‘Andy Warhol Diaries’ unfolds like a love letter to the artist

A force so elemental in mass media that someone could reliably call it a hyperobject – like the internet or a black hole – artist Andy Warhol was never fully understood as a human being by any popular culture that he created in many ways.

That’s something filmmaker Andrew Rossi strives to change in his six-part Netflix documentary series ‘The Andy Warhol Diaries’, produced by Ryan Murphy, which draws from the pop artist’s innermost sources. , the diaries he dictated daily to his amanuensis Pat Hackett between 1976 and his death in 1987.

No need to rehash the Warhol-era 1960s, the backbone of such recent non-fiction favorites as Todd Haynes’ “The Velvet Underground.” “But rather,” Rossi said, “understanding how Andy resonates with our current moment through his personal life and through his later artworks, which have rarely been studied.” The filmmaker is often drawn to cultural stalwarts, whether it’s the New York Times in “Page One” or the Metropolitan Museum of Art and its annual fashion gala on the “First Monday in May.”

The series received four Emmy nominations, including three for Rossi for writing, directing, and as executive producer of the nominated series. Long fascinated by Warhol, it took Rossi time to find his way into history.

“Andy Warhol was always a hero to me and represented a kind of weird safe space as I grew up and discovered my sexuality,” Rossi said. His first time reading the papers, his “swamp of parties and celebrity names” didn’t connect. But when Rossi started working on the project in 2011, he returned to these pages. “I was shocked to see these incredibly personal and vulnerable statements from Andy. ‘The Andy Warhol Diaries’ is a love story to me.”

The series arc follows Warhol through his romantic relationships with Jed Johnson, a designer who lived with the artist for 12 years, and Jon Gould, the Paramount executive who tried to keep the nature of their relationship secret. Rossi also takes a close look at Warhol’s late-career ties to rising East Village art star Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Though marked by Warhol’s signature wit, the episodes are imbued with a “golden-tinged melancholy”, Rossi said, a quality reflected in the theme music – Nat King Cole’s ballad “Nature Boy” – and inherent to the events of Warhol’s later years, where the artist’s very public stardom was often caught in the shadow of the silver disco ball.

“The underside of that experience tied to this existential threat of HIV/AIDS,” Rossi said, “tied to his feelings that people called him a has-been and his peers, like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein, sell at higher prices, linked to his heartache: his domestic partner breaks up with him and tries to commit suicide twice, then his lover Jon Gould dies of HIV/AIDS All of these things are not explicitly said in the newspapers, but they are steeped in his experience.

Along with a series of interviews with celebrities, art curators, former associates and others, Rossi gained access to a mother lode of resources from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the film’s hometown. ‘artist. He also used a remarkable collection of 130,000 negatives that Warhol made on his instant cameras between 1976 and 1987, housed in the Andy Warhol Photo Archive at Stanford Libraries. “It was an eye opener,” he said of the database, which launched in 2019.

Technology also plays an unusual role in allowing the series to give an odd voice to its subject matter. Using an AI program to replicate Warhol’s flat, ineffectual speech to read diary entries had oddly fitting logic. “Andy turned into a robot,” Rossi said, alluding to the mechanical Warhol, created for a 1982 production that never happened. “He always said robots don’t have feelings and you don’t want to be a robot?”

The voice was a hybrid. The filmmaker worked with the Resemble AI company, using a brief excerpt from an interview Warhol did with the BBC, to craft what ultimately combined the AI ​​algorithm and actor Bill Irwin’s human voice. . Unlike the short-lived use of AI to recreate the voice of the late storyteller Anthony Bourdain in a few spots for Morgan Neville’s 2021 film “Roadrunner,” which caused controversy while initially undisclosed, the Netflix series is outspoken about technology. But it’s also a bit tricky. “The voice embodies a contradiction in a way,” Rossi said. “Andy talks to us, but that means he’s a robot.”

Ultimately, of course, the material speaks for itself.

“I always looked at newspapers like ‘The Canterbury Tales,'” Rossi said. “I think there’s something about the emptiness or simplicity of a lot of the diary entries that reflects that old English style of storytelling… They might as well be from the Middle Ages. Some of these people, you don’t know who they are, but you can feel the outlines of some sort of emotional journey that he’s going on with someone he’s seen, his assessment of the different social status of people in a given environment.

“In instances like the Diana Ross concert” – Warhol was present for the singer’s performance in Central Park in 1983, whose preemption by a thunderstorm was captured on film with biblical grandeur – “she reaches a spiritual level almost transcendent.”

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