Thursday, February 16, 2006

Why it's probably impossible, but crucial, to get Edie right

As the refrain went for years within her inner circle, I'm worried about Edie Sedgwick.

Our lives are inexplicably entwined, mine and Edie's, though you'd never know it on sight. Bad enough she's maligned to this day, diluted to the basest form and thus ridiculed as a drug addicted glamour girl with too much energy and trust fund to spare. But that's not the worst.

Now they've gone and made a film about her, starring Sienna Miller.

By this time next year, Miller's Edie face from Factory Girl will be splashed across baby-tee's everywhere. Half-blonde, half-brown pixie-do hair will be all the rage and you won't be able to leave home without seeing leopard skin print hats and jackets.

My best loved, best kept secret will be a marketing commodity.

Back when I was a sad, lonely eighth grader hiding in books, I found Edie in one of them: Jean Stein and George Plimpton's Edie: An American Biography. That first year, I read it three or four times. Since then, probably twenty.

She was everything I was, nothing I was, and everything I'd ever hoped to become: alive, vibrant, living on a precipice with an edge only she could navigate, soulful, crazy, intense, the muse of artists and rock stars.

She made the Chelsea burn; what's more subversive and otherworldly than that??

With her big grey car, endless parties on money that seemingly came from nowhere, Edie represented every ounce of glamour and excitement imagineable when you're thirteen. The hope to become part.

Despite all that, Edie Sedgwick was the person most alone in an overfilled room.

Everywhere she searched, from California to New York and back again, she never found what she desperately needed. Not even sure she knew exactly what it was, or what to do with it when she found it. You knew any life beyond 30 would be superfluous for Edie. Superfluous, and dreadfully boring. Because self-created icons don't ever float down; instead, they hit the ground - if they ever fall at all - with a deafening thud.

People miss the point when calling her just a drug addict, or self-promoter.

Edie Sedgwick was really a little girl lost.

I saw that clearly enough back in the early 80's, being one myself.

The drugs. The men. The fashion shoots, parties, shocking anecdotes and perennial willing free-falls: they were all cries for help from someone who really wanted and needed validation for more than what she represented or how she looked. She wanted to be truly loved, and never felt that - from her family, the Factory team, Dylan, Neuwirth, or anyone else who found it fashionable to keep her around for awhile. Most of all, she needed to find a way to love herself.

Looking at her various incarnations - the Youthquaker phase, the hardened drugged-out Factory days, and finally those hopeful, semi-healthy days before her death - you see one constant: an intelligent, curious innocence. Even after everything she saw and did, she still somehow held onto a bit of naivete, a sense of goodness and trust in the world.

I don't think this biopic will be willing or able to recreate that.

Being an Edie fan was always like being in a secret club; most people didn't know or care about her. When in my 20's, I suggested the book to my best friend. A responsible, reliable person, she kept that book for nearly ten years. I had to keep begging to have it back. Finally, she grudgingly returned it, only to tell me later her dad scoured heaven and earth to find another copy. She was clearly as affected by Edie's story as I was. Through the years, I've infrequently come across other fans. We shared a proprietary protection of someone we viewed as a rare flawed gem.

Despite her days in Warhol's Factory, despite the sad excess of a clearly damaged girl's last monologues in Ciao!Manhattan, she was truly worthy of so much more than a cheap distillation. Or a likely lousy biopic that will turn her into an even bigger 60's iconic caricature than she's somehow become, but will sell more cool accessories. Used and abused, even 30 years after her death.

That's a crime.
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