Monday, August 6, 2012

Ciao! Manhattan

Ah, Edie Sedgwick, muse of my teenage years, years of black tights, heavy eyeliner and cigarettes.She was the original It Girl, the Tinkerbell who bestowed sparkle on Andy Warhol's Pittsburg nerd. She came from a wealthy, blue-blood family, who were impressive both for their place in American history and as an example of the evils of the same. Many of her family members went in and out of mental hospitals, several committed suicide (including the beautiful actress cousin that was her prototype and the two beloved brothers who accompanied her to the clinics and preceded her to an early grave). But, for a brief period in the mid-1960s, she ruled New York City from magazine layouts, gossip columns, TV talk shows and underground films. The true star of Warhol's crew of crazies.

Ciao! Manhattan is an essentially flawed film. The first attempt at making it began in New York City in 1966. The shooting was endless, the money got blown of drugs and who knows what, the film was unfinished. In 1970, a crew got together in Malibu to try to complete it with new footage and a new-ish storyline. Then half the cast wandered off (drugs again), shooting stopped again.. or something. Finally, some more new sequences were shot for yet another turn in the storyline and Ciao! Manhattan was shuffled onto screens in 1972 -- by then the leading lady was dead and the whole thing was passe anyway.

So, Edie or "Susan," now far from Diana Vreeland and the Chelsea Hotel, gets picked up by some dumb hick hippie as she is hitchiking. Dumb Hick Hippie ("I drive around. Lookin' at stuff.") takes her home to her mansion, and then Edie's Shelley Winters-like Gorgon of a mother hires him to babysit her (although he'd rather "build me a flyin' saucer"). Smart Hustler Hippie shows him around, Smart Hustler Hippie being too smart for this babysitting shit and too busy stealing the silverware anyway.

Edie lolls around in a tent in an empty swimming pool and contemplates her past in the form of endless flashbacks to the mid-sixties footage. She smokes and stares into space and tries to recall her past in disjointed, demi-coherent monologues. However she rambles, though, Edie is a damn sight better than the dubbed internal chatter of Dumb Hick Hippie ("If I hang around long enough, I might get me some poontang.") or the shitty Z-level folk music that plays when he's not babbling. Seriously, Ciao! Manhattan  may be the penultimate proof that, when it came to sixties counterculture, New York hip beat the crap out of Los Angeles hippie.

Then somehow we get footage of yet another fucking hippie yammering in voiceover to some old man named Mr. Vedecchio or something. And more of the Dumb Hick Hippie, ceaselessly ruminating with his 68 I.Q., and who has got to be one of the most tedious, unappealing creatures ever to appear in a film. Seriously, i want him to fucking die... All one can do is try to drift away into your own thoughts until the film reverts to the pre-1968 footage and crazy gorgeous Edie flying around Manhattan like some kind of chic fairy of depravity.

Waking up in a luxury pad, getting high, getting dressed, cruising down the FDR Drive in her Rolls Royce, frolicking with Alan Ginsburg and the Empire State Building, shooting a fashion spread for
Diana Vreeland, shooting a movie with Andy, going to Dr. Robert's for a poke... (Although actually Edie's feelgood of choice was Dr. Max Jacobson, who also shot up Marlene Dietrich, Truman Capote, Mickey Mantle, and the Kennedys.) There's monologues here too, but somehow the raps flow more smoothly and seem to have an internal logic -- Brigid Berlin is particularly hilarious.

Back in the ostensible present on the West Coast, Edie tries to talk and lapses into disassociation, tries to dance and stumbles into a heap on the floor, flashing her siliconed boobs for the hundredth time. There's horror in the contrast between the bubbling, constantly active, endlessly watchable, alive Edie of the black-and-white footage and the beautiful, brain-dead doll passed out in a backyard in lurid technicolor. Now, after drug addiction and shock treatment, she's a zombie that makes Norma Desmond look as alert as an Olympic sprinter at the starting block and as with-the-times as Twitter.

Ciao! Manhattan isn't a particularly good film. For Edie Sedgwick or Warhol fans it's worth a look at all of the New York City glamour footage and the newer DVDs have plenty of bonus clips from the better milieu, as well as interviews with director David Weisman and biographer George Plimpton, as well old factory cronies, designer Betsey Johnson and Factory scenester Bibbe Hansen -- who also happens to be Beck's mom. Yeah: She was also in Prison with Edie, Andy Warhol's "girls in lockdown" movie, which, i'm sure, is much better than Ciao! Manhattan.
Alas, few of the prime Warhol-era movies are readily available -- and by prime, I mean the mid-late sixties Warhol era -- drag queens, Chelsea Girls, Velvet Underground, 47th Street Factory, pre-Solanas shooting Warhol. If you ever get the chance, see Beauty #2, Lupe,  or, especially, Vinyl -- one of my favorite movies, a strangely hypnotic improvised study on S&M and post-Greenwich Village/pre-Haight-Ashbury cool; Edie has not a single line but comes out the undisputed star of the film. Again, better than Ciao! Manhattan.

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