Male gaze behind the camera and the public eye
Edie Sedgwick – the It Girl, the fashion icon – you can say she was one of the greatest Pop artworks Andy Warhol has ever created. She appeared in numerous of Andy’s films throughout 1965 – 1967, such as Vinyl (1965), Beauty series(1965), Poor Little Rich Girl (1965), Lupe (1966), Ciao! Manhattan (1975).
What’s so special about these films is that, as Warhol described, they are unscripted excerpts of real lives of real people – a great predecessor of our modern day reality TV show. Which makes Warhol a master of celebrity media.
Most of Warhol’s films were unedited and prolonged observations over somebody, showing ‘great people that are being themselves and talking what they usually talk’.
Just to be honest, it’s rather difficult to watch those experimental movies. For example, the first part of her 1965 film Poor Little Rich Girl is entirely out of focus because of the issue with the camera lens, but you can decipher what she is doing: getting out of bed, doing her makeup, smoking and so on.
The second part shows her getting ready: trying on different clothes and putting on her lipstick over and over again, all whilst talking with a man behind the camera on random subjects. She tells her famous story on how she’d spent her entire inheritance in six months.
What’s difficult in watching this film is not just the grunge, indie quality, but also to see just how vague and oblivious she is, whilst being probed and prodded by the male gazers behind the camera.
I filmed a movie – Poor Little Rich Girl – of Edie talking about being a debutante who’d just spent her inheritance – talking on the phone, walking back to her bed, showing off the white mink that was her trademark. I always wanted to do a movie in Edie’s life. To play the poor little rich girl in the movie, Edie didn’t need a script – if she’d needed a script, she wouldn’t have been right for the part
It’s rather obvious that the leading actress is on some sort of substance: marijuana was legal back then, so there is no question on what she’s smoking, plus the pills she’s taking – most likely speed or amphetamine. It is discussed quite openly on Popism – memoir by Warhol.
Today, through the filters of #Metoo and Women’s March, new gen Feminism and body positivity, a drugged up anorexic actress in a room full of men is a cringey sight.
The whole situation reminds me of an SNL sketch ‘Film Screening’ (2017), where Kate McKinnon is a old-school veteran Hollywood actress, who’s completely tone-deaf to the atmosphere of the discussion between Emma Stone, Jennifer Aniston and other modern advocates of women’s rights in the industry, starts telling her story full of misogynistic, straight off messed-up behaviours back from when she was a young actress. This leaves everyone rather shocked, because: a. it’s worse than they’d ever imagined; b. how casual she acts about it.
In 1972, Edie once again appears playing ‘herself’ in Ciao! Manhattan. Only this time, with a very different look: long brown hair, instead of her iconic silver blond pixie, and with some obvious improvements in her body.
Despite all of that changes, she still has the blank, vague eyes that stare into nothing whilst reminiscing and telling a story of her past, which sounds rather scripted too.
By 1967 Warhol and Sedgwick hardly saw each other anymore. In 1971 Sedgwick died of ‘acute barbital intoxication’. Many blame Warhol for her death and for what she’s become.
Edie’s life story, whether real or adorned, is tragic. But regardless of how tragic her life was, her image is still idolised and glamorised.
More than anything, this book is about people that made Andy Warhol’s Pop 60’s: people from New York art scene, people who took part in his movies, the ones that hung out in the famous Factory, celebrities he rubbed shoulders with, friends and competitors, and his muse Edie Sedgwick. With all the stories and anecdotes about them, it reads like a celebrity gossip magazine, making Pop even more relatable to the celebrity-driven age we live in now.