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Ciao! Manhattan

Ciao! Manhattan
1972 / Color & b&w / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 91 84 min. / Street Date November 12, 2002 / $24.95
Starring Edie Sedgwick, Paul America, Wesley Hayes, Baby Jane Holzer, Isabel Jewell, Christian Marquand, Roger Vadim, Viva
Cinematography John Palmer, Kjell Rostad
Production Designer
Art Direction
Film Editor Robert Farren
Original Music Skip Battyn, Kim Fowley, Richie Havens, Kim Milford, John Phillips, Gino Piserchio
Produced by Robert Margouleff & David Weisman
Written and Directed by John Palmer & David Weisman

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Edie Sedgwick has been studied and honored for the unusual achievement of personifying the decadent NYC lifestyle of Andy Warhol's coterie of SuperStar hanger-ons. Her life had the perfect arc from which to fashion legend: pampered heir of the rich, high fashion model, the toast of a new kind of hip nightlife. Drugs and dissipation led to her destruction at an early age, leaving behind a record of stunning photographs and a reputation that has grown through the years.

Filmmakers John Palmer and David Weisman sought to record the wild lifestyle of the Warhol set in this quasi-underground effort that started in 1967 and finished in 1971, just weeks before Edie's death. A very minor film, its curiosity value is very high, simply for its value as 'home movies' of a cultural era. And the extras on this remarkable DVD make the allure of Edie accessible to those on the 'outside' of the Warhol culture.


Drifter Butch (Wesley Hayes) drives into Malibu and picks up a stoned, deranged, topless hippie named Susan (Edie Sedgwick, basically playing herself). He returns Edie to her mansion home, where her ditzy mother (Isabel Jewell) ineffectually cares for her. Butch is seduced by Susan, and eventually takes her to the shock-therapy sanitarium run by Dr. Braun. Through vaguely associated flashbacks, Susan describes her wild times in 1967 Manhattan as a high fashion model and free spirit, when she was infatuated by drug pusher Paul (Paul America) and hung out with a selection of other chi-chi Warhol types. Losing track of Susan, Butch goes to New York himself, but although he recognizes a face from Susan's past, cannot penetrate a web of silence around Edie's doings, arranged by a strange millionaire named Verdecchio (Jean Margouleff).

As a film, Ciao! Manhattan is a non-starter. The filmmakers describe themselves as conversant with Warhol's inner circle, but unwilling to make Warhol's noncommercial kind of film that few saw. Instead of just documenting the scene, in 1967 they concocted a trippy but half-baked melange around Edie Sedgwick, the most beautiful of the Warhol SuperStars, a knockout model and original-model party girl. With a life of constant liquor, sex, and drugs, Edie was the undependable center of a completely undependable group; the 1967 part of the film was apparently a half-shot fragment of a half-written script that sought to include elements like gangsters, a corrupt fashion world, and a Mabuse-like technological tycoon. With interest fading and the elusive Edie disappearing to parts unknown, the unfinished meta-film languished, until the filmmakers reconvened five years later to find a way to resurrect it. The elusive Edie was located in Los Angeles and a much more structured approach was taken to fashion a framing story wherein the best of the 1967 footage could be exploited - so presumably to create a wild counterculture classic and get in on the Easy Rider trend.

Masquerading as hip inspiration, Ciao! Manhattan is more in line with desperation efforts like The Swap, a post- Taxi Driver attempt to cash in on Robert De Niro's popularity by salvaging a strange and completely uncommercial independent film from 1969 called Sam's Song. Virtually plotless and lacking an ending, the interesting original was obliterated by editing that imposed a new framing story with familiar crime and thriller elements.

Ciao! Manhattan didn't ruin an older movie, because the original 1967 shooting was never completed. But the revisit in color sees Edie (looking hale and hearty but reportedly in wretched mental condition) living at the bottom of an empty swimming pool (echoes of Sunset Boulevard, here) receiving guests half naked, sleeping with anything that moves, and suffering from an eternal case of the munchies ("Where's lunch?"). Her ramblings cue the b&w flashbacks to Manhattan, where we see a younger Edie doing what she does best, wearing clothes, looking remote but sociable, and in general being too cool to exist with normal mortals. The older footage is reasonably good coverage of Edie and friends (mostly Paul America, but also Viva, Baby Jane Holzer and Brigid Berlin) walking along walls in Central Park, gathering at trendy watering holes, and participating in a staged orgy-happening in the pool of a health club. A rural get-together, with a naked Allen Ginsberg attending a party at a country house, comes off like celebrity home movies.

A lot of screen time is taken up by the uninteresting adventures of Butch, and the surveillance-driven lifestyle of the often-overdubbed Verdecchio. Christian Marquand has a few b&w moments in the 1972 footage, along with director Roger Vadim (did this guy have radar to locate confused, naked females?) who shows up to diagnose Edie while fondling her breasts. A directionless hodgepodge, Ciao! Manhattan ends up as one of those interesting titles of the era, that when finally seen, is revealed to be a hollow log. You'd have to be a Warhol insider, already familiar with the names, faces and facts (and legends) of this 'scene', to even begin to have an interest in it.

That's exactly what Plexifilm provides in its DVD release of Ciao! Manhattan. The chosen extras effectively provide the needed context and perspective to enable outsiders like Savant to appreciate what the heck is the big deal here. The filmmakers contribute a running commentary, discussing their experience working with Edie during both filming sessions; they're joined by actor Wesley Hayes. Lengthy interviews with Hayes, Weisman, costume designer Betsey Johnson and Edie biographer George Plimpton paint the times from a wide range of positions - Plimpton, who knew Edie from the social set she abandoned, describes his own confusion at trying to figure her out, admitting she seemed to be all surface and zero depth, the perfect McLuhanesque celebrity. David Weisman's insert notes elegantly tell the whole Ciao! Manhattan tale in just a few pages.

The disc also has a large photo gallery, but the best part is a lengthy set of silent outtake reels from the 1967 shoot, The Lost Ciao! Manhattan Reels that also comes with a commentary track to explain what the fragments depict, if not how they might have been intended to fit in the original movie concept. Seen several times in this footage is Nena Thurman, Uma's equally stunning mother.

Interest is high for Edie Sedgwick among fans of the Warhol scene (more power to 'em) and particularly those morbid types who gravitate toward the death cults surrounding figures like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Edie's particular shrine seems to get its strength from her world-class soap particulars (rich girl goes blitzko) and from the almost complete lack of personality beyond her stunning photographic image. Plexifilm may have a substantial curiosity hit in Ciao! Manhattan, and they've certainly decked their disc out with the right features to make it happen.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Ciao! Manhattan rates:
Movie: Negligible as a movie, fascinating as an inadvertent documentary
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: commentaries, lengthy outtakes, interviews, galleries (see above)
Packaging: transparent keep case
Reviewed: November 16, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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