Friday, January 26, 2007

Protagonist Does Not Actually Work in a Factory

The twenty-second Santa Barbara International Film Festival was kicked off last night with the local premiere of “Factory Girl,” the Sienna Miller-starring biopic of Edie Sedgwick — a one-time Andy Warhol muse who began and ended her life in Santa Barbara. By and large, the attendees seemed to love the film. That’s not to say their reaction was incorrect, as the film was far from bad and much better than biopics usually are. (You see, I believe that any film that accurately depicts the events one person’s life is fundamentally hampered by the fact that many lives, however interesting they may be, don’t always unfold in an interesting manner. Case in point: “Alexander,” just to name one.) I just couldn’t help feeling that “Factory Girl” may not have been the best movie to kick-off a Santa Barbara event, as high-profile a picture as it may be.

This objection has nothing to do with the aspects that imagine the average Santa Barbara filmgoer might have had: namely, a syringe in the buttocks and the fact that Sienna’s boobs are swinging easy-free for a good dozen scenes. (Though I’m sure those parts gave Helen and Bernie something to gripe about on the drive home to Montecito.)

No, despite the fact that Edie Sedgwick is a legitimately noteworthy person and a local girl, the way the film delves into the inner workings of the Sedgwick family made me uncomfortable. In the movie, the audience learns that Edie’s father, Duke Sedgwick alledgedy abused his children. Late in the film, an addiction-stricken Edie even professes that Duke had raped her repeatedly since she was a little girl. (Whether we’re supposed to take this as fact or not, I don’t know — how seriously do you take the things people tell you when their mid-heroin spiral?) Essentially, while Mr. Sedgwick — who, incidentally, is also responsible for creating the bronze statue of Earl Warren that stands before the entrance to the Earl Warren Showgrounds — was apparently not a big fan of kids but was a proponent of incest and pedophilia. This tendency, we’re supposed to understand is what drove Edie away from Santa Barbara and to New York, where she found fame, and, naturally, the ensuing demise that fame brings the young and pretty.

At least some of the surviving Sedgwicks have endorsed “Factory Girl” and were in attendance at the premiere, which leads me to believe that they thought the story represented some semblance of truth. However, if Duke Sedgwick was truly the incestomaniac the movie makes him out to be, knowing that more of his potential victims could have been watching the movie — the same time as me, in the same Arlington Theater, mere feet from me — made me squirm in my seat. What’s more: the notion that people who actually knew and interacted with Mr. and Mrs. Sedgwick, back when the couple lived in Hope Ranch, could have been present in the theater made me feel even worse. Hearing the truth about their former neighbors from the pouty lips of Sienna Miller — however charming Miller may be — doesn’t sit well with me.

It’s a selfish concern, I’ll admit, but this intersection movies and real life took me out of the story of the film. A slightly smaller complaint against “Factory Girl” being screened in Santa Barbara would be the audience’s reaction to any point the film mentioned Santa Barbara. People hooted and cheered a bit when on-screen text identifies the initial setting as Cottage Hospital. (“Oh my god, Sandy — that’s where I went when I got the alcohol poisoning on Arbor Day.”)

Other than that weirdness, I liked “Factory Girl,” I suppose. Guy Pearce, who I like in generally everything I’ve ever seen him it, does a good Andy Warhol — at least as good as David Bowie’s in the thematically similar “Basquiat.” Plus I saw him in person. That’s an intersection of movie and real life that actually improved the experience for me.

If I had seen the movie in any other forum except the premiere of the SBIFF, I would have only had two chief complaints against it. Now, I thought Sienna Miller did a fairly good job. She’s never struck me as a great actress and truthfully I think she’s better suited for comedy than drama, but I feel because the notion of a pretty young thing attempting art and then suddenly stumbling into the celebrity spotlight is one Miller could probably relate to quite well. Furthermore, Miller and Sedgwick are both knock-outs. However, Edie’s appearance threw me for the vast majority of the film.

You see, Edie may have been a fashion icon in her day, but the overall effect of her hairstyle and clothes created an unfortunate association in my little brain.

sienna_miller_factory_girl jerri_blank

I think the resemblance is more than passing, especially in when Edie is high, disheveled and walking barefoot around Manhattan in the way the mentally unwell often do.

My second big complaint lies in one scene in which Edie and Andy are strolling around a park and have one of those conversations that seems to have been written specifically for the film’s trailer and then doesn’t get excised from the final print. Let me recreate the dialogue here, more or less:
Edie: Do you think we’ll be remembered, Andy?

Andy: Oh, I don’t know.

Edie: I hope they remember me! I wonder what they will say about me after I die!

Andy: Edie, I think people will have something to say about you.

Edie: Oh yes. I hope everyone hears my story one day and understands how nothing that happened to me was really my fault. And I hope it screens in Santa Barbara, the greatest city in the world. And I hope they cast Mary-Kate Olsen as our friend Molly Spence and it’s her first major role without her sister. And then I hope her part gets cut to all but one background scene, thus reducing her presence to mute extra. Oh Andy — do ya think?
What I’ve just written may have veered away from any dialogue the movie actually featured, but you get the idea. I would have groaned had the writer, director and Leah Remini not been in the room.


  1. Why is it that Santa Barbara film goers get so damned excited when their little town is mentioned anywhere in a film? Occasions on which this has happened to me include:
    *anytime UCSB was mentioned during the Academy screening of Sideways I attended in 2004, people cheered and wooted, though at the time I thought this was just because the screening was held in IV theatre
    *when Elizabeth Short's underaged drinking arrest is mentioned in Brian DePalma's Black Dahlia, where virtually everyone laughed loudly as though they too knew Short's plight, minus the "unnecessary historectomy"
    *when Toni Colette mentions that her relative can't take little Abagail Breslin to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant because they "have some equestrian thing to do at Earl Warren"
    *in the same film, the presence of the Crown Plaza Ventura Beach, as patrons turn to their friends (whom I can only assume were all non-residents of the Tri-Counties) and whisper "That's not Redondo Beach! That's in Ventura!"

    Being from the Bay Area, I don't understand the excitement. A LOT of movies are set in SF and Berkeley and Oakland, and people from those areas do not get so excited to be committed to celluloid. (Notable exception being the blatant map of El Cerrito/Albany stretches of San Pablo Avenue in Pixar's The Incredibles, which I think was an intentional joke for East Bay residents because there are, in fact, many police chases down that street.) Now, maybe if you put my actual hometown of Crockett on film I might have cause to hoot and holler like someone seeing a horror movie in Richmond might anytime the killer is about to do something sinister.

    But for Santa Barbara? I don't get it. It's too big of a place to get excited about being a part of popular culture and a setting for films. I wonder if people did this when they watched the soap opera Santa Barbara during the 80s . . .

  2. Anonymous8:08 PM

    Ha... I had the same thing happen with Little Miss Sunshine, Steetzie. The whole "That's Ventura!" thing.