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Loving the alien: Netflix’s Andy Warhol Diaries looks a scream. And it is

The Andy Warhol Diaries then.

Netflix’s newie is a fantastically intimate in-depth documentary exploring New York’s art scene and social history as viewed through the precise pop prism of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century — ie the titular, namedropping par excellence Andy Warhol Diaries, as dictated to and posthumously published by his frequent collaborator and long-time friend, Pat Hackett, who makes frequent appearances here. 

Neatly coinciding with the 35th anniversary of Warhol’s death, this six-part, seven-hour “limited series” (the artistry formerly known as miniseries back in his day) is beautifully put together, expertly curated and a fascinating and at times even heartbreaking look at a seminal, fertile period in the origins of mass media and possibly the most creative trio of decades in New York and the wider America. 

Yet what is most surprising is that Netflix’s televisual adaptation somehow manages to humanise the laconic, unknowable blank canvas.

A frequent criticism of him was that he looked like tree bark, with the personality to match; a cold fish who would struggle to get emotionally close to people and famously fox inquisitors with a curt “yes” or “no”. Andy’s troubled discreet relationships are revealed as is a diverse collection of artworks belonging to his final partner Jon Gould, who tragically died of AIDS in 1985.

The treasure trove was hidden away in the Gould family attic and only discovered in 2017. There are unseen pieces such as Warhol’s experimental abstract sculpture, a canvas by Keith Haring and a hand-painted bottle by Jean-Michel Basquiat, with whom he had a mentor-mentee/father-son relationship and whose impressive ‘other’ talent is revealed in a serious of snatched bedtime polaroids takes by Andy, however pervily.

Talking of pervs…

Instagram will load in the frontend.

The film is full of surprises and revelations, as well as illuminating interjections from friends such as Jerry Hall, John Waters and Blondie’s Debbie Harry, by all accounts Warhol’s favourite pop star. 

Interview magazine mainman Bob Colacello is also a thoughtful insightful interviewee, and is the author of Holy Terror, commonly regarded as the best book on the subject. It is, as Marc Almond himself put it, “Full of gossip and secrets, all the things you want from a Warhol book.” 

David Bowie dismissed the Diaries as “so shallow” upon their release in 1989, which was a shame, and, possibly, his comments had its roots in their famously awkward first meeting at The Factory in 1971. 

Uncharitably, the testy tête-à-tête led to The Dame recalling Warhol as a “lethal Svengali figure”, which probably displeased the bewigged one almost as much as being told he “looks a scream” in a song.

Both incredibly sensitive to criticism, the pair were casual acquaintances several times after that — including a rarely seen joint photo session almost a decade later — though, tellingly, Warhol point blank never considered sketching Bowie for one of his series of celebrity silkscreens. 

Not in any way a Disneyfied airbrushing, The Andy Warhol Diaries gleefully taps into his genuine freakshow otherness: he was a diffident, deeply insecure wig-wearer who hated how he looked, yet, like Bowie, was obsessed was celebrity and being stick thin. 

Still, with the latter channeling the American’s aloof disposition and calculating penchant for publicity, Bowie turned in a creditable if campy turn as Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat movie. Can’t tell them apart at all, almost.

It’s no wonder the closing episode is named after one of The Dame’s ditties, Loving The Alien — the obvious parallel being the sprawling spheres of influence of their impactful art versus commerce ethos extends to almost everything good and bad in 21st century pop culture.

Putting you there where things are emotionally hollow, that’s another 395 minutes of fame then. And I got through the entire review without using the word “iconic.” Damn.

Steve Pafford

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