REVIEW: ‘The Andy Warhol Diaries’ Showcases the Artist Like We’ve Never Seen

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The Andy Warhol Diaries - But Why Tho

The Andy Warhol Diaries is a six-episode limited documentary-styled series based on The Andy Warhol Diaries edited by longtime confidant and friend of Warhol’s Pat Hackett. Directed and written by Andrew Rossi, it aired exclusively on Netflix on Wednesday, March 9th. The six episodes dive into everything from Warhol’s art, his secret relationships, his struggling self-esteem, his businesses, and his perception of self.  With lots of guest stars documenting their experiences working, befriending, or being near Warhol, this is an expansive look into the artist unseen until now.

Whether you’re a huge fan to begin with of his art or his help in cultivating an inclusive LGBTQ+ scene in the 60s or someone who simply wants to know more about the icon, there are lots that The Andy Warhol Diaries offers.

One of the biggest aspects about Warhol’s life that’s delved into is both his personal experiences and sexuality labels as well as his hand in cultivating a safe space for all sorts of non-heterosexual people. For many people familiar with Warhol, I think that The Andy Warhol Diaries still offers a multitude of new and interesting information that helps shape a better understanding of a pop culture figure. Andy self-identified as asexual as early as the 70s and frequently would flip back and forth between labeling his sexual orientation as gay or not to the press.

Between interviews from Jay Johnson, the brother of a long-time partner of Andy’s Jed Johnson, to interviews with a brother of another one of his partners, Jon Gould, there is so much beauty and pain discussed the life as a ‘gay’ man. It’s fascinating to watch how the series unfolds around the many loves and relationships that influenced Warhol or were initiated by his positive, safe spaces at Studio 54 and The Factory.  By cataloging his life from his prominence in the 60s up until near his death in the late 80s, we can follow culture as different eras of acceptance occur.

There are also very important discussions about trans people and the visibility that was allowed within The Factory. Interviews show reporters asserting that people doing drag is the same thing as a trans woman and it still feels really wild that Andy retorts with no, they’re real women on cable networks reaching the masses.

Most notably, The Andy Warhol Diaries does not shy away about whether or not Andy and his people were the ‘right’ kind of queer. I find it important that there were discussions about how the world accepted Andy for the icon he was because he was privileged enough to be wealthy, white, and secluded from the dangers of media mostly.

There were conversations about how his art and his personas that kept him apart from the general homophobia of the eras he was active in despite him still having to massively deal with it. For instance, he was invited to Ronald Regan’s inauguration and interviewed Nancy Regan for his magazine entitled Interview even though the homophobia and HIV/AIDS crisis that sensationalized queerness as wrong by the Regan Administration was depicted and felt both throughout his later 70s art pieces like “Camouflage” and his personal diaries.

As with most documentaries, you can expect a pleathera of people related to the source material to recount, engage, or expand upon a topic. The Andy Warhol Diaries is no exception however it does fantastic with bringing on an incredible array of people to talk about their experiences with or around him to paint a very intimate and personal view of the artist that delves a lot deeper as compared to the published material of The Andy Warhol Diaries.

One person that stands out in particular (on a personal level and in general) is John Waters and his interviews and commentary clips.  John Waters is a very important gay film director who brought unabashed queerness and drag to the big screen. It’s riveting to hear his tales about his personal experience with being open with his sexuality and finding other artistic LGBTQ+ people within Warhol’s social realm. Debbie Harry, the lead singer of the new-wave band Blondie, offers insight as someone who not only worked with him as a model for his famous self-portrait of her but also as a friend.

There’s a very real and honest yearning, pain, and happiness that viewers get to experience as these people share their very close relationships with someone the world only knew through his fabricated personas. The biggest insights are given from Warhol’s Interview magazine editor-in-chief Bob Colacello who paints a picture of Andy as not just the artist, but as the businessman and the person behind it all. Colacello’s insights about how Warhol used work as not just self-expression but as a well to connect because of his deep-rooted loneliness is riveting to listen to.

There’s genuine insight about big decisions like Andy turning to modeling after he was shot to his confliction between consumerism and the art world. The relationship involved a balancing act between presenting to the world the aloof pop artist and the fears of creating art by and for LGBTQ+ people would ever come back to hurt them.

All that said, the biggest takeaway from The Andy Warhol Diaries is that this six-part limited series really focuses on Andy as a person, as close to real as viewers can allow for. It’s not just the string of interviews that encompasses the overarching narrative, it’s the descriptions of the events that unfolded in Andy’s life as told through Andy’s words.  With permission from The Andy Warhol Foundation, an AI voice of Andy narrates the episodes, despite any grievances one may have with that, there’s a certain level of bravado added to the AI as we learn about the robot version of Warhol that was built to help him transcend even further his love of blending creation with its creator.

There were a lot of insecurities that Warhol had about numerous aspects of his life from his appearance to his love life. The deconstruction of Warhol’s personalities is something very unique about The Andy Warhol Diaries. We see the man behind the paintbrush as we are ushered through his own words why he wears wigs, began modeling after he got shot, and his lack of confidence in being able to be someone another person could fully love.

It’s heartbreaking and eye-opening. Coupled with the narration, there is a lot of found footage utilized expertly by Rossi to paint a picture of Warhol through the lens of people who loved him. There are videos of Jed Johnson working at The Factory, his home life living with Warhol, and pictures of their relationship cataloged by people who captured it candidly.

The documentary shows party film clips that showcase him traversing through the New York’s club scene where viewers see the underground culture of LGBTQ+ peoples, drugs, alcohol, and art all intermingle. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes footage of Warhol grappling with his private relationship with Jon Gould. From videos of weekend getaways with Jon to intimate moments shared between them and Gould’s twin brother.

The Andy Warhol Diaries feel like the visual representation of a diary come to life, cracking open the myth and legends of someone seemingly familiar and seeing someone wholly new and changed like any great piece of art does when you look at it too long.

The Andy Warhol Diaries is now streaming on Netflix.


The Andy Warhol Diaries

TL;DR

The Andy Warhol Diaries feel like the visual representation of a diary come to life, cracking open the myth and legends of someone seemingly familiar and seeing someone wholly new and changed like any great piece of art does when you look at it too long.