“It’s like she’s in her own little world all by herself.”
Warhol’s former superstar, model and actress Edie Sedgwick is the lead in this restoration of her posthumously released autobiographical-ish role that depicts the life of a former star recalling her glorious past. Moving, provocative film-making, this is part fiction, part archive documentary; a product of its time generated from the culture that preceded it.
Butch (Wesley Hayes) is on a California road trip when he comes across a confused topless hitch-hiker. She is Susan Superstar (Edie Sedgwick). Butch takes her to her mother’s (Isabel Jewell) home, a sumptuous old mansion, although Susan lives in the tented, poster strewn (empty) swimming pool, where she is kept on medication and often taken to a private psychiatric hospital. She is looked after by her mother’s dishonest employee Geoffrey (Jeff Briggs) and soon Butch finds himself involved in the life of the rehabilitating woman, who spends much of her time recalling how fabulous her life was just a few years ago…
Four years in the making, Ciao Manhattan is a unique film in both its subject matter and construction; it segues between colour realist drama and frantic black and white montage which integrates cross-cutting in time-space with the modern day story of the lead protagonist. In many ways this is a post-Woodstock foray that leaps between the psychedelic pop-art world of the 60’s and the rather more troubled and sober early 70’s. Sedgwick was Warhol’s most iconic star, the poor little rich girl (like the Warhol film Poor Little Rich Girl ) turned drug addled symbol of post-modernism, after her Factory days, going through rehab and an attempt to relaunch herself. The focus isn’t just on her reviving her career as model/actress, but more movingly, it’s about her coming to terms with the tribulations of her past –not just the drug-addled New York Pop-Art scene but also her own traumatic childhood growing up in an American bourgeoisie family where she suffered abuse.
The film’s narrative is both engrossing in its voyeurism and distressing in its instigation. It appears that Edie plays herself and is herself, but she does this in the context of a fictional character where she is playing someone who is not her… but it is impossible for the audience to identify the role as fictional. The use of documentary film from her Factory days reinforces that these are genuine recollections of events that really happened. This makes for difficult viewing, especially when she recalls drunken assaults by her father during her childhood and also the social expectations of pretty rich girl in the savage and selfish city. At times it seems that this is the gratuitous exploitation of a former star but paradoxically it also comes across as an art-cinema labour of love made by those who were there, and also had a perspective of events that needed to be depicted as they were and not sugar-coated.
Ciao Manhattan started shooting in 1967, after Edie had left Warhol Superstardom. Recalling her life from the perspective of a fictional character, she was filmed by those who were also part of the community that had rejected her. The film was put on haitus for some years following Sedgwick being admitted to psychiatric clinics, but she rejoined the production in 1971, altering the way the film was made and portrayed. She did not survive to see the final edit, having died from an barbiturate overdose just months before the film’s release. The depiction of her fragile psychology and her addictions is very moving; reflected in her on-screen declarations that mix her glorious superstar past with her current predicament. She was most well known during the Warhol years and her ultimate rejection of it and its rejection of her are evaluated, especially when she declares that, “I haven’t been anywhere where I haven’t been known.” She has to come to terms with aspects of a life defined by Warhol where “The first 15 minutes last a very long time but the second 15 minutes last forever.”
Extras on the disc include a number of interviews that offer the film-makers’ and actors’ recollections of the time and the instigation of the project, notably from Wesley Hayes. Normally the “deleted scenes or out-takes” extras are a vague aside or a mere hint at what a lengthy director’s cut might have looked like, but here they are fascinating. The pretty 35mm helicopter scenes of New York in 1967 to depict a happening on Central Park segues into the happening itself. The pool party scene itself is put into grim perspective: “When they drained the pool they found 100 syringes.”
Ciao Manhattan stands as a compelling film that is not simply a product of its time but a part-factual/part-fictional recollection of the years leading to its completion. This balance between real and imaginary, having the star effectively being the subject, linked with the varied cinematic and editing styles make for fascinating viewing. A peculiar and intriguing non-biographical biographical film about the late 60s/early 70s art scene but it’s the tragedy of the protagonist’s life that lingers with the viewer.
The impressive Cheesman house has a dark and sinister history: and it appears that “it doesn't want people”. It does have a new resident in the form of John Russell (George C. Scott), who will have to face the horrors and ominous revelations of the old house's...read more
Third Window Films are releasing two feature length anime films by Mushi Productions, the animation studio founded by Osamu Tezuka, the “Godfather of Manga”, nearly 50 years after they were made. Mushi Productions short films and TV series led to Animerama - feature...read more
Tribal coming-of-age initiation ritual for the Xhosa men take the form of an annual meeting, away from the cities, amidst the mountains of the Eastern Cape. John Trengove's compelling Oscar nominated film depicts the ancient rituals outside the contemporaneity of city...read more
Wim Wenders' debut commercial feature film gets a crisp restoration and reissue after many decades in legal limbo. A welcome start to the career of the "king of the road (movie)" with its combination of abstract characters and understated revelations, this makes for...read more
Themes of teenage angst, abuse, cult indoctrination and loss of personal identity prevail in Eiji Uchida's latest film which follows Lowlife Love (2015). It doesn't sound like the premise for a bizarre and compelling romantic comedy with a unique blend of unrequited...read more
Polina Moshenska was born in Kiev, Ukraine and moved to Thessaloniki, Greece after a chance encounter with her future Greek husband at a film festival. From 2011-12 Polly worked as a First Assistant Director on the film Life Span of the Object in Frame by Oleksandr...read more
The timeless, seminal and iconic television series The Prisoner is 'pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed and numbered' by Alex Cox in this fascinating examination of the intensely discussed cult classic. Cox originally watched all the episodes of The...read more
The fabulous films of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki receive an exemplary release in a bulky box set of cinematic joy. Ten discs take you from the first feature to the proposed final film from the master of droll, dark humour which depicts the under-represented lives...read more
“We are all courageous.” A moving and unflinching examination of the horrors of war to the civilians trapped in their own house, Insyriated offers an exceptional and harrowing commentary on the Syrian conflict for those caught up in events but without weapons or...read more
“What would you do if someone from your past reappeared?” And what would you do if your step-mother, who is a bit like Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, suddenly appears in your life after thirty years, with the intention of starting an endless party in your presence?...read more
“You're a sinner, old man.” “That's why I'm happy to die in this hell-hole.” A war film unlike any other, Tsukamoto Shinya's Fires on the Plain is far more visceral and gruesome than most but at its centre lies a perception about humanity and the extent to which it is...read more
“He's attracted to adversity.” Director Douglas Hickox's succinct and uproarious adaptation of Joe Orton's play manages to make the transition from stage to screen thanks to a well executed adaptation by Clive Exton. Although this is a drama with only four notable...read more
After years of absence from the home viewing scene another film from Jacques Becker receives a welcome release. This one is as beautifully shot and constructed, and indeed as strikingly modern, as the other recent releases, but is distinctly different in its approach....read more
A film about criminals where the audience never witnesses the crime is a succinct and perfectly constructed tale of gang loyalty. Max (Jean Gabin) and Henri Ducros, known to all as Riton (René Dary), meet often at the cafe of Madame Bouche (Denise Clair) where they...read more
The highly engaging and surprisingly visceral Casque d'Or is a romance set amidst the subterfuge and criminality of professional gangs and prostitutes in the hard drinking, hard dancing, hard fighting location of early twentieth century Paris. Georges, now named Manda...read more
Following a recent season of his films at the BFI, Studiocanal has released a number of Jacques Becker films on DVD and Blu-ray. Becker was a protege of the great Jean Renoir and assistant director on many of his most renowned films including here, most appropriately,...read more
Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is already one of the most successful subtitled films to be released in the UK and is on track to become the highest grossing foreign language film of the last five years. It's a dramatic thriller filled complete with subterfuge and...read more
“I'd like of whatever these unbelievers drink.” In many ways this could be the most depressing film yet from Aki Kaurismaki - for no other reason than that he claims that it will be his last. The Other Side of Hope is a relevant modern drama about striving for hope...read more
A “fairytale for computers” conjures memories of music, fashion and film from times past in this reissue of Electric Dreams in all its amusing sweet innocence. In the year following the launch of the personal computer Electric Dreams takes the 'personal' element as...read more
“For once in your life try to use your gift for something positive.” Dreams can prove to be a delight or a nightmare, depending on whether they take the form of a romantic embrace, the prospect of self-provoked apocalypse or a bloodthirsty encounter with a monstrous...read more