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Woman Scorned


'Sylvia' cartoonist Nicole Hollander finds I Shot Andy Warhol a disturbing take on female rage

By David Templeton

Writer David Templeton specializes in taking interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This time around, he takes a call from innovative cartoonist Nicole Hollander (creator of the philosophical comic strip Sylvia), to discuss I Shot Andy Warhol, a disturbingly lighthearted treatment of the life of 1960s protofeminist Valerie Solanis.

Nicole Hollander has seen I Shot Andy Warhol not once, but twice, and not necessarily because she liked it.

"I only felt that I could see it another way if I saw it again," she explains, having called from her home in Chicago. "Besides I knew I'd be discussing it with you, and I like to be prepared."

She demonstrates her infectious laugh; even over the phone, separated by hundreds of miles, Hollander seems up-close and personable, funny, smart, and slightly crotchety, the kind of human you instantly want to be friends with. In that, she is not unlike Sylvia, her wisecracking cartoon creation, whose sensible, dead-on comments about life, etc. are worshipped daily in over 60 newspapers around the world and in numerous books.

Not so instantly likable is the movie we are discussing, an odd, strangely structured little film that is nevertheless endlessly fascinating. A bio-pic of sorts, I Shot is the story of Valerie Solanis (Lili Taylor), the brilliant but unhinged New York writer/hustler who, in the mid 1960s, crafted a shocking, satirical manuscript (it advocates worldwide economic disruption and the elimination of the male sex), that was virtually ignored at the time, yet is now, several years after Solanis' death, viewed as a feminist classic.

Titled The SCUM Manifesto (SCUM means the Society for Cutting Up Men), the book is a scathing, darkly funny work that the iconoclastic New York artist Andy Warhol was vaguely supportive of. When his tentative enthusiasm for her work, and for Valerie herself, waned, she convinced herself that he was trying to steal the manifesto, and her other writings, for himself.

So she shot him.

"I wanted to see what The SCUM Manifesto really was," Hollander continues. "So I went out looking for it."

She ended up locating excerpts within the pages of Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From the Women's Liberation Movement (Vintage, 1970). "First of all, I thought her writing was far more witty than it seemed in the movie. She describes things like Suicide Centers that men would be allowed to go to. Now, that's quite funny.

"And then, the more I read, the more the movie became like--a movie. One person's version of this woman's life. It wasn't very accurate."

She recalls a moment in the film where Solanis flips on the TV to see organized groups of women picketing the Miss America Pageant, merrily burning their bras. "They stole my idea!" Solanis shouts, apparently meaning feminism in general. "I should be there!"

"Remember that?" Hollander queries. "Well, let me read you something from the manifesto.

"'SCUM will not picket, demonstrate, march or strike to attempt to achieve its ends,'" she reads. "'Such tactics are for nice genteel ladies who scrupulously take only such action as is guaranteed to be ineffective. . . . If SCUM ever marches, it will only be over LBJ's stupid, sickening face; if SCUM ever strikes, it will be in the dark with a six-inch blade.'

"When I saw the film before I read the manifesto," she continues, "I thought, 'This is interesting, that when you develop an idea alone, in isolation, you have no idea that there are other people out there who are also thinking the same way that you do. She didn't need to be as isolated as she was.

"Then I thought again, 'Well, she was so revolutionary. I don't think she would have been comfortable in any movement that was not her own. She was not a compromiser. And if we go from what she wrote herself, it would have been very unlikely for her to have said, 'I should be there!' She would have despised them."

And yet, with her education, her radically sharp wit, and her genius at articulating her rage, might she not have become an important voice in the feminist movement, had she not been so, well, so nuts? "I don't know," replies Hollander doubtfully. "We know that she was abused as a child, and was essentially handicapped by her childhood. She had an apparent inability to choose to enter mainstream life. Here was a woman who was in your face all the time. It was so 'unfeminine.' Her message was unpalatable to the times, because it was so anti-capitalist, and so anti-male. She could never have been heard.

"I remember one time I was in New York, with a friend," she adds, "and there were a lot of homeless people who were acting out on the sidewalk. And she said to me, 'See? Even among the mad people, the men are louder.'"

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