I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996) ***
It's a tossup as to who can name today the would-be assassin of Ronald Reagan and the killer of John Lennon. But it is almost certain that even fewer people could name Valerie Solanas, the young woman (then 32) who, in 1968, fired several shots at Andy Warhol, in the belief that he had betrayed her. Although she did not kill him, the profound psychological and physical affects changed his work-style and probably hastened his death in 1987.
The film is well researched and, in many ways fascinating. Valerie was a very special case, a maverick anti-male revolutionary who had a bad childhood, a psychology degree from the University of Maryland, an original mind, a life that included panhandling, lesbianism (some of it paid) and prostitution. Ironically, she needed money from men to survive so that she could turn against them. Ordinary, or even exceptional standards did not apply to Valerie.
When, in 1966, she was introduced to Warhol and his entourage (in his large, then famous loft called The Factory) she found herself in a milieu of artists or would-be artists, of oddities, transvestites, transsexuals and camp-followers who conformed to non-conformism. Valerie had writing aspirations but her main purpose was her obsessive conviction of the superiority of women over men, something that shapes up as a non-stop attack on the male gender, as summed up in her SCUM Manifesto (The Society for Cutting Up Men). She had founded that society, of which she was the sole member. The manifesto (much of which is given as lines spoken by Valerie in the movie) was an ultra-radical, all-out war against men as well as against conformist women and even wrong-thinking feminists. (SCUM got nowhere then, but later became a key text among militant feminists).
A lone wolf, Valerie, within the Warholian world was as much out of tune as outside it, with very rare exceptions, like her transvestite friend Candy Darling, and in a sense Warhol himself who, in many ways was an outsider among his own people. Valerie, in one of her black-humor, absurdist encounters, met Frenchman Maurice Girodias, the owner of the notorious Olympia Press, who eventually published the Manifesto -- and in Valerie's opinion exploited and cheated her.
The film melds nicely different shooting styles, from protracted scenes that remind one somewhat of Warhol movies, to fast-cutting sections that recall other Underground films of the period, to docu-dramas. All this is at the service of portraying a most unusual, and not balanced woman who, however, had method in her madness.
Lili Taylor, always dressed like a butch bag lady, is perfect in her part and, for all purposes, since none of us knows the real Valerie, she is Valerie. The real Valerie was born and raised in Atlantic City. I was amazed to learn that Taylor is a native of Chicago, as her accent seems to me to be pure and wonderfully consistent New Jerseyian. (It is the kind of accent that only people who grew with it like, the way a hyena's babies look beautiful to their mother).
The recreation of The Factory and its denizens is excellent, with notable performances, like Stephen Dorff's Candy Darling. Since pasty-faced, inexpressive, soft-spoken Warhol was, and to a large extent still is (through films and photos) a familiar presence, for viewers over a certain age a great deal of the movie's authenticity rides on his impersonator. Jared Harris, the son of actor Richard Harris, is a surprisingly believable simulacrum.