Even though this is a site which normally covers low-budget monster movies, we might get discovered by some “proper” film criticism person, and there’s a slight emperor’s-new-clothes thing when it comes to avant-garde cinema. Dare we say something isn’t very good? Well, of course we dare, but are we ready for the “you just don’t understand what he was getting at” comments?
I really like Andy Warhol. I’ve seen lots of his artwork at exhibitions and galleries, as well as watched a few documentaries and read a few books about him too. I like how he turned his art into a production line business and mocked the pomposity of it all, even if I think mostly everything he did after getting shot was a pale imitation of his previous work. And that shooting has a link to this movie.
Anyway, a bored looking man (Tom Baker, not the beloved British actor) has sex with 8 women. Well, lies around mostly after sex and talks with them. That’s it. Popping up as one of the women is singer Nico, around the time she was working with the Velvet Underground; then there’s Warhol regulars Ingrid Superstar and Ultra Violet; and Valerie Solanas, the woman who’d shoot Warhol the next year (who was given the part and paid $25 because Warhol lost a copy of the play she’d brought in and tried to get him to produce).
Warhol was involved in a few movies that you can watch like movies (“Flesh”, “Trash”, “Heat” and “Lonesome Cowboys”) but there’s an important distinction to make with the rest of them. Take “Empire State”, the movie that was an 8 hour uninterrupted shot of the Empire State Building, or even “****” (“Four Stars”), 25 hours long. Or if length isn’t your thing, “Blow Job”, a short film of a chap’s face while he’s getting a blow job. All these things, while shot on film and able to be shown at the same place you buy popcorn, aren’t movies. I think if you sat down and watched all 8 hours of “Empire State”, then there’s some serious questions you ought to ask yourself; and I’m not even sure Warhol would suggest you do that either. Without wanting to force my opinion on you, I think the point to movies like those is to think about why they were made, to consider them as broader things and not as something you need to subject yourself to every minute of.
So I don’t think “I, A Man” is even really supposed to be considered a movie. I sort of think someone involved was having a little bit of a laugh with audiences – “can I get paying customers to sit through something like this, where non-actors talk about nothing and nothing happens?” – and while it may have given Warhol a chuckle or two, I don’t see anyone else smiling. While his cult isn’t as strong as it was (certainly in the 1980s) there will be people who believe Warhol was a great filmmaker and that you should watch his movies the same way you’d watch “Star Wars”. I think you should watch this the same way you’d look at one of his paintings – dip in, see what’s what and then move on.
If there was a proper ending, or some progression, then we could have a different conversation about it – although I’m definitely not saying the only movies worth watching are narratively-driven, normally edited ones. But, taking a long, non-narrative and superficially off-putting movie like Peter Greenaway’s “The Falls” as an example, the whole improves and deepens your view of the parts, while “I, A Man” just has the same stuff happening at the end as it does at the beginning.
I’m a real sucker for that washed-out, slightly unfocused, super-8 / crappy 16mm filming style, though. I was brought up by late night short films on Channel 4 in the UK, and my first love (long before I ever watched a slasher movie) was the avant-garde. I think there’s many a truth to be found in a movie that looks like this – just, sadly, not this specific one. Perhaps it’s the “actors”? Tom Baker looks both bored and nervous and gives every impression of being a rank amateur, despite his decently long acting resume, and everyone else is even less of an actor than he is. One can almost sense the problems wafting from Solanas, though, which is interesting.
Anyway, unless you’ve seen all the other movies, don’t bother with this. One interesting thing is to ponder on the future direction of Warhol’s group of people, and whether those sort of people were attracted to the lifestyle, or whether the lifestyle and freedom made people turn out that way. Tom Baker died a junkie in the early 80s; Solanas was arrested again for stalking Warhol and died, years later, mentally ill and homeless; Nico introduced her own son to heroin before dying on her way to buy marijuana in 1988; and, Paul Morrissey, the guy who really directed most of Warhol’s movies, is now (and probably was then) a devout Catholic and rather far to the right-wing on political issues. While many of them also went on to long, relatively happy lives and careers, it’s a pretty high hit-rate for serious problems (and many other of Warhol’s inner circle died very young of drug related issues or had some very unusual political and religious beliefs). Perhaps I’m just upset that so much artistic potential was wasted.
Rating: thumbs down