The trick of Andy Warhol's art is that it can look so plain to the
casual viewer that it doesn't even seem to pretend to be art. Warhol
himself claimed that there was no deeper meaning to his paintings and
films and that the surface was all there was. Chuck Workman's
Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol (1990) attempts to
put Warhol's creations in a better context by weaving together bits of
his art with interviews and archival footage so it's not just a bunch
Campbell's Soup cans and Marlon Brando portraits.
That's what Warhol's work is generally remembered as: colorful
reproductions of marketable commodities. What Superstar does
really well is help look at some of Warhol's creations as products of
ideology. Following images of pop stars and products with images of
social strife reveals that some of Warhol's work really was about
something. Possibly the most American of artists Warhol showed us
ourselves from all sides.
Another aspect of Warhol's art was the scene that grew up around it and
Superstar does a good job of introducing Warhol's crew. They
gathered at Warhol's workspace, The Factory, to be a part of the
but, as one interviewee points out, only Warhol was doing any real
He was constantly working on new ideas while everyone else was taking
drugs and wasting time.
That is ultimately what sets Warhol apart from those that he surrounded
himself with. They were as much a part of his art as were his films or his
paintings. Making someone like Edie Sedgewick famous was like a project unto itself. Workman's film helps expose the
process, from childhood sketches to advertising art, from celebrity portraits to creating Interview magazine, that
was Warhol's life's work.
The video quality varies from source to source. It is full frame and
sometimes looks pretty bad (on his commentary track Workman reveals moments where he actually scratched film
elements to make them look worse than they should). Much of the archival footage is heavily
scratched and damaged. Many of the interviews are taken from old TV
shows and look like cheap video transfers.
Video quality, however,
not what this film is about. It is a collage of many different sources,
some of which are probably pretty rare.
The audio is also pretty rough. There are a few moments where it is a little difficult to
understand what is being said. Still, it suffices. There are no subtitles.
A commentary track from director Workman is the only notable extra. On it Workman discusses both the making of the
film and the art scene that Warhol was a part of. This is an interesting and informative commentary track.
While not a stellar documentary, Superstar does a good job of
introducing Warhol to a generation that only remembers him as the same
kind of vague pop symbol as many of his subjects. By briefly looking at his entire life it is easy to see that he was much
more than that.