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Published: Monday, 7/31/2006

Master of his image: Artist Andy Warhol to be the subject of a PBS biography

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

PASADENA, Calif. - Famous artist. Image-conscious celebrity. Church-going mama's boy. Filmmaker Ric Burns (New York: A Documentary Film) said all these attributes, in varying degrees, applied to Andy Warhol and made him an ideal subject for an upcoming American Masters biography.

"I can think of no artist who is more successful at presenting and perpetuating an image of himself than Andy Warhol," Burns said. "In addition to creating paintings and films and working in a number of media, he also created an image of himself. That image was possibly his greatest work of art."

Burns' Andy Warhol, a two-part four-hour film, airs under the American Masters banner in September on PBS.

"There is no story more important to tell about this huge cultural transformation of the 1960s in all its complexity than the story of Andy Warhol," Burns said. "That's why we really wanted to take it on."

Burns wrote, produced, and directed the film, which makes extensive use of the archives at Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum and includes interviews with art critic Dave Hickey, author Stephen Koch, writer George Plimpton, and Warhol's brother, John Warhola. Musician Laurie Anderson narrates the documentary, and artist Jeff Koons appears as the voice of Warhol.

"Andy Warhol was, in terms of the simple graphic talent, his ability to draw, perhaps the most successful American artist of his generation," Koch said. "There's another little secret about him: He was also probably the best-read, intellectually best-informed artist of his generation, something he kept very secret because it wasn't part of the image that he was a reader."

Burns said the image Warhol cultivated, which the artist referred to as "putting on his Andy," was important to him and an important part of his legacy.

"He was going bald from the time he was 19 years old. He had the blotches [on his skin]. He carefully made himself up for the world starting really around 1962, just as American mass culture, a culture obsessed with celebrity, began to come online," Burns said. "He understood the power of image, arguably as no human being in the 20th century did, and he cultivated that image in himself."

Burns said the film will look at the private sides of Warhol's life, including his devotion to church and his mother, Julia, and his homosexuality, but the documentary will spend more time exploring Warhol as cultural archaeologist, "Andy, the transformer of himself, the transformer of his culture, the transformer of art in the 1960s."

PBS' Great Performances offers a retrospective of opera superstar Beverly Sills on Nov. 23, but when she spoke with TV critics this week, she seemed ready to join our team.

"I think we have to fix the quality of what we're watching on television," she said as part of a soliloquy about the lack of arts coverage in current media. "My husband has not been well and I visit him every day, and I've been watching the television with him from 9 a.m. through to lunchtime and, god, it's moronic. It really is. Some of it is an insult to my intelligence. And I don't think I'm that intelligent, but today you don't have to be a performer. It's not necessary to sing or dance or act. It isn't even necessary to be attractive."

Sills continued.

"I would like to see one young man come on the television screen clean-shaven. I'll take a beard, but why do they have to look like bums and chew gum? And I don't want to name any names, but some of the women today who appear on talk shows [have] absolutely nothing to say and when they do say something, you regret it."

But she wasn't done.

"You know, to come on with their little dogs. What's the talent to that?" Sills said. "I don't get it. What am I supposed to be looking at? It's not even attractive."

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the most entertaining astrophysicist you're ever likely to encounter, signs on as the new host of NOVA Science Now this fall. In the Oct. 3 season premiere, Tyson explores the possibility of an asteroid strike on Earth.

"In 2029 on Friday the 13th in April, [an asteroid called] Apophis is a certainty to come closer to Earth than our communication satellites," he said. "It will be the largest thing to come that close in recorded history. So you sit back and watch that shot across our bow. That trajectory will determine whether or not it will hit us seven years later."

Whoa! Hit us? In about 30 years? Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart said it doesn't have to be doom and gloom.

"The message here is that we've got to take responsibility for future generations. And because of our technology, for the first time in the history of life in the universe, we can literally stop this phenomena from happening anymore," Schweickart said. "We can shape the universe, the local universe at least, for the first time. That's part of our capability. The question is: Are we still dinosaurs in spite of our brains and our technology, or are we going to take that final step of assuming that responsibility? And that's why the public needs to really start thinking about this, because we've got to beat on our congresspeople and others to make sure we do that final step."

Hands raised -- anyone possibly against saving humanity from extinction?

  • Turner Classic Movies will air uncut, uninterrupted, TV-MA-rated versions of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II on Aug. 6 beginning at 8 p.m.

  • Fox has renewed So You Think You Can Dance and Hell's Kitchen for their third seasons, likely to air next summer.

  • The online Lost game, The Lost Experience, will supposedly reveal the meaning of Hurley's numbers from the show (4 8 15 16 23 42). To join the game and pursue the clues that will lead to the revelation, visit www.insidetheexperience.com/2006/07/fafasd.html.

    The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen, the TV editor for the Post-Gazette, is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles.

    Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com.



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