“In the future, everyone can be famous for 15 minutes” is one of Andy Warhol’s choice aphorisms. When he said that in the late 1960s, the point had already been proven with a vengeance by Edie Sedgwick: Warhol’s one-time muse, collaborator and platonic lover (with Warhol, such a thing was possible).
“Factory Girl” is a movie about Edie, aka New York’s most coveted “It Girl” — or the miserable “Poor Little Rich Girl,” depending on how she was feeling after lunch. Edie was from a family with serious money; her sculptor father owned a ranch in Santa Barbara and could trace his lineage to one of the signees of the Declaration of Independence, and at the age of 22, fresh out of art college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she sashayed over to Manhattan and into Warhol’s famed Factory, which in its heyday functioned as a free-for-all atelier for the East Village’s creatively inclined. Later, Warhol would be shot by one of the self-proclaimed “artists” who hung about the Factory — but that’s another movie, “I Shot Andy Warhol.”
When Andy was still hanging out with Edie, the Factory was a veritable playground where drugged-out couples copulated on a sofa beside which a horse whinnied as Warhol and his crew shot the whole scene and made it into a movie.
Edie was the centerpiece of the Factory: a lithe, nymphlike creature in black leotards who charmed and fascinated just about everyone, not least the neurotic, wigged genius presiding over Campbell soup cans. Though “Factory Girl” poses as a biopic of Edie Sedgwick, it’s really both a tribute to and indictment of the Andy-Edie relationship. For about 11 months starting in 1965 they were inseparable: the hottest asexual couple on the planet. The breakup came abruptly (namely because Edie launched into a love affair with a Bob Dylan-esque musician and Warhol couldn’t stand anyone finding romantic or sexual happiness), and Warhol went on to serious stardom while Edie’s 15 minutes spluttered and died out. Sedgwick sank into a cycle of drugs and rehab before OD’ing in 1971 at the age of 28. When Warhol heard of her death, his first question was whether she had left any money.
Director George Hickenlooper is not enamored of Warhol. He’s on Edie’s side (who’s played with skilled, calculated exuberance by Sienna Miller), though he steers clear of overt glamorization. He tells her story pretty much as it was. All of Edie’s resources (including a huge trust fund) were channeled into sustaining her 24-hour party girl personality. At the end of the day she was left stranded with bills and hangovers while Andy had completed another silk screen.
The movie shows Warhol (Guy Pearce) being an utter cad — he put Edie in every movie he made that year but never paid her a dime or deigned to pick up the check in restaurants and clubs. In one scene he and Edie hunt through the wares at a garage sale; the great Warhol haggles about paying seven bucks for a Virgin Mary statuette (“My mother would love this!”) but encourages Edie to buy “anything, everything!” even though by that time she was unraveling at the edges from financial anxiety.
Not that Warhol was the only jerk in her life. Everyone adored Edie when she was posing for a Vogue spread or strolling through Spring Street on Andy’s arm, but the minute she appealed for help they avoided her like the plague. This included her abusive father (James Naughton) and strangely distracted, distant mother (Peggy Walton-Walker).
“She was so beautiful,” rhapsodizes Andy after they parted ways. “How could anyone so beautiful allow herself to become so ugly?”
Some American critics accuse “Factory Girl” of dumbing down Edie’s persona, making her seem banal and insubstantial (indeed some lines have an inanity that’s deeply incongruous to her character), but in the end it delivers a sincere epitaph to a girl who burned so very brightly before snuffing herself out. It’s impossible to know what Warhol really felt when he cut Edie out of his life, but judging from another of his famed quotes — “The ’60s was when people lost their emotions and never recovered them” — it probably wasn’t much.