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Popping the Pop of Pop Art

James Hamilton

Performance Assassin: Lili Taylor as Valerie Solanas, the proto-feminist who winged Andy Warhol.

Why did Valerie Solanas shoot Andy Warhol?

By Richard von Busack

THE SHOOTING of pop artist Andy Warhol by the unhinged feminist-separatist Valerie Solanas is, weirdly, given cinematic endorsement in director/writer Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol. The title a play on Sam Fuller's 1949 debut, I Shot Jesse James, and Warhol, like James, evinced habits that would tend to deserve a bullet. Solanas finished her life homeless in San Francisco, dying early of pneumonia; Warhol, shaken by the assault, went on to find himself a better class of parasites to hang around with.

I Shot Andy Warhol takes us into the nest of bitchery and glitz that was Warhol's Factory in its mid-1960s heyday. Somewhere during the proceedings, the notion of the would-be assassin as a feminist martyr occurs, probably through excessive love of Lili Taylor's fine, furious but ultimately monochromatic performance as the scrounging Solanas. Certainly, Solanas, who had been sexually abused by her father, had ample cause to hate men like snakes. The film shows her in a spotlight in grainy black and white reciting her S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto, a document that has its points, although calling it "a feminist classic," as the movie does, is horse feathers. It's a piece of history--an idea of just how fiery and futile the most extreme rhetoric of the times was.

Harron's screenplay follows Solanas from the shooting back in time to her graduation from the University of Maryland and her days on the streets. At a Manhattan skid-row hotel, she meets the transvestite Candy Darling (Stephen Dorff), one of Warhol's Superstars, thus gaining entrance into that fabled, tin-foil-covered loft: a grubby nest of Beautiful People. The film is at its finest during a two-shot of the famous artist and the famous failed assassin regarding each other in the midst of a party: our heroine, the madwoman, and the blond-wigged trout (played by Jared Wilson), so vague and hopelessly passive that eventually your own trigger finger does start to itch. Warhol is a lonely child at his own birthday party, while Solanas radiates a different feeling of neglect--it's a party, and you weren't invited.

Taylor fans will want to see I Shot Andy Warhol, especially because the superb previews for the film hint at a violent comedy about a mad confidence-woman breaking into the citadel. Unfortunately, the whole thing is a lot more staid than its exciting trailer. Despite the sulfurous, swearing, mean lesbian heroine, I Shot Andy Warhol is a mainstream iconization of a street lunatic who had one big, compelling idea.

I Shot Andy Warhol (R; 105 min.), directed and written by Mary Harron, photographed by Ellen Kuras and starring Lili Taylor and Jared Harris.

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From the May 16-22, 1996 issue of Metro

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