- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

In 1965, Vogue magazine ran a photograph of a rail-thin blonde standing in arabesque atop a leather rhinoceros. She donned black tights and a baggy, sleeveless T-shirt, and her bobbed hair arced over her scalp like a cresting wave, breaking to one side of her stunning face.

The girl was Edie Sedgwick, and at the time the photo was taken, she was reaching the pinnacle of her celebrity. Frozen in two dimensions, she’s a graceful nymph atop the pedestal of stardom.

A blue-blooded art school student, she’d moved to New York City in 1964 and quickly found herself spiraling to the top of the trendsetting counterculture arts scene. She’d become the princess of Andy Warhol’s Factory, the star of his movies, a model and a style maven — the moment’s “It” girl.

But the image also shows a woman whose black-limned eyes are downcast and whose arms are splayed out horizontally in a delicate balancing act; her footing is anything but solid. She’s teetering on the dangerous edge of the fast life — and within just six short years, she’d tumble into a canyon of drug abuse, be expelled from Mr. Warhol’s coterie, and eventually lose her life to an overdose.

Her enthralling and tragic life is now the subject of director George Hickenlooper’s new film, “Factory Girl,” which zooms in on the roughly two-year period during which she and Mr. Warhol were friends.

Edie’s conversations with a therapist post-New York (she’d gone back to her home in California) frame the flick; in between, the actors mimic real footage, snapshots and events as recounted by those who were there, and also engage in imagined dialogue that the filmmakers (including screenwriter Captain Mauzner) thought captured the essence of the story.

In this take on the tale, Edie (the lissome Sienna Miller) heads to the Big Apple and meets Andy (a highly camouflaged Guy Pearce of “Memento”). Enthralled by her delicate beauty, he quickly integrates her into his world, making her the star of his movies and personal life (although not romantically).

As her visibility and cachet as a counterculture heroine swell, others outside the scene begin to take notice. Life does a spread on the doe-eyed beauty, and Vogue dubs her a “youthquaker” — although her drug use and “seedy” affiliations will eventually lead to her estrangement from the latter, as well as from her old-money family.

A visionary musician closely resembling Bob Dylan both in speech and scruffy hair (Hayden Christensen) enters the picture as a love interest, and a heated tug-of-war between the two artists ensues and results in painful terminal splits between all parties involved.

Without her friends and lover, the fragile starlet unravels, using heroin and speed to fill the void until eventually there is nothing left.

A sad and moving portrait of the shooting star, “Factory Girl” should catapult Miss Miller into the limelight. Mr. Pearce acquits himself admirably, despite a script that gives him little to work with beyond a small, isolated caricature (there’s no context for the artist’s rise to fame, nor even for the Factory).

The film footage itself is an interesting mishmash of textures — by turns shaky, double-exposed or grainy — and it’s nearly always fascinatingly disorienting and entertaining.

Unfortunately, the movie distorts history. Major facts are relegated to captions or left out entirely because of the film’s narrow focus. More troublingly, the filmmakers divide Miss Sedgwick’s circle into two competing factions: the shallow, superficial artistic realm of Mr. Warhol and the idyllic, passionate space inhabited by this “musician.”

Lighting and setting reinforce this disparity. In the scenes where Edie and the songwriter are cavorting, they’re often in nature, or at least bathed in sunlight. She calls this space “free.”

Meanwhile, the Factory and its garish silver walls reflect harsh, typically man-made light and showcase Mr. Warhol’s largely commercially themed artwork. The audience is left feeling that if only Edie had fully embraced the “light,” she’d be OK.

More than oversimplified, this is simply untrue; Mr. Dylan (who threatened a lawsuit) denies ever having an affair with Miss Sedgwick, and most of the biographical research on these two stars corroborates his story. (In fact, she was romantically involved with the folk singer’s right-hand man, Bob Neuwirth.)

Rather than staying neutral about Miss Sedgwick’s death, the film insinuates ever so slightly that Mr. Warhol made and unmade her just like a piece of art. It may be true, but alternative explanations of her undoing — mightn’t her family’s history of mental illness factored in? — are barely even considered.

Mr. Warhol once said: “It’s the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.”

“Factory Girl” may indeed shape the way some people conceive of its real-life subjects, which is too bad, given that reality is always so much more than two dimensions.

**

TITLE: “Factory Girl”

RATING: R (for prominent drug use, sexual content, nudity and language)

CREDITS: Directed by George Hickenlooper. Screenplay by Captain Mauzner.

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

WEB SITE: www.factorygirlmovie.net

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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