Andy Warhol. Ever wonder what all the fuss was (is still) about? So much has been written about this art colossus–his obsession with celebrity, his sloppy silk screens of Marilyn and Liz and Brando, his endless Campbell soup cans and Coca Cola bottles, his mind-numbing movies—that more than a few feel his fifteen minutes of fame should have been up long ago. Instead, like it or not, he has become a lasting icon of popular taste.But what about the forgotten Factory people, those behind Warhol’s unprecedented rise to spectacular success, who linked their destinies to his, when, as a frustrated, gifted graphic artist, he decided to “start Pop art” because he “hated” Abstract Expressionism.
In a tale reminiscent of ‘Lord of the Flies’, this film rips off what is left of the shroud of secrecy and mystique that surrounded this enigmatic personality, and exposes the bizarre, exploitive inside world of the shy, physically fragile, fanatically self-absorbed man that some say was not a creator of art, but a destroyer of art—and of people. Only those who survived knew what lay beneath the dead pale make-up and fright wig.
For them, it all began in the early sixties. A slight, fey, blotchy-faced character from the Mad Men world of advertising had decided to ‘go downtown’, where he would encounter and enlist the help of those soon to become the colorful entourage of misfits and muses—culled from the cutting edge of the avant-garde New York art scene—destined to create his Silver Factory. This wild collection of characters became the first to be dubbed “famous for fifteen minutes.”
The ‘Factory People’ feature documentary, based on the three-hour television documentary series of the same name, is the culmination of shooting fifty hours of interviews, screening over a hundred hours of Warhol's movies and screen tests, collecting rare archive and news footage, much of which has never been seen before, sifting through thousands of photographs, all the while running up copious bar tabs in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and London. It was worth it. Their stories, many of which could not be included in the TV series for reasons which will become obvious, disclosed new insights into this complicated artist's life, and opened a Pandora’s Box of contradictory memories from his many muses, his many foes, his few close friends and fewer confidants.
Though much of Warhol’s life has indeed been already minutely examined by a multitude of worthy and worldly experts, ‘Factory People’ deals with those essential early dreamers, the amphetamine-fueled avant-gardists who had been at the Silver Factory from the beginning and had followed Warhol’s phenomenal trajectory into fame and notoriety. Finding some of them proved to be elusive, since they had rarely reaped any material and social benefits from their proximity to the man considered to be “one of most influential artists of the 20th century.”
Perhaps the most important person you’ll meet is Billy Name, who created Warhol’s cavernous work space, slathered it all in aluminum foil, and became the official in-house photographer, the only one allowed to actually live there. He helped to create the essence of this film, with his cache of candid photographs taken in the throes of around-the-clock work marathons, all-night film marathons, and bacchanalian parties. Also meet poet and handsome ‘Factory stud’ Gerard Malanga, in thrall as well to serious speed, who worked full-time as Warhol’s main assistant, while recruiting future ‘Superstars’ of all sexes for Warhol’s home movies. These films, which could run for hours—even days—often featured Ondine, the wild mad jester of Warhol’s royal court, puckish, recently deceased, Taylor Mead, reigning underground star, an ever-changing assortment of accommodating males, and an abundance of heiresses and over-the-top females, among them edgy cult star Mary Woronov, sultry raven-haired Ultra Violet, loopy fashion model Ivy Nicholson, blonde, big-haired Baby Jane Holzer, baby-faced Bibbe Hansen, the charismatic and doomed Edie Sedgwick, ethereal Nordic ice queen Nico, chubby, hilarious Brigid ‘Polk’ Berlin, and beautiful clever Viva, all of whom need no introduction (If they do, you may want to stop just about now). Their pithy comments on “life with Andy” made the film not only possible, but profoundly funny. As Viva, the vivacious (and sometime vicious) ’Lucille Ball of underground movies’ would cackle: “Andy? He’s the Queen of Pop Art!” As six-footer Mary ‘Whips’ Woronov would snarl, “Oh, this is fabulous, a soup can, ha ha ha! I hate it, now.”