Ciao Manhattan

Variety once summed Ciao! Manhattan up as ‘Monotonous and nearly incomprehensible.’ Some might argue that the reviewer could have omitted the word nearly. Despite its faults, it is still a fascinating watch for anybody interested in Andy Warhol and his Factory Superstars.

The film focusses on the lightning fast rise and fall of Edie Sedgwick. Mostly it’s about her fall.

Edie, it should be said, plays herself here, although to avoid potential lawsuits from Warhol, she is renamed Susan.

The story gets underway properly with Butch (Wesley Hayes), a Texan in his late teens, driving his beat-up Merc in the direction of Malibu, accompanied perhaps predictably by John Philip’s Malibu People.

Butch speaks with an Oh Shucks accent and comes across as almost childlike in his naivety. Seeing a youngish woman hitching by the roadside, he stops to pick her up. She’s wearing a beige leather jacket opened to leave her breasts fully exposed, and she sways and stumbles as she tries to get in. He’s wide eyed and she’s legless.

If you only know Edie from her gamine minx mid-’60s heyday, then you might not instantly recognise her here. The hair now is longer, the panda eyes and the XXL chandelier earrings a thing of the past. And those breasts are now bigger.

At times while watching this, I did wonder if the writer/directors John Palmer and David Weisman were exploiting Edie. But it on this front, it was Edie herself who insisted on appearing topless for chunks of Ciao! Manhattan. She was obviously pleased with her breast implants, although when asked about them by Butch, she claims the increase in their size was due to a better diet and exercise.

Edie Sedgwick drinking Smirnoff

Only Butch could believe such a claim. Edie finds it an almost impossible task to get on and take off her trousers, let alone exercise. She spends much of her time lying on a water bed glugging back straight Smirnoff from the bottle. She talks with a stilted and slurred diction and lives in a tent in a drained swimming pool in the grounds of her mother’s mansion. She had once been an exquisite fuck-up but now she is just plain fucked up beyond repair with permanent brain damage from drug and alcohol abuse. It really is painful to see such a sharp decline.

Hayes, who played Butch, later spoke about Edie’s behaviour during the shoot, how she was on Seconal and booze and sometimes thought she was in New York when they were in California.

Jane Fonda (whose husband of the time Roger Vadim plays a small role here) put in a fine performance in Klute, a contemporary and far more successful movie. But, as good an actress as she was, she could never have got close to portraying the pain that Edie was obviously in at this late stage of her life the way Edie can. It’s in her eyes. She can’t see any way out.

Edie_on_waterbed

Edie passes out immediately in the car but is conveniently wearing a dog tag with her address engraved on it. He takes her home, dragging her half-naked from his car and carrying her towards the front door of a mansion, much to the horror of her mother (Isabel Jewell). The mother, who is more interested in making pies than in her daughter, decides to give Butch a job anyway. His ambition is to build a flying saucer, and he is to teach her how to do so.

Yeah, I know.

Here, a dazed and very confused Edie talks about her dysfunctional past to Butch. This involves depression, addictions, the suicide of two of her brothers within the space of a year, hospitalisation, eating disorders, a strict father who she accuses of sexual abuse, and a series of abortions.

I once asked a friend of a friend who works in PR who her perfect client would be. ‘Edie Sedgwick,’ she replied in an instant. ‘You wouldn’t even need to invent anything.’ Along with the backstory, Edie had the famous partners like Bob Dylan and high-profile pals such as Andy Warhol. And she couldn’t resist a party.

Edie_partying

Most of Ciao! takes place with Edie living at her mother’s, while part of the film features salvaged black and white footage from her Manhattan days, which was to have been the original basis for the film. There was a gap of a few years between both.

‘It was pure zeitgeist. Coincidences were at the core, driving everything that happened. Nothing was effectively planned; we stumbled into all this as if it were waiting to happen. It was like a five-year-long series of cosmic collisions.’

David Weisman

Factory regular and one-time Sedgwick boyfriend Paul America was to have played a prominent role but he vanished during filming for over a year with no-one knowing his whereabouts. Jail was the answer to that one. Edie suffered a nervous breakdown and spent time in rehab. Funding evaporated. It was not until 1970 that Edie resurfaced and filming could start again.

The contrast between 1970 Edie and the ‘Youthquaker’ and 1965’s ‘Girl of the Year’ Edie was extreme. Her underlying issues were obviously still there but if there was ever a time that she was happy it was when she teamed up with Warhol. Dining at Max’s Kansas City. Dancing at the Factory. Drugging it up wherever she went.

Edie_and_Andy_Warhol

Warhol was already an internationally successful Pop Artist when he’d first met Edie at a birthday party for Tennessee Williams. He’d also already embarked on a career as an underground filmmaker and he would go on to use Edie in around ten of his works. Since his days as a child, he’s been captivated by Hollywood and now he hoped Hollywood might become captivated by him.

This was always highly unlikely. His movies were inept in so many ways. His (non) direction of his (non) actors was far from Hollywood friendly, as was his static camera. He also refused to employ industry professionals for key jobs like sound and lighting, which is why these aspects are usually lousy. In Blue Movie he fucked up big time with his film stock, using film that was only supposed to be used for night shoots. This is the reason why that appropriately named movie acquired a blueish tint.

Warhol efforts like Blowjob and Beauty #2 (which starred Sedgwick) were about situations rather than storylines and structure. ‘Scripts bore me,’ he once observed and his early forays into filmmaking generally bore me.

Watch Vinyl, Warhol’s take on A Clockwork Orange, then watch Kubrick’s 1971 controversial classic and you’ll see where I’m coming from. Yes, Edie appears and doesn’t do much except look absolutely fucking fabulous but
for me to ever try watching Vinyl again in one sitting would require my eyes being clamped wide open with specula like Malcolm McDowell’s Alex when he is forced to endure his Ludovico aversion therapy.

Although usually of limited interest, Warhol’s movies did become influential and can be seen as early examples of gay cinema and precursors of ‘porno chic’. Blue Movie has even been hailed as the movie that ushered in the so-called ‘golden age of porn’.

Edie_Sedgwick_modelling

The Factory crowd habitues were a bit like Reality TV before Reality TV. Only some were actually creative and most of them were engaging on at least a couple of levels – unlike the famous for being famous wannabe bores that clog television nowadays. One of the better examples of Warhol’s oeuvre would be when he filmed Edie applying make-up, eating and even sleeping in 1965’s Poor Little Rich Girl.

Edie was incredible on camera – just the way she moved… The great stars are the ones who are doing something you can watch every second, even if it’s just a movement inside their eye.’

Andy Warhol

Edie_Sedgwick_smoking

Edie fitted into the whirlwind of the Factory scene perfectly. The word iconic is overused today but it describes Edie perfectly. The camera utterly adored her. She was impossibly cool. She possessed Audrey Hepburn charm, a Twiggy body, Jean Seberg hairstyle… and a Janis Joplin insatiable appetite for drugs.

At Warhol’s suggestion, Lou Reed wrote Femme Fatale about her and it’s widely believed that the subject matter of Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman and Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat is also Edie. Decades later, bands like The Cult and Primal Scream were still being inspired by her.

I had an Edie Sedgwick type character in mind when I wrote Velocity Girl. I read Jean Stein’s biography about her and I wanted to meet a girl like that. Hanging out with Warhol, The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan and shooting speed whilst looking absolutely fabulous. Super hip and beautiful. She was the muse. I love her.’

Bobby Gillespie

While I’m on the subject of music, the Ciao! soundtrack is certainly curious. Around half of it features artists popular at the time like Richie Havens, Skip Battin and Kim Fowley, and the aforementioned John Philips but sadly no Velvet Underground. The other half consists of synthesizer soundscapes written and performed by Moog pioneer Gino Piserchio, who had appeared in Warhol’s Beauty #2 with Edie. This is undoubtedly innovative music but irritating too – it’s like entering an early video games arcade in the early 1980s.

Edie_wearing_a_hat

Andy Warhol and the fashion world both soon cast Edie aside. Any chance of a reconciliation between Andy and Edie disappeared after the former was shot by Valerie Solanis, an event that persuaded him to retreat from the wild and unpredictable druggies he had once surrounded himself with. The fashion mags discovered new young flesh, fresher now than Edie and far more reliable.

Edie died just weeks after filming on Ciao! Manhattan wrapped.

I would guess nobody was very surprised.

Ciao! Manhattan is a real mish-mash of a movie. Much of the dialogue in the California sequences is obviously written purely in order to link to flashbacks of the original NYC footage. The acting is sometimes abysmal and a subplot about a technology obsessed old man Mr. Verdecchio, who has a touch of William Burroughs about him, adds the square root of zilch to Ciao!

There are interior monologues galore but who is really interested in the thoughts of a whingeing petty pilferer who works for Edie’s mother or any of Verdecchio’s young employees?

When Edie is off screen, interest evaporates.

Like a much more recent film set in post-Manson murders, post-Altamont California, Inherent Vice, Ciao! Manhattan sometimes feels as if the movie itself is out of it on drugs.

It’s still better than watching any film that Andy actually directed.