Factory Girl: Biopic of Edie Sedwick, Warhol’s Starlet

Structurally messy, “Factory Girl,” a muddled biopicture of Edie Sedgwick, one of Andy Warhol’s starlets, is only 90 minute long, but the yarn is so conceptually misguided and the screen so busy that you hardly have any time to absorb what you’re seeing.
Brisk but shallow, the movie neither illuminates the tragic life of the noted (and notorious) Downtown N.Y. icon nor the context in which she lived.

“Factory Girl” feels as if director George Hickenlooper lost his way midway, or perhaps the movie was removed from his control in post-production. For a helmer with a strong documentary background, the movie is particularly disappointing in its diffuse structure–it ramblesfrom one hysterical episode to another in a hurry.

For weeks, rumors have been circulating in town about the troubled production, which finally, after much tweaking and editing, opened theatrically on December 29 to qualify for Oscar considerations.

In the title role, the British actress Sienna Miller gives a sexy, intense performance, struggling against all odds to find the center of her role,  But, alas, she is defeated by the writers and helmer.

The script is credited to Richard Golub and Captain Mauzner, based on a story by Mauzner and Simon Monjack.

An aspiring artist and descendant of a rich family (which continued to support her all of her life), Sedgwick appeared in several Andy Warhols films, but was better known as a social companion and integral member of his cool entourage.

Turning point occurs when she abandons Warhol, who, according to this version, was jealously obsessive of her, for singer-celeb Bob Dylan (a miscast Hayden Christensen), who in the picture is called Billy Quinn to avoid legal problems; reportedly Dylan threatened to sue and block the film’s release.

Spanning 6 years, the tale begins with Sedgwick, a California heiress, drops out from Radcliffe College in 1965,  She arrives in New York City, where she is introduced to Andy Warhol at an art show.  It becomes clear right away from the manner she looks up to Warhol and other men for guidance that she still has serious family problems.

Showing her around, Warhol makes some vague promises and all goes well until an old college friend introduces her to Bob Dylan. The two men don’t get along: Dylan despises Warhol’s pop art (soup cans and brillo are always in the background) and dismisses the latter’ avant-garde films as pretentious bores. There’s a good scene in which the smug, contemptuous Quinn visits Warhol’s Factory for a screen test.

Not that Dylan-Quinn is a courtly gentleman himself. The writers don’t have a good handle on his persona, and as a result, he comes across as both hot and cold. The slurring way in which he calls her babe, the leather jacket and motorbike, above all the attitude, are all there. But who is he Did he love Sedwick, or like most men in her lives, exploited her

The Dylan relationship was good while it lasted, but eventually disintegrated, sending Sedgwick into a downward spiral of drug and alcohol abusethe “Star Is Born” syndrome, except that she never was a star.

It may be that Edie Sedgwick, like Valerie Solanas (Lili Taylor) before her in “I Shot Andy Warhol” is not worthy of a feature movie, even though her life was full of melodrama: A rich, eccentric girl, sexually abused by her father, a melancholy sister, still mourning the loss of a couple of brothers (in suicide and other accidents).

The narrative is punctuated by a long therapeutic session, in which Sedgwick, now in rehab, is talking to her therapist. Through flashbacks and flashforwards, we get snippets of Sedgwick’s short life; she died in 1971 at 28 of drug overdose. In an ironic way, Sedgwick’s life gives credence to Warhol’s theory of 15-minute-fame.

Throughout Sienna Miller is engaging, and in some scenes truly compelling, even when director Hickenlooper stages a very poor scene, set in a restaurant, in which Sedgwick lashes out at an indifferent Warhol, expressing all the anger and frustration accumulated over years of being exploited and underpaid (or not paid at all).

Miller, who plays Sedgwick as a Lolita-type, part innocent child, part mature and sexy woman, looks good in her blonde wig, heavy black eye makeup, and seductive mini skirts that display shapely legs. And she is good at transforming from an insecure girl, nervously laughing, to a frustrated jittery woman, who thinks the world had robbed her of her place in the sun.

Over the past decade, there have been several indie features about Andy Warhol, his factory, and entourage, none good or even interesting. You may recall Schnabel’s “Basquiat,” in which Jeffrey Wright starred as the tragic painter, Mary Harron’s “I Shot Andy Warhol,” “Warhol,” and now “Factory Girl.” For some reasons, none of these films, with the possible exception of David Bowie’s “Warhol,” was able to capture the zeitgeist or the characters around Warhol, most of which had short tragic lives, albeit for different reasons.

Speaking of Warhol, in “Factory Girl,” the gifted and versatile Aussie actor Guy Pearce, wearing a blond-silver wig and dark glasses, joins the other actors before him (Crispin Glover, and Jared Harris), who tried hard but failed to impersonate or embody the elusive artist. As interpreted by Pearce, Warhol comes across as selfish, obsessive, evasive, passive-aggressive–and a “Mama’s Boy,” offering a bizarre parallel to Sedgwick’s being “Daddy’s Girl.” The worst scenes in the film belong to Warhol and his mom, who lived with him for years.

Hickenlooper has made some decent documentaries, like “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse” (about Coppola) and “Mayor of the Sunset Strip,” about L.A. pop-culture phenom Rodney Bingenheimer, and some mediocre features like “The Man from Elysian Fields” and “The Big Brass Ring.” But, in its current, shapeless form, “Factory Girl” ranks as his worst effort.

The insertion of interview footage with figures that knew Sedgwick only fractures the already fragmented text without adding much beyond what is known or seen. At least one fourth of the feature consists of montages of fashion, art, and outdoor scenes of New York City. Other stylistic devices, such as split-screen images, and changes from color to grainy black-and-white footage, are arbitrary.

The rousing soundtrack, of pop-rock oldies from The Newbeats and The Strangeloves, among others, makes the film slightly more tolerable to endure.

“Factory Girl,” which had a one-week theatrical engagement to qualify for the Oscars, will open the 2007 Santa Barbara Film Festival, in early February.