Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Warhol as an “American Master” (PBS)

I tend to wince when people use the words master and masterpiece. Ditto with the word genius. These words have been tainted by middlebrow culture, which wants art to be pre-digested, neatly packaged, and covertly pious.

Anyway, PBS has just broadcast a 4-hour documentary about Andy Warhol in the “American Masters” series. Some of the interviewees dug deep and spoke of Warhol as a “genius.”

The program’s real annoyance, though, was the goddamn non-stop background music. There was even music during clips from Warhol’s early silent films—a blithe falsification. The contemporary fear of silence is raising its ugly head just about everywhere.

The documentary’s talking heads are sometimes engaging, sometimes a bit full of themselves. There was a smidgen of perverse pleasure in watching a bevy of sophisticates faun over man who is, you know, dead.

No single film, even at four hours, could encompass Warhol as artist, personality, and gay icon. In addition to seeing his work, you need to read some of the key books about him to grasp the many facets of his life and how they fit together. Still, the film manages to core-sample many areas of the work and the life. Of course, it's reticent on the tawdry and smutty side of things. There are gestures toward candor, but the reporting is, shall we say, Americanized. On the other hand, I'm happy the film reminds us of Warhol's exemplary qualities: his diligent working habits, enterprising attitude, curiosity, deadpan humor, sociability, and grit in overcoming adversity. When the film is shown in schools, Warhol's story will bring uplift to young pansies everywhere.

The title is “Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film.” The filmmaker is Ric Burns, brother of Ken. A DVD will be released in November on PBS Home Video. (Is it too much to ask for a “Music Off” option?)

Of course, if you like the music, the Original Soundtrack will be released on CD. I'm not fooling!

[The photo above is from another source. Credit: Michael Blackwood Productions.]

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