a magnificent play that vividly conjures up the life and times of Warhol and his Superstar Edie.
Appropriately, rather than dividing the play into scenes we are presented with 15 ‘minutes , a reference, of course, to Warhol s idea that we should all have ‘15 minutes of fame . Again this concept could just as easily be applied to the punk DIY mentality.
Andrew Whelan as Warhol is suitably glib, camp and essentially empty, filling this vacuum with an entourage of freaks and clowns. He is the person to know and to orbit near him is an instant road to fame and glamour. Everything in the Factory is silver because, Warhol admits, ‘I am a mirror . Turning art into the ultimate commodity is part of his game but, as is noted in the play, Warhol never spends money on himself, let alone his ‘workers .
Polly Wiseman as Edie Sedgwick is stunningly beautiful, possessing a golden glamour appropriate to this ‘poor little rich girl . From the beginning, we know she is on a rollercoaster ride to madness and ultimately death. But where the tragedy of Faust is the loss of the soul, the tragedy here is the loss of innocence.
We see film footage of Edie being presented at a society party by her parents to an array of rich suitors. She declares that she is going to have a few years of fun before settling down: these might as well have been her famous last words.
Jay Simon is a chameleon changing from Candy Darling, a transsexual superstar, to Ondine, a speed freak, and Dr Robert, pharmaceutical supplier to the stars. I m not sure his drag is quite convincing but perhaps this is almost deliberate: we see through the act and see it for what it is - an immense farce.
Warhol and Edie become media celebrities and are faced with fan idolatry and the banality of media analysis. Edie is obsessed with Bob DylanM and we hear his “Just Like a Woman” (ironic considering the drag) and “Like a Rolling Stone” (prophetic considering Edie s downfall). The music serves not only to conjure up the decadent-and-proud-of-it jet set and the sound of the ‘60s but also to gel and punctuate what could otherwise be a rather bitty narrative.
One has to mention the drugs: Edie is on a game show and frantically opens tiny boxes with bottles of tablets inside, each of which she instantly recognises and names: uppers, downers, floaters and poppers...a never-ending flow of chemical inebriation that fuels her self-destructive fire. Andy denies he has ever bought or sold drugs for the Factory workers: he simply gives them a space to play in, watches vicariously and presents the spectacle as art.
Edie being rich - or at least an heiress - sees Dr Robert, a bent doctor who supplies the darlings of society with huge injections of their drug of choice. In Edie s case, we find, in return for sexual favours. Again, here, Wiseman is perfect, simultaneously strutting her stuff shamefully whilst maintaining a coy or coquettish demeanour.
Given the above, we are hardly surprised when Edie breaks down and is institutionalised. Apparently ‘cured she marries, but inevitably feels ennui at the so-called ‘normal life . No parties, no photographers, no films and, most importantly, no drugs. Need I describe the OD that Andy wanted to film?
Michael Post, Edie s husband, covers her with a white sheet beneath which even her panties and bra are now the white of innocence. Shrouded like a catacomb Edie could be a saint or the Virgin Mary herself. Andy, meanwhile, has been shot, an event that convinces him that he really is existing solely on TV.
The heyday of the Factory gives way to a clinical, bureaucratic office with oak-panelled meeting rooms and stone-cold reception. Is this what Andy wanted all along? A wild sensational party followed by a clever merchandising game.
Andy & Edie is a must for anyone with a fascination for the Factory - be it a stoned nostalgia trip or a voyeuristic horror. Intense, riveting and sadly funny.