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Andy Warhol's America on BBC - reviewed

by Gary Comenas

to Andy Warhol News 2022

Andy Warhol's America bombs on BBC

The three part documentary on Andy Warhol that was broadcast in January 2022 on BBC2, titled Andy Warhol's America, did not fare well, ratings-wise.

According to Broadcast magazine, it was the "last-placed PSB show in the slot." It got 520,000 viewers for its first episode but had fallen to an average of 350,00 across the three parts - 1.3% of viewers. The third and final episode only had 230,000 viewers. (Alex Farber, "Andy Warhol's America ends quietly," Broadcast, 21 January 2022)

It was an interesting concept - the comparison of some of Warhol's paintings to historical events in the U.S. - but it strayed away from that concept so often that it was difficult to understand what its aim was.

Did it have something to do with Andy Warhol's book, America? Was it a straightforward biography? Was it an examination of American history through Warhol's paintings?

Most of the biographical details in the first episode had already been explored elsewhere in more detail - in printed biographies, other documentaries or on this site (see the main timeline, the Pre-Pop section or the oral history, From Nowhere to Up There.)

It was lovely seeing Abigail Rosen's smiling face in episode two (I had interviewed her in 2007) and thank god people like Gerard Malanga, David Dalton and Joey Freeman were included.

Sadly, there was no mention of the Factory 'foreman,' Billy Name, apart from a Screen Test image that floated by at one point.

It may be that the director, Francis Whately, wanted to concentrate on the Factoryites who are still living but why not interview Viva then, or Mary Woronov or Joe Dallesandro?

There was a short interview with Bob Colacello, but what about Vincent Fremont?

Strangely, the cabaret entertainer, Penny Arcade, is interviewed throughout the documentary even though she wasn't part of Warhol's original Factory and never appeared in a film directed by Andy Warhol. Sometimes it felt like the researchers on the film had got much of their information and interviewees from Facebook - not the most accurate source apropos Andy Warhol.

A couple of interviewees gave the impression that Warhol's Race Riots and Death and Destruction paintings were done as a money-making venture when, in fact, they did not sell at the time. Despite the lack of sales, Warhol continued with the series, just as any other artist would who was trying to express a concept, a truth or an aesthetic idea. Warhol may have been called a "Sphinx without a secret" by Truman Capote, but maybe his "secret" was that he was actually an artist - a 'real artist' - and not just a media personality.

I couldn't help but cringe when one of the interviewees implied that Warhol was a great artist because he created an art work out of himself. This is ridiculous of course, given the artists before him who had 'large' personalities - people like Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock etc... Andy Warhol was a great artist for the reason other great artists are great. He produced great art.

The best episode was the third one, which went into detail about subject matter of one of the subjects of his Ladies and Gentlemen series, Wilhelmina Ross, and her sad ending, and also gave us an interview with the nephew of someone who was on the plane that crashed at Orly which was the subject of Warhol's 129 Die in Jet!

In general, however, the documentary was a bit like "Andy Warhol lite" - more style than substance - at least in regard to the first two episodes.

Gary Comenas (Feb. 2022)

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