Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of TIFF’s 40th anniversary and retrospective is its understanding of prescience. The idea of celebrity was at a very far remove in the early 1960’s when Andy Warhol was growing up, in, of all places, Pittsburgh, the son of a coal miner and an immigrant from Slovakia.
There is a far remove from Warhol’s obsession with the celebrity selfie and memorabilia stalkers of now, but there is an aspect of timeliness that resonates throughout Warhol’s work. Because as famous as Andy Warhol became as an artist: silk screener, commercial artist and pop artist, what most stands out from Andy Warhol: Stars of the Silver Screen is how immersive and, quite frankly, skin-crawling, the exhibit is truly.
Perhaps hinted at by 2014’s Stanley Kubrick exhibition, especially in Jack Torrence’s character from The Shining and its “Redrum Room”, this year’s exhibit, lovingly put together by Laurel MacMillan, director of exhibits at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Geralyn Huxley and Mathew Wrbican of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is that it’s an overwhelming sensory experience. The sterile, mostly white walls, of the HSBC exhibit space worked extremely well for the iciness of the recent Kubrick and David Cronenberg exhibits, and surprisingly also for Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style, perhaps the sine qua non of the populist exhibits at TIFF (we attended something like six times). By contrast, the Warhol exhibit is difficult to translate, and perhaps intentionally so. The gallery is very hard to capture through social media, (in contrast to the razzle dazzle of Kubrick pieces, the invitation not to photograph the exhibit is appropriate, as perhaps only screens and moving image can be fully captured in person (the idea of screen on screens is slightly eccentric as well). While not every image from Andy Warhol: Stars of the Silver Screen is moving, it feels that way inside. Indeed, the only curio from the exhibit that is encouraged for photographs is a slightly garish and surprisingly unforgiving couch from Warhol’s factory space. Of course, the chesterfield isn’t even authentic itself, but a crudely perfect recreation, (along with the period appropriate television and a couple of folding chairs, this section of the exhibit is far less dizzying than the array of Warhol paraphernalia on display in the remainder of the exhibit. But there is something of a remove in that the most lived-in part of the exhibit isn’t actually lived-in at all: it only feels that way).
Another aspect of the exhibit to look out for is the photographs of Warhol muse, and one of his most well-known superstars, Edie Sedgwick. While it is interesting to term her as well-known, there is very little actually “known” about the ingenue, which makes it quite appropriate to coin her as a “superstar”, for what do we truly know of superstars other than that they burn out? The effect is unbearable, as she is truly stunning, understandably so, as one of Bob Dylan’s most iconic songs, Just Like a Woman is about her. Sedgwick also puts in a memorable performance in Warhol’s surreality of a film called Kitchen, and it is difficult to tell if Sedgwick’s sneezes were real, or reportedly an attempt by the actress to cover up that she had forgotten her line in the largely one-take film. It is ironic that there has never been a really authentic Factory Girl film, (forget 2006’s appropriately-titled Factory Girl, as Sienna Miller could not quite capture the ethereal Sedgwick), but that inaugural TIFF Soirée guest Natalie Portman was all set to take the reins of a Sedgwick film along with Mike Nichols and instead made the memorable Closer instead. Perhaps if inspiration is needed, there is a certain familiarity in the look of Kiernan Shipka’s Sally Draper, though much younger, and far less radiant. Still, one could imagine Matthew Weiner subtly basing the complex Sally on Sedgwick, as he did with Jessica Paré’s Megan and her connections with the mercurial Sharon Tate. The details of Sedgwick’s demise are still in question, and the haunting spectre is seen on the wall.
Interestingly, the reaction to Marilyn Monroe is one of, well, not quite monotony, but perhaps a surprisingly complacency. Perhaps this chasm is because Marilyn was not a Warholian creation. She was an objet d’amour, and her visage creates a really fantastic contrast when placed next to the brunette Elizabeth Taylor, long considered the most beautiful actress of all time. It is a shame that Taylor was still alive at her most forgetful, as she somehow seems more accessible for not having perished at a young age, like Sedgwick and Marilyn, and perhaps for having not been a blonde. The Marilyn / Liz contrast must be witnessed, both in the gallery and through the film retrospective upcoming.
Lastly, the Screen Test Machine stands just outside the gallery, both as an appendage and as something of an orphan and is an absolute essential. The refitted Bolex camera appears to whir, (which has to be a trick, right?) and captures simply, you. The voyeur becomes the star. Though it requires simply sitting and being photographed for three to five minutes, like Warhol’s screen tests, both times that we submitted ourselves to the process it was strangely off-putting. Not unlikable, entirely, but still somewhat bizarre as the camera seems to come alive and criticize. Make sure to try it alone or at a time with not much traffic going by, it’s startlingly uncanny.
And unconnected like the two halves of the Stanley Kubrick exhibit, yet inherently tied together is the In Love with the Stars gallery upstairs on the fourth floor, which goes together thematically, exhibiting celebrity scrapbooks generously donated, in part by filmmaker Barry Avrich and exhibited side by side along TIFF’s early coverage of parties and red carpets.
While much of celebrity culture has gone online, with pictures of those trying to get close to a star, the effect of becoming one ourselves is almost too much to process. It’s like flying too close to the sun, another superstar.
Andy Warhol: Stars of the Silver Screen is now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Check www.tiff.net for more details.