It has been said that fame is illusive. This is true not only for fame itself but more importantly, what defines a person as famous. There was a time when a person had to have some quality that separated them from the others in order to be famous. Actors, singers, authors all contributed something to the great experience of humanity in return for the public acclaim they garnered. Now it seems that someone can be famous just for being famous. If this sounds like some sort of vicious cycle it is. The newspapers print pictures and stories of people who are well know just for appearing at the right night club or restaurant. While some may think that this is a recent phenomenon the film ‘Factory Girl’ offers some evidence that such things occurred at least as far back as the sixties. The film focuses on Edie Sedgwick, a pretty young heiress and socialite who fell in with the avant-garde artist and film maker Andy Warhol. The main characteristic of this film that fails is how it mixes fact, fiction, conjecture and out right fantasy to drive the plot. The life of Sedgwick would have made an interesting movie on its own without the embellishments. The parallels to such contemporary media darlings like Paris Hilton are strong enough to make this a cautionary tale for a new generation. You can almost see the themes in this film being remade in forty years using Ms Hilton as the subject. As it is the film is too superficial, not giving the audience what they want; most installments of ‘True Hollywood Stories’ on VH1 are more focused and detailed than this flick.
The foundation of the film is a session between Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) and her therapist in 1970. This makes the main part of the film recollections from Sedgwick’s point of view. It also lends itself to the overuse of flashbacks and voice-overs. While these techniques can be useful for a certain degree of exposition it is extremely difficult to build a whole film around them. Sedgwick was a young woman from very old money. She was rich, beautiful and already getting a reputation for having an uncontrollable side to her personality. Having made a splash in the fashion world as a model Sedgwick found many doors opening for her including just about every socially significant party around. Close friends like Syd Pepperman (Shawn Hatosy) remember her as a sweet girl when in fact she was already bordering on the uncontrollable. Another friend, Chuck Wein (Jimmy Fallon) offers to take her to a party and introducer her to the media force of nature, Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce). Sedgwick and Warhol immediately hit it off. For Edie Warhol represents a man of fame and influence. Warhol saw in Sedgwick an impressionable young woman with exceptional financial resources. He decides to make her one of his ‘superstars’, a group of strange people who acted as muses for his art and characters in his experimental films. He takes her to ‘the Factory’, a large loft in downtown Manhattan that he used as a studio for his projects.
It doesn’t take long before Edie is staring in a string of Warhol’s films including ‘Horse’, am absurd pseudo western. Edie falls completely under the influence of Warhol as she descends into an existence of endless parties and drug use. Things are going well, for Warhol at least, until Edie becomes involved with a musician, Billy Quinn (Hayden Christensen). With his tussled hair and raspy voice he is attractive to Edie on a deep level. While Warhol expounded about the superficiality of society Quinn sang of social responsibility. Edie finds herself torn between two very influence and well known men, uncertain of whom she actually is. Edie has always been defined by the men in her life, so doubtful of herself that she was not able to cope with just being Edie. Segdwick would die of a drug overdose about a year after she ended her therapy sessions. Her time in the spotlight was just over a year in length.
While the themes here held great potential they are wasted in this flick. The word ‘superficial’ comes to mind in almost every frame. The movie has the feel of a 90 minute long trailer, bits and pieces with promise but nothing to bind the story together. This film only scratches the surface of something that would hit home in today’s world. Perhaps this is the point of the film that these people lived their lives in such a way, all flash and no substance. Now reality television is wildly popular. It seems that Warhol’s proclamation that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes is coming true. This could have been a stark examination of fame in popular culture but instead we get a fluff piece with little substance. The irony here is the film is as shallow as many of the people it depicts. This film also appears to suffer from the same thing as many pop icons. The only notoriety the flick managed was for rumors surrounding it, not for its merit. Apparently Bob Dylan threatened to sue the production company over the character of Billy Quinn. He never had an affair with Sedgwick and allegedly was insulted by the insinuation. Velvet Underground front man Lou Reed also denounced the film as a complete hoax. There was also a lot of buzz that the sex scene between Miller and Christensen was not simulated. A big red flag should be raised when the talk about a film comes from the tabloids instead of film reviewers.
The cast here is flat, without the drive to sell the film. Sienna Miller does seem to embody Sedgwick. Like the character she plays Miller is a chain smoker, almost always photographed with a cigarette. She is also known more for her tabloid appearances than any film she has been in. This does appear to help her connect with her character but not enough to make the performance interesting. Guy Pearce does not capture the condescending attitude of the real Warhol. Much of this is the problem of the script which omits many of the well known comments of Warhol denouncing the very culture that made him famous. There is no chemistry between Piece and Miller. This is crucial considering the sway that Warhol exerted over the real Sedgwick. The performance of Hayden Christensen is about on par with his work in the Star Wars films. That is to say flat and uninteresting. He is doing a half hearted imitation of Dylan instead of making his role his own.
I have come to expect nothing but the best from the Weinstein Company with its DVD releases. Here the disc is well presented even if the film doesn’t measure up. To their credit the Weinstein Company affords the disc with an excellent transfer. The anamorphic video is well done with an excellent, vibrant color balance. The Dolby 5.1 audio provides a full sound stage. This film is not the best around but has interest to some for the controversy that surrounds it.