by Dana Reinoos
I know a lot of rich people, but they’re pigs. You just can’t bear to be around them.
-Edie Sedgwick in Poor Little Rich Girl
To tell Andy’s story, you must also tell the story of Andy’s women: beautiful, fashionable, often tragic, and Edie Sedgwick crucial among them. Edie showed up at The Factory in March 1965, a 21-year-old model with a depleted trust fund and a near-parodically posh mid-Atlantic accent. Later that same month, Andy Warhol would make two movies starring Edie: Poor Little Rich Girl and Beauty No. 2, released in June and July 1965, near-twins that speak the same sad, secret language of the doomed.
The unscripted Poor Little Rich Girl, one of Warhol’s first non-static films, opens on Edie’s sleeping face, out of focus, for three minutes, her dark, highly-arched brows and thick smear of black eyeliner clearly visible through the fuzz. Then she awakens and mumbles “fuck you.” The first half of the film, documenting Edie on her own in her apartment, remains out of focus; it turns out there was a problem with the lens. But the fuzziness seems to radiate from Edie; she mostly ignores the camera as she does calisthenics, puts on makeup, and smokes and smokes and smokes, all without urgency or purpose, a blurry smear of unhurried motion.
But the fuzz is also cruel – Edie is a real woman, not the shadow we can just barely make out in the first half. So Poor LIttle Rich Girl restarts in the middle with an in-focus camera and offscreen commentary by fellow Superstar Chuck Wein. Edie gets high, her eyes glassy and bright, and complains about the dry mouth she gets from her pills; she takes an annoying phone call from a man who “wants to see me”; she gets high again and pulls clothes out of her closet to try on for her date. As always, Andy says nothing, a silent witness to Edie’s monologues. At the end of the film, when the title is intoned — “Poor Little Rich Girl,” each syllable over-enunciated — Edie makes direct, scornful eye contact with the camera. She knows what you think about her, and she doesn’t care. She doesn’t have that luxury. Just for a moment, Edie seizes ownership over her portrayal.
Edie wears the same lingerie in Beauty No. 2, and Chuck Wein is present offscreen again. “Edith” Sedgwick, as she’s sardonically introduced, is joined sitting in bed by Gino Piserchio (and for a time, a sweet Doberman). Here, she drinks and smokes while Piserchio and Wein interrogate her about everything, including her favored ostentatious earrings, her perceived narcissism, and her authenticity, until Wein begins reading a dirty story and Edie and Piserchio start to fool around. Unlike the relative freedom she has in Poor Little Rich Girl, here Edie is picked apart from outside, forced to defend everything about herself. This is Edie’s public face, shining and laughing by force for the benefit of these men who talk around her and about her. Wein eventually directs the sexplay and berates Edie for not enjoying it enough. The male aggression by the end of the film is enough to worry about Edie. And Andy watches, silent as always.
After Edie fell out with Andy later in 1965, she no longer wanted him to screen their films together. It’s understandable, considering Edie’s raw vulnerability onscreen (tragically echoed in 1972’s more outright exploitative Ciao! Manhattan). Edie was proto-Kardashian, revealing her deepest fears to the public while attempting to remain the idealized version of herself (though Edie is more unguarded than any Kardashian has ever been). Melissa Painter’s short 2010 essay film Edie Girl on Fire attempts to further recontextualize Edie apart from Andy; as mirror-twin to Poor Little Rich Girl, Painter’s film pairs photos from Edie’s modeling career with recordings from late in her life in which Edie tells her own story. It’s tragic to hear her voice, aged so much by her mid-20s, but you can still hear that spark through the cracks.
But I love watching Edie in these two Andy Warhol films; her bright smile and steely determination in the face of mockery reminds me of girls I have known, girls I have loved, girls I have been. Beautifully human girls.