June 8, 2011

Queer Review: I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)

I Shot Andy Warhol
Director: Mary Harron
Writer: Mary Harron and Daniel Minahan. Based upon the book by Jeremiah Newton. Additional material provided by "The Letters and Diaries of Candy Darling" and research by Diane Tucker.
Cast: Lili Taylor, Jared Harris, Martha Plimpton, Stephen Dorff

The story of I Shot Andy Warhol is based upon the true tale of militant lesbian Valerie Jean Solanas (Lili Taylor), a 1960's radical feminist who wrote the S.C.U.M. (Society For Cutting Up Men) Manifesto. As far as I could tell, director Mary Harron's flick stuck as close to the established record as possible. This is a good thing, as this dramatic tale is not one that needed any embellishment.

Valarie Solanas started out as a panhandler/prostitute trying to make her way in NYC, along with her friends Stevie (Martha Plimpton). While there, Solanas meets Candy Darling (Stephen Dorff) who introduces her to Andy Warhol (Jared Harris). Solanas then forcefully attempts to get Warhol to produce a play of hers as well as publish The S.C.U.M. Manifesto, even though he shows nothing more than polite interest. All of this, inevitably leads to Solanas's declining mental stability, resulting in her believing that Andy Warhol is trying to control her life and then to that inevitable day of violence.

The Queering
After watching I Shot Andy Warhol, I now have a better understanding of why Warhol would produce something as terrible as Woman in Revolt even though I still do not think that cinematic disaster can be excused in any way.

However, it is important to note that while I Shot Andy Warhol attempts to understand Solanas as a human being - for example we see bits and pieces of her childhood and the time she spent at college - it does not attempt to condone her actions or philosophies, merely show how someone could be driven to these extremes. Solanas is portrayed as someone with a rapidly deteriorating mental health, which can be seen as a result of the discrimination she had faced as a woman and the sexual molestation that occurred when she was a child. And Warhol comes across as an innocent here, someone who had Solanas foisted upon him and who only reacted with a feigned politeness to attempts on Solanas's part for Warhol to produce and publish her works.

The S.C.U.M. Manifesto is considered a feminist classic in some circles and I Shot Andy Warhol takes time to show us insights into Solanas's thought process. Excerpts from S.C.U.M. are read to us by Solanas in black and white shots highlighting by implication the personal demons that Solanas obviously faced.

The star of this movie is obviously Lily Taylor, whose hard as nails performance drives the movie through even the roughest patches. Taylor is the one who makes the movie. Any performance of a lesser caliber might have made I Shot Andy Warhol unwatchable in some of the more difficult scenes, but with Lily Taylor's mesmerizing performance, everything else falls into place. Jared Harris plays Andy Warhol as a quiet, mousy kind of guy. Although I always imagined an artist with Warhol's reputation to have had more of a presence personality wise, my boyfriend informed me that Harris's interpretation is valid.

While Solanas's philosophy and writings, particularly The S.C.U.M. Manifesto may be offensive to some, I do not think that should be a barrior for anyone to view I Shot Andy Warhol. Highly recommended.

The Rating


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