NEW ANDY WARHOL DOCUMENTARY ON U.S. TV
An article in a recent issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the new two-part Andy Warhol documentary to be broadcast on September 20 and 21, 2006 caused one irate reader to write to the newspaper accusing Warhol of being "the worst kind of Pittsburgher, a Pittsburgh deserter. As soon as his personal 15 minutes began, he fled our fair city for the hipster hellhole that is New York City." (www.post-gazette.com/pg/06215/710596-42.stm)
Considering that it was over a decade after leaving Pittsburgh that Warhol had his first exhibition of his Pop paintings in an art gallery (in Los Angeles rather than New York), the reader's comments are illogical but reflect a commonly held attitude that Warhol's rise to fame happened almost instantly after he arrived in the "hipster hellhole" called New York. It didn't. He achieved fame the way most successful artists do - through years of hard work.
The new two-part documentary on Warhol is part of the American Masters series on PBS in the U.S. and was directed by Ric Burns who previously directed the epic series New York, A Documentary Film. Musician Laurie Anderson narrates the Warhol film with kitsch artist Jeff Koons appearing as "the voice of Warhol." The creative (?) device of using someone else to portray Warhol in a documentary is not new. David Bailey used it (unsuccessfully) in his 1973 documentary on the artist. The main problem with filtering Warhol's words through somebody else is that Warhol never said many of the things he is credited with as saying. Presumably Koon's narration will be littered with Warholisms from books such as The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). However, Warhol's Philosophy book was written mostly by his secretary, Pat Hackett, from tapes and interviews, with contributions by Interview magazine editor, Bob Colacello. It remains unclear as to which words were those of Hackett and/or Colacello and which words were those of Warhol:Bob Colacello:
"When I finished the chapter, I handed it to Andy. He counted the pages, as he counted the ads in Interview, and said, 'Only twelve?' He took it home that night and read it over the phone to Brigid Berlin, taping her reaction. Then he gave the tape to Pat Hackett, telling her to 'make it better.'" (BC208)
"On the first book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), I did eight separate interviews with Andy on the basis of which I wrote chapters 1 through 8 and chapter 10. Then, using material from conversations Andy had taped between himself and Bob Colacello and Brigid Berlin, I wrote the introductory chapter and chapters 9, 11, 12, 13 and 14." (AWDxv)
According to author Stephen Koch, who appears in the documentary, Warhol was "probably the best-read, intellectually best-informed artist of his generation, something he kept very secret because it wasn't part of the image that he was a reader." This is pushing it a bit. Although Warhol may have read more than he confessed to in interviews and although it may be true that he kept abreast of what was happening in the worlds of art and fashion, calling him the "best-read" and "intellectually best-informed artist of his generation" is a major exaggeration, particularly coming from Koch who simply did not know the artist well enough to make such a claim. Warhol's work stands on its own. It doesn't need further hype about the artist's reading habits in order to legitimise itself.
According to the PBS page on Warhol that accompanies the series, Warhol's birth date is unknown and he died at home. Hopefully, Mr. Burns' documentary doesn't repeat these inaccuracies. Andy Warhol's birth date is, of course, not unknown. He was born on August 6, 1928 and when he died on February 22, 1987 it was at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, not at home.
An obituary that was published in the Washington Post the day after Warhol died can be found at:
Local broadcast times for Ric Burns' documentary can be found on the PBS website. The Andy Warhol page is at www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/warhol_a.html.
Ric Burns' website is at: www.ricburns.com.