Monday, September 24, 2012

Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up

I have been a fan of Andy Warhol longer than I have been a fan of the Beatles. As a pre-teen I decorated my closet door in my old room with Warhol photos and art. After I had "discovered" the Beatles in the spring of 1980 I learned more about their lives and grew fascinated by the early films of Yoko Ono. She would later work with John Lennon and he himself produced his own experimental films. Although I never owned a camera I was fascinated by the idea of filmmaking. In the sixties Warhol produced dozens of his own underground films and I was more interested in his work than I was in Ono's.
Ondine, the stage name of Bob Olivo, a star of many of Warhol's early films, visited Toronto in early 1983. I had read about his appearance in the newspaper and wanted to meet him. I almost didn't get the chance because I was underage (only sixteen) and all the films were restricted. That was my first encounter with a Warhol insider. 
Since that time in 1983 I have collected and read many books about Andy Warhol. Some of these reviews have even been reproduced as my LiveJournal entries or reviews. Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up by Bob Colacello is one of the books that I bought years ago yet had left unread. I remember that I bought it as a discounted remainder, and even left the receipt inside: purchased on 24 April 1991 for $8.99 (regular $29.95). Holy Terror is by far the most important work about the Warhol seventies ever written by an insider. Colacello was editor of Warhol's Interview magazine for thirteen years and as an intimate member of Warhol's inner circle he effectively was on-call for the pop artist 24 hours each day.
Colacello worked at Interview throughout the disco druggy seventies and kept himself sane and pretty much sober throughout his time there. Like Warhol himself, Colacello kept a diary and used it as his main reference when writing Holy Terror. The Colacello diary captures the frustrations of having to work for this particular artist, not only his own frustrations but also his colleagues'. Warhol had a love/hate relationship with everybody, although more accurately it should be called hate/love. You would be lucky to receive even a backhanded compliment from him. Warhol can best be described as an indecisive child who never took responsibility for anything, and I mean anything. Not responsible for anything he said, even if you repeated to others what he only seconds ago told you in person; not responsible for his art, for he often employed others to do the work for him; and not even responsible for his own health, as he always ignored his symptoms and the advice of doctors, the repercussions of which eventually led to his own death.
Warhol was manipulative and loved to pit people against one another and stand by to watch the fallout. As I read Holy Terror I couldn't help but ask myself, constantly, if everyone was so unhappy and always complaining about working for Andy Warhol, why put up with it? Quit! Warhol's employees tortured themselves having to work for him, and never stopped complaining about it. The answer is more complicated, which is typical with anything Warhol. I don't doubt that many if not all of his employees stayed on because of the perks their jobs offered: meeting celebrities every day, partying at the most exclusive clubs with the rich and famous, going out at someone else's expense, making friends with the jet set, and being part of the coolest inner circle in all of New York City. No wonder Warhol could get away with paying his staff only minimum wage; the perks alone made the staff feel like socialite European royalty in exile.
Warhol required constant companionship because he was too afraid to face the world on his own. He suffered a massive insecurity complex all his life and his art reflected that:
"He liked to hide his essence, in art as well as life, showing the public only a cool and compelling surface image."
Thus his famous entourages were anything but an ego trip and were necessary for his own professional survival. Colacello really worked two jobs for Warhol: in addition to editing Interview he also represented him in the constant quest of finding new portrait commissions. Warhol never asked anyone if he could paint his or her portrait; he merely charmed the beautiful people at parties and dinners while Colacello and others were nagged endlessly by the Prince of Pop to "pop the question" to them at $25,000 per shot. Working with Warhol was a constant string of constants and an endless string of endless nagging, which reflects his repetitive artistic style quite fittingly.
Holy Terror was, in spite of all the documented eye-rolling and hair-pulling-out frustration, often a hilarious read, as Colacello would record Warhol's exact words and show how he could say one thing to someone and then contradict himself in the next sentence. Paulette Goddard was a constant companion of Warhol during the eighties and they would appear at dinners and clubs together, fueling rumours of their engagement. Warhol was star-struck and fawned over the jewels she always wore. I laughed out loud at the way Colacello described Goddard at one event:
"Paulette was a walking Gold Show in herself: wearing a body-hugging gold lamé gown with an Egyptian tombful of gold around her neck, studded with big rubies."
However once she went home for the evening Warhol was quick to tell Colacello "I can't stand her, Bob!".
Warhol's employees never knew where they stood with him, yet a few in his deepest inner circle knew they were invaluable to the company and would never lose their jobs. They knew that Warhol was genuinely clueless to many of the vital operations of his own company (known as the Factory) and that if they were fired the company would collapse.
After looking at a series of Warhol self-portraits, Colacello finally understood why he and his coworkers committed themselves to working for such a holy terror:
"But there was something else in those self-portraits too, in the eyes especially, and you only saw it if you looked long enough: the fear, pain, and sadness that were always there, no matter how much Andy tried to silkscreen them out. And it was because I could see that, because I knew it was there, because I felt that whatever anguish I was going through, or Andy was putting me through, he was going through, and putting himself through, ten times more--that's why I stayed. I think that's why Fred [Hughes] stayed too. And maybe he stayed to the end, unlike me, because he understood it better than I did all along."
However after thirteen years of putting up with working for a child-boss for minimal pay, Colacello decided to quit. He still maintained all his business friendships and he and Warhol would often see each other at the same events. Warhol often asked him to return to the Factory, a rare example of taking direct action instead of asking one of his employees to ask Colacello to return. It is this time, during the mid-eighties, that Holy Terror races along. Colacello was no longer working for Warhol so he had less to write about. Colacello could write about a night out at Studio 54 with Warhol and all the beautiful people for thirty pages or more, but once he left the Factory his encounters with the pop artist grew less frequent. I found it very sad to read again how Warhol died, how careless his postoperative hospital care was. It was though of great interest to read about the aftermath regarding the will and the massive Sotheby's auction, that cleared out Warhol's OCD hoard of a house.
In spite of all his moaning and indecision about leaving Warhol, Holy Terror was Colacello's affectionate tribute to the artist. Other memoirs have been sensational and flimsy on the facts. Colacello kept diaries during his entire time at the Factory and underneath all the madness are threads of love and respect. Others might be bitter ex-employees. I believe that Colacello considers it a privilege to have worked for Andy Warhol.  

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