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I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996)


PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Aesthetics, feminism

CHARACTERS: Valerie Solanas (Lili Taylor), Andy Warhol (avant-garde film maker), Maurice Girodias (Valerie’s publisher), Candy Darling (blond transvestite), Stevie (lesbian friend)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR MARY HARRON: Oz (second season, 1998-1999); American Psycho (2000)

SYNOPSIS: The movie chronicles the real life story of Valerie Solanas, an intelligent, but mentally disturbed prostitute who becomes involved with Andy Warhol’s avant-garde film production studio – the “Factory” – in 1960s New York City. A hater of male dominated society, Solanas composed The S.C.U.M. Manifesto (the initials standing for “The Society for Cutting Up Men.”), mimeographed copies of which she futilely tried to sell to people on the street. Attracted to all things bizarre, Warhol allowed her to hang around the factory, and even had her appear in one of his films (I, a Man, 1967). Under her deluded belief that Warhol was stealing a play that she wrote, in 1968 Solanas shot Warhol and some others in his Factory. Warhol survived and died in 1987. The film is a gripping portrayal of both Solanas and the cultural environment in which Warhol worked. Solanas was sentenced to a few years in prison for attempted murder, subsequently was in and out of various mental institutions, and died in 1988 at age 52 from pneumonia. Her S.C.U.M. Manifesto was published the same year she shot Warhol, and though she saw no money from it, the work established her as an early militant feminist.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. Are there any comparisons between the Warhol’s approach to film and his approach to pop art – such as his paintings of Campbell soup cans?

2. Warhol as a film director seems to be an emotionally detached observer, viewing his subjects as little more than curiosities – sort of like a soup can. In what situations do we adopt a Warhol-like perspective on people that we observe?

3. Andy Warhol’s avant-garde approach to film was the motion picture equivalent of a circus freak show. His films were intentionally crude in both form and substance and, like the pornography industry, we might ask whether he exploited some of the people that he worked with. Which if any of the people depicted in the film might have been exploited by Warhol’s “Factory”?

4. Did Warhol’s films, as briefly depicted in the movie, have any socially redeeming value?

5. After she was arrested, Valerie stated “I shot Andy Warhol; he’s is trying to steal all of my work.” Although that wasn’t true of Warhol, it may well have been of Valerie’s publisher. Nevertheless, what kind of trade off should Valerie have accepted with either Warhol or her publisher as a fair price for public exposure?

6. The movie epilogue states that “The SCUM Manifesto has been published many times all over the world. It is now a feminist classic.” What if anything of Valerie’s views would live up to the standard of a “feminist classic”?

7. Valerie’s life was a bit of a paradox: as a prostitute she lived out the worst male expectations of women, yet she protested against the male exploitation of women – even to the point of wanting all men dead. Her extreme lifestyle and extreme opinions were part of her mental illness. Nevertheless, is there any way to rectify her prostitution with her extreme feminism?

REVIEWS

I shot Andy Warhol is a perfect example of a film which has much potential, but which offers, in reality, very little. There are two distinct philosophical threads woven through the film – one concerning aesthetics, and the other concerning feminism. When dealing with aesthetics, the film routinely offers nothing but a means to shallow, superficial aesthetic curiosities. The glimpses offered of Warhol's art are far too caught up on the environment in which Warhol worked and the reactions of fellow Factory types, and far too little on what his works actually were and what their impact was on the art community as a whole. All that is really seen of his visual art is the occasional piece strewn about the Factory. The production of his film work, on the other hand, receives an extended examination, though little is ever shown of the end result. As far as feminism is concerned, this film delivers only one extreme example thereof – an example which most feminists today would abhor. Solanas repeatedly advocates a female-only society and touts her view that men are biologically inferior to women. This radical sort of feminism is scarcely seen today, and is chiefly of interest due to its impact on modern feminism. Again, the film shows nothing of the ways in which its subject matter could actually be interesting and relevant. Adding to this is the fact that the film plays like the product of a drugged-out, would-be-Warhol crew; the film is alternately frustrating and tedious, and its characters are seldom sympathetic. The combination of all these factors renders the philosophical content of I shot Andy Warhol quite inaccessible. -- Frezno Smooth

As an integration of philosophy and film, this film is ultimately a failure. The flashing glance of philosophy that it does sporadically present is little more than radical feminist garbage presented through the medium of a certified nutjob. Not only was the philosophical content lacking, but the dialogue was, at very best, putrid. The black and white arthouse-type scenes of Solanas reading from her own “feminist classic” The S.C.U.M. Manifesto seemed to be intended by the director to be powerful and intimate insights into the thought process of Valerie Solanas. However, this attempt fails in that the presentation seemed very artificial and forced, not to mention that the acting was quite bad as well. At a first glance, this particular storyline combined with the tumultuous time frame of the 1960’s would seem like material for an excellent and interesting film, but it never comes together. Throughout the entire movie, I was constantly waiting for one moment or idea to grab my attention and provoke some sort of interest on my part, but that moment never came. I went into this movie with a fairly thorough pre-existent knowledge of Solanas, Warhol, and 1960’s art and culture. But the film I would have liked to view simply wasn’t on the screen. All in all, I wouldn’t deem this worst movie I’ve seen, but, in relation to some other film attempts at the integration of philosophy and film, this film doesn’t come close to meeting the standards of such films as Waking Life, The Trial, The Seventh Seal, Gattaca, etc. Despite all of this film’s shortcomings, radical psychopath feminists bloody from their never ending periods might find an hour’s worth of entertainment and/or self-indulgent propaganda. Folks not in this eccentric crowd of fem-nazis should avoid this holocaust of cinema film at all costs, excepting death by bears. -- Wholly Evil

The movie made a great attempt at showing Valerie’s life on the street. The time she spent on asking for money, prostituting herself, and getting free lunches set up for why she stuck to Warhol so tightly. Probably not so much because she wanted people to read her manifesto, but she needed money to quit the business she’s in. I could have done without the sex scenes, and especially could have done without the guy paying for Valerie to put on a show. I liked how Warhol’s factory was shown with some of his more popular works, such as the soup can, and Brillo Boxes. The movie makers never really went into detail if Warhol just didn’t care about his art, or if he was just shy when talking to reporters about his work. Valerie’s hatred of men led her to write the S.C.U.M. Manifesto. However, if she wanted to get rid of all men, then why did she become a prostitute? Also, she seemed to like men as long as they were feminine looking. Though that might explain why she kept a transvestite as part of her circle of friends. When Valerie’s publisher released her S.C.U.M. Manifesto, his company bankrupted. So that just goes to show that no one cares about feminism. -- Flying V

I Shot Andy Warhol was a film that was very bizarre which is why it may have failed to attract more people. Those who do see the film may find it too bizarre to enjoy. The film is about Valerie Solanas a crazed, ultra feminist who shot Andy Warhol because she was convinced that he was stealing a play that she had written. It was a bizarre film that covers her bizarre life. One of the strengths of the film was the alternating scenes between the narrative of the film and the blank and white scenes of Valarie Solanas reading excerpts from her S.C.U.M. Manifesto. This was interesting because it allows the viewer to hear some of the actual writings of Valerie. Also, it provided a nice change of pace in the film. These were also the most philosophically interesting parts of the film. The things that Valerie said about men and women were strange and interesting. The performances are very good; especially by Lili Taylor. The film is worth seeing because of its portrayal of this real woman's life leading up to this real event that greatly affected the 20th century art world. However, it's so strange that I was just waiting for the end to come and I suspected it never would. It may have been a matter of tastes, but I found the character of Valerie to be disgusting and irritating, and I did not care about her or Andy. While there was some philosophical content regarding gender and sexuality, overall, the film provoked little thought in me and an even smaller amount of enjoyment. -- Levitator


 
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