A force so elemental in mass media that someone could reliably label him a hyperobject—like the Internet or a black hole—artist Andy Warhol has never been fully understood as a human by a popular culture he in many ways created.
That’s something filmmaker Andrew Rossi is working on in his six-part Netflix documentary series The Andy Warhol Diaries, executive produced by Ryan Murphy and drawing on the pop artist’s most intimate source material, the diaries he daily contributes to his Amanuensis Pat dictated to Hackett between 1976 and his death in 1987.
There’s no need to rehash Warhol’s epochal 1960s, the backbone of contemporary non-fiction favorites like Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground. “Rather,” Rossi said, “understand how Andy resonates with our present moment through his personal life and through his later artwork, which has been little studied.” The filmmaker often finds himself drawn to cultural pillars, be it 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 as writer, director and executive producer of the nominated series. Long fascinated by Warhol, it took Rossi some time to find his way into history.
“Andy Warhol was always a hero to me and represented a weird kind of safe space growing up and figuring out my sexuality,” Rossi said. When he first read the diaries, the “quagmire of parties and celebrity names” didn’t add up. 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. For me, ‘The Andy Warhol Diaries’ is a love story.”
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 under wraps. Rossi also takes a close look at Warhol’s late career association with rising East Village art star Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Though marked by Warhol’s characteristic wit, the episodes are steeped in “a golden melancholy,” Rossi said, a quality suggested by the theme music — Nat King Cole’s ballad “Nature Boy” — and inherent to the events of Warhol’s later years . when the artist’s very public notoriety was often overshadowed by the silver-plated disco ball.
“The downside to this experience, which is related to this existential threat of HIV/AIDS,” Rossi said, “is related to his feeling that people were calling him a bygone and selling his peers like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein at higher levels Praised, combined with his grief: his partner separates from him and twice attempts suicide, and then his lover Jon Gould dies of HIV/AIDS. All of these things are not explicitly stated in the journals, but they were incorporated into his experience.”
In addition to a series of interviews with celebrities, art curators, former employees and others, Rossi has had access to a wealth of resources from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the artist’s hometown. He also used a remarkable collection of 130,000 negatives that Warhol had taken with his snapshot cameras between 1976 and 1987 and is housed in Stanford Libraries’ Andy Warhol Photography Archive. “It was a revelation,” he said of the database, which launched in 2019.
Technology also plays an unusual role in allowing the series to lend an eerie voice to its subject matter. Using an AI program to mimic Warhol’s flat, affectless speech to read the diary entries had an oddly apt logic. “Andy turned into a robot,” Rossi said, referring to the mechanical Warhol created for a 1982 production that never took place. “He always said robots don’t have feelings and don’t you want to be a robot?”
The voice was a hybrid. Working with the company Resemble AI, the filmmaker used a short clip from an interview Warhol conducted with the BBC to fabricate what ended up combining the AI algorithm and the human voice of actor Bill Irwin. In contrast to the cursory use of AI to recreate the voice of the late narrator Anthony Bourdain at some points in Morgan Neville’s 2021 film Roadrunner, which sparked controversy when it wasn’t originally released, the Netflix series goes candid with the technology. But it’s also a bit clever. “The voice embodies a contradiction in a way,” Rossi said. “Andy is talking to us, but it looks like it’s a robot.”
Ultimately, of course, the material speaks for itself.
“I’ve always seen the diaries like ‘The Canterbury Tales,'” Rossi said. “I think there’s something about the emptiness or simplicity of a lot of the journal entries that reflects that old English style of storytelling… They might as well be medieval. With some of these people, you don’t know who they are, but you can sense the contours of some sort of emotional journey he’s taking with someone he’s seen, his appreciation of the different social standing of people in a given environment.
“In cases like the Diana Ross concert” — Warhol was present at the 1983 Central Park performance of the singer, whose escape from a thunderstorm of biblical proportions was caught on film — “it reaches an almost transcendent, spiritual level.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-08-16/andy-warhol-diaries-documentary ‘Andy Warhol Diaries’ unspools as a love letter to the artist