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You might have thought that you didn’t really need to consume any more content about Andy Warhol. After all, the New York artist has been ubiquitous throughout pop culture for more than half a century. In fact, he kind of invented pop culture. But viewers who devour all six episodes of Netflix’s “The Andy Warhol Diaries” will realize that Warhol’s life had a lot more dimensions than a flat silkscreen of a Campbell’s soup can.
I thought I had a passing knowledge of Warhol and his life. Like most admirers of the groundbreaking music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I had luxuriated in Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Underground” feature documentary last year. At MOCA’s massive 2002 retrospective in Los Angeles, I developed an appreciation for Warhol’s early illustrations and figurative paintings, and over the years, I watched Jared Harris being ambushed by Lili Taylor in “Who Shot Andy Warhol” and Guy Pearce do the impresario thing with Edie Sedgwick in “Factory Girl.” Surely that was enough for an amateur Warhologist.
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Actually, it turns out it wasn’t.
“The Andy Warhol Diaries” takes the focus off the music and the hangers-on to delve into aspects of Warhol’s personal life that weren’t widely known until the diaries were published in print in 1989, two years after his death.
Documentarian Andrew Rossi’s series deserves recognition in directing and nonfiction series — and especially in the nonfiction editing and music composition categories.
Warhol’s monotone voice is perfectly suited to the documentary’s use of an AI voice reading the diaries, which was approved by his estate. The narration overlays an almost overwhelming amount of visual stimulation compiled from a massive trove of home movies, stock footage, personal and historic photos and interviews to give a new perspective on aspects of the Warhol’s life that have been less combed-over in popular culture.
Though Warhol was often characterized simply as asexual, the series marks an important moment in queer history by spending time on his little-known relationships with Jed Johnson and Paramount executive Jon Gould, as well as his more public close friendship with Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The editing, overseen by Steven Ross, deserves special consideration for the monumental undertaking it must have been to weave thousands of images into a hypnotic narrative that’s as much experimental film as talking heads documentary. The talking heads themselves are a refreshingly eclectic selection of figures from Warhol’s life: friends including Rob Lowe and Deborah Harry; collaborators such as Interview magazine editor Bob Colacello; artists including Fab 5 Freddy and Kenny Scharf; and art figures who reflect on his legacy, such as Jessica Beck, curator at the Andy Warhol Museum.
“The Andy Warhol Diaries” really, and not surprisingly, stands out in the music composition category where composer Brad Oberhofer’s meditative piano score alternates with a deep selection of often-unexpected needle drops curated by music supervisor Amanda Krieg Thomas.
Combining ubiquitous ‘70s and ‘80s artists including David Bowie, the Bee Gees, Chic, Diana Ross and a Flock of Seagulls with lesser-known ambient tracks from Brian Eno, Philip Glass and Durutti Column, Thomas gives a masterclass in assembling a soundtrack that perfectly recalls the era while giving the viewer plenty of reason to research obscure selections.
Among the endless parade of documentaries about brutal crimes and shocking scams, it’s easy to forget about recognizing a series that celebrates the aesthetic pleasure of getting inside the mind of an artist and reveling in the images and music that surrounded him. That would be a mistake.
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