The Art of Edie Sedgwick

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I was always intimidated and self-conscious when I talked to her or was in her presence because she was like art. I mean, she was an object that had been very strongly, effectively created. (Robert Rauschenberg, Edie: An American Biography, 1982)

George Plimpton did an excellent job editing all the interviews Jean Stein gathered for her book, Edie: An American Biography. The amazing thing about it is how well the different interview segments come together to tell a cohesive story – but differ in tone enough so you are reminded of all the different characters talking.

It feels as if Warhol himself pressed Play and Record together on the old Sony cassette recorder and just left it at a party for Edie. I would imagine hearing the din of the party goers and the white noise – the echoes and static — from the recorder’s built-in microphone as I read further.

Edie is very thorough. The Addenda to the book is a family tree that begins with Edie’s Great, Great, Great Grandparents. I kept having the refer to the Addenda to keep all the names and relations straight in my head. Having finished the book, I have a deeper appreciation of how the Plimpton and Stein chose to start it:

John P. Marquad, Jr. – Have you ever seen the old graveyard up there in Stockbridge? In one corner is the family’s burial place; it’s called the Sedgwick Pie… The descendants of Judge Sedgwick, from generation unto generation, are all buried with their heads facing out and their feet pointing in toward their ancestor. The legend is that on Judgment Day when they arise and face the Judge, they will have to see no one but Sedgwicks. 

This starting passage is perhaps the root of all of Edie’s problems. It begins as far back as Judge Sedgwick who moved to Massachusetts after the Revolutionary War. The Pie might be a comment of how much the Judge valued the idea of family or it might be the materialization how egotistical and self-important the Judge was.

The book carefully provides readers with an understanding of the circumstances that created Edie Sedgwick. Starting with those that created Edie’s father, Fuzzy, and the tragic results of his needs on his children. You have to be patient though. In Edie you are watching the painter dip his brush into the paint and carefully apply it onto the canvas. The end result maybe exciting but the process can be potentially monotonous. I found myself leaving my place in the book to skip ahead for mentions and photos of Edie.

Mentions of Edie are sprinkled throughout the book but nuggets of Edie don’t appear until the half way point. Half way through the book is when the discussion turns from Babbo, Fuzzy, brothers Bobby and Minty, and Andy Warhol to Edie. You eventually feel like you know Edie (which is the sign of a successful biography) but you must be patient.

The biography works because as you read about Edie you start applying all of that background information you were fed during the first half of the book. It helps that the story of Edie’s family is an interesting one but the payoff for me was that I was using that information to understand why Edie was always late and why it took her so long to put on make up, etc.

When I wrote my review of Factory Girl, I had seen the movie but hadn’t read the book. It was the movie that inspired me to read the book. I had read somewhere that the book inspired the movie. I believe the book is now named, Edie: American Girl.

Having read the book, I can honestly see why Factory Girl’s critics were so upset…

But I would like to add that it is unfair to have discussions regarding depth when you compare a book to its movie. A book has much more flexibility with time. It can be set down, left aside, reread, and returned to. Whereas a movie is a linear experience without the benefit of breaks. Unless you are watching it on DVD or Blu Ray, when you watch a movie you only have one shot at getting the whole picture (pardon the pun).

I still like Factory Girl — though I still believe its problem is that it lacks “art.” And I still think Andy would have liked Factory Girl because it was a “Hollywood movie” with its perfect people and “happy” (over-the-top dramatic) ending.  There’s another point in Popism where Andy playfully ponders which popular star would portray him in a movie about the Factory. He didn’t make Hollywood movies but he was fascinated by them and the stars they made.

There are some that say Andy Warhol made Edie Sedgwick a Superstar. There are others who say that Edie made Andy a household name (gained him a level of notoriety that everyone thought they knew something about). I like to think that there was a chemistry between them. Each made up for the other’s lack of social ability and vision while suffering the same personal insecurities.

I read somewhere (though I can’t remember where) that Andy Warhol asked Lou Reed to write a song for Edie Sedgwick. He commented, “Doesn’t she look like a femme fatale?”

Some might think that Andy was a “homme fatale.”

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