On February 22nd, exactly 25 years after Andy Warhol drew his last breath, Rocky Horror creator Jim Sharman launched an online tribute, or ‘cinematic séance’, dedicated to the life and death of the legendary artist. Decidedly not a biopic, the featurette consists of 40 minutes worth of music, colour and imagery.
This trippy reverie captures the essence of Warhol on many levels; the visual experience emulates his bold vibrancy and strobe-like multiplication and the looseness of the structure, and dislocation from strict chronology, calls back to the freedom and near-chaos of Warhol’s circle, particularly at the locus of the factory.
The very nature of the film’s dissemination aligns with Warhol’s perspective on art’s place in society and the rapidly self-reproductive ability of images in the modern world. Sharman commented: ‘Online movies are a new art form and their potential is evolving, yet cyberspace seems the perfect place to explore the Warhol enigma. I imagine Warhol would have loved the net, and we’ve enjoyed creating this unique 40 minute portrait.’
Despite these broad links, the film fails to illuminate the subtleties of Warhol’s existence and largely reinforces a popular and simplified characterization.
The performance art aspects are stilted and struggle to connect in any recognisably human way with Warhol’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Such scenes include an encounter between the hospitalised Warhol and another version of himself who assures him of his worth, expressing this sensually over a pair of red patent leather shoes, as well as a depiction of Valerie Solanas’ attempted murder of Warhol in 1968, which focusses on a bright, bloody handprint on a glass door as he struggles to escape. The efforts spent on aestheticising these exchanges obscures the real force of what is going on. And, just as Warhol has been marginalised in every recent film in which he has been depicted, (Factory Girl, The Doors and Basquiat), even here he is pushed to the side by Sharman’s commitment to mirroring his aesthetic.
The music barely even engages with the atmosphere evoked by Warhol’s art and the lyrics remain firmly in the real of function and narrative. Additionally, the music inevitably suffers from comparisons to the musical achievements of Warhol’s associates, particularly in the light of The Velvet Underground’s similar project meditating on Warhol’s life, their album Songs for Drella.
Significant as an internet movement, this short film may not live up to the hype surrounding its release, but it you’re willing to part with the $6.99 fee then it will provide an interesting insight into the way Warhol lives in today’s consciousness.