I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)
There is a scene that occurs about midway through this biopic that depicts a party at Warhol’s Factory. Some guests dance, some guests screw, some pop pills, and others sit on a couch, wondering what all the fuss is about. Obliquely reminiscent of Warhol’s static films, this long scene meanders for about ten minutes without achieving anything by way of character or story development. Despite manufactured home movies, psychiatric evaluations and clips of Lili Taylor reading excerpts from her character’s manifesto, the remainder of this movie fails to achieve much more.
As police vainly try to determine why Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol, the biopic flashes back to 1957 when the would-be assassin was a not-so mild-mannered college student with radical feminist ideas. Some years later these take their literary form in her play Up Your Ass, and her SCUM Manifesto (SCUM being an acronym for the Society for Cutting Up Men). While begging and prostituting herself on the streets on New York, Solanas meets Andy Warhol and publisher Maurice Girodias, and her ill-placed reliance on the two men to produce her works inexplicably lead to the violent act that bookends the film.
And yet, despite opening and closing with a bang, I Shot Andy Warhol irrevocably suffers from a cast of characters whose collective eccentricity quickly becomes tiresome. Though a check of this biopic’s review section will reveal this critique is not commonly shared, we feel more of a kinship with those bored party-goers sitting on the couch at the Warhol Factory.
as Valerie Jean Solanas
as Andy Warhol
as Candy Darling
"I have to credit [co-writer] Daniel Minahan for steering me away from clinging to the facts. You have to make things up… It’s also true about consolidating characters. Candy Darling did not take Valerie to the Factory the first time; she went with a photographer, Nat Finkelstein. But you don't want to introduce another character. So there is a more convenient explanation for the event. We did not substantially alter the facts as we know them; we just put the information in different characters… We were trying to find some catalyst that sent [Valerie] over the edge, like the tv show. Jeremiah Newton wrote up the scene of the television show based on his memory of the events, and then I placed it as if it happened the day before the shooting… Jeremiah said that Valerie would never hit Candy but I am not so sure about that. I think that she would have… Some people told me to give her a female best friend, but Valerie didn't have a female best friend. Most things people pitched me were really crap. You keep your story interesting by sticking to the truth. That really grounds you, cause it keeps it complicated. The things you find out, the things that aren't expected, make sense. When people fly off and leave the reality behind, they get into formulaic plots. People wanted me to make her sympathetic, but the beauty of the story is that she wasn't. If Valerie were alive I don't think I could have done the film. She was really into control. She would have come onto the production and wanted to write it."
Mary Harron, Filmmaker Magazine, Spring 1996
Many aspects of Warhol’s art are represented in this film, including his screen tests of Factory visitors. Yet the only scene recreation is from his 1967 film I, A Man which depicted the lead character’s encounters with eight women, one of whom was portrayed by Valerie Solanas.