This Week on TCM Underground: CIAO! MANHATTAN (1972)

CIAO MANHATTAN

A drifter from Texas takes a job looking after a self-destructive heiress.

CIAO! MANHATTAN (1972)

Cast: Edie Sedgwick (Susan Superstar), Wesley Hayes (Butch), Isabel Jewell (Mummy), Geoffrey Briggs (Geoffrey), Paul America (Paul), Tom Flye (Tom), Gabriel Lampa (Mario), Pat Hartley (Yoli), “Baby” Jane Holzer (Charla), Viva (Diana), David Weisman (David), Roger Vadim (Dr. Braun), Brigid Berlin (Woman in Toilet), Christian Marquand (Entrepreneur), Jean Margouleff (Mr. Verdecchio) Allen Ginsberg (Himself). Directors: David Weisman, John Palmer. Screenplay/story: David Weisman, John Palmer, Genevieve Charbon, Chuck Wein, Robert Benard. Cinematography: John Palmer, Kjell Rostad. Music: Gino Piserchio.

Color – 84 min.

Showtime: Saturday, March 21st, 11:00pm PST/2:00am EST.

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“Anyway, I’m a star.”

CIAO! MANHATTAN (1972) is often remembered, if erroneously, as an Andy Warhol movie… one of those directionless yet oddly compelling short and feature-length subjects the Pop Art capo directed and/or produced and/or just made happen in and around his Manhattan “Factory” between 1963 and 1969. While not a Warhol movie, per se, CIAO! MANHATTAN was the work of ex-Factory members, most if not all of whom were no longer on speaking terms with Warhol by the time shooting began in the spring of 1967. Star of the show was Warhol’s former muse, Edie Sedgwick, an American heiress and Ivy League apostate whom Warhol had envisioned as his ticket to Hollywood… Marlene Dietrich to his Josef von Sternberg. A wide-eyed gamine who dyed (or spray painted, depending on which story you believe) her hair silver to match Warhol’s wig, Sedgwick was articulate, charismatic, and fashionable; a counter-culture “It Girl,” the Queen of the Factory, and “a Youthquaker” according to Vogue columnist Diana Vreeland. On Warhol’s arm, Sedgwick breached the American mainstream in September 1965 as a guest on THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW but a steady diet of methamphetamine and la dolce vita took their toll, frying her Mensa-ready brain and queering her marketability. Having run through an $80,000 inheritance in six months, Sedgwick broke with Warhol and moved into the Chelsea Hotel; conflicting stories have her trysting with Bob Dylan (and aborting his child) and Dylan’s friend Bob Neuwirth. And nearly burning the place down while high. Twice. 

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In the spring of 1967, TV sound engineer turned film producer Bob Margouleff and start-up directors John Palmer and David Weisman began shooting what they intended to be “an above-ground underground film,” starring Sedgwick and another Factory trouper, Paul Johnson, whose impossible handsomeness had prompted Warhol to rechristen him Paul America. As if in parody of the Academy Award-winning Claude Lelouch hit A MAN AND A WOMAN (1966), Sedgwick and her leading man capered all over Manhattan, their movements captured in monochromatic verité. (Among the setpieces were an aquatic orgy in the swimming pool of Al Roon’s Health Club in the basement of the Riverside Hotel and the Easter Sunday 1967 Central Park Be-In, for which Beat poet Allen Ginsberg contributes a cameo.) Principal photography was halted when Paul America stole a car belonging to producer Margouleff’s father (who had ponied up most, if not all, of the $47,000 budget, and was playing a part in the film); the filmmakers later found America in a Michigan jail, where the remainder of his scenes were filmed. As for Sedgwick, she spiraled further into narcotics dependency and was institutionalized on the order of her scandalized family (two of her brothers had previously committed suicide, having been plagued for years with mental health issues). Sedgwick later abandoned Manhattan to rehabilitate herself on her family ranch in Santa Barbara. Filming of CIAO! MANHATTAN was shut down indefinitely as the production team splintered. In the summer of 1968, Andy Warhol was shot and gravely injured by disgruntled hanger-on, Valerie Solanas, an act of unexpected violence that had the effect of stilling the revolving door policy of Warhol’s Factory. 

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Production of CIAO! MANHATTAN was revived in 1970 when Palmer (who had in the interim jobbed for Billy Wilder as a focus puller on THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, 1970) and Weisman pitched to Sedgwick a fresh angle on the project. Her hair grown out and returned to its natural brunette hue yet boasting new breast implants, Sedgwick agreed. Filming resumed that autumn with a new story plotted to wrap around the existing footage, telling the tale of a one-time underground superstar in tragic decline. Clearly inspired by such Hollywood Gothics as Wilder’s SUNSET BLVD. (1950) and Robert Aldrich’s WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) – hell, possibly even Donald Wolfe’s copycat thriller SAVAGE INTRUDER (1970), which had thrown an acting bone to a dissolute Miriam Hopkins - CIAO! MANHATTAN cast former Pre-Code film actress Isabel Jewell as the neglectful mother of “Susan Superstar” (Jewell had in her lifetime her own troubles with substance abuse and died, albeit of natural causes, less than six months after Sedgwick) and French filmmaker Roger Vadim as a dodgy family physician prescribing Vitamin-B shots and taking his payment in cheap feels. Playing Joe Gillis to Sedgwick’s Norma Desmond was non-actor Wesley Hayes, as a Texas hayseed who becomes caretaker to the poor little rich girl. Shooting on the former Arcadia estate of California pioneer Elias “Lucky” Baldwin centered on an empty swimming pool, provided CIAO! MANHATTAN with some of its more grimly iconic moments. If Palmer and Weisman wanted a wild finish for their joint venture, they got all that and more when Sedgwick died in her sleep in November 1971, secondary to acute barbiturate intoxication. She was 28 years old.

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Interest in Sedgwick’s short, sad, and arguably fabulous life was revived with a 1982 oral biography compiled by Jean Stern and George Plimpton, which recast her as a Pop Art martyr. In 1982, Paul America, whose own descent into the maelstrom had brought him to homelessness in Florida, was struck by a car and killed. By 1987, Warhol too was gone, his curious corporeality reduced, like Sedgwick’s, to two dimensions and three colors. In Oliver Stone’s 1991 Jim Morrison biopic THE DOORS, Sedgwick was played by Jennifer Rubin (chronicling that interlude in her life after she had returned to California, in between the halves of CIAO! MANHATTAN) and in George Hickenlooper’s FACTORY GIRL (2006) by Sienna Miller. Surprisingly, given their often excessive and reckless lifestyles, the majority of Factory troupers and apostates lived into something like old age; some even prospered. CIAO! MANHATTAN producer Bob Margouleff parlayed his experience in sound engineering into a profitable – and legendary – partnership with musician Stevie Wonder. David Weisman (who had in his youth been mentored by both Federico Fellini and Otto Preminger) later went on to produce such films as KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN (1985) and IRONWEED (1987) and assemble his own photographic eulogy for Sedgwick, titled Edie: Girl on Fire.

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Despite the fact that I read that other Factory Girl Ultra Violet’s autobiography back in the late 80s and picked up a copy of the I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996) soundtrack in the late 90s, I was never very drawn to Warhol or his scene. As such, I avoided CIAO! MANHATTAN and most things Warholian and Sedgewickian for most of my life — which is very near, at this point, double the onescore and eight that Edie Sedgewick brokered for herself. As happens with many things I avoid in a kneejerk way, I found when I liked CIAO! MANHATTAN a lot more than I had expected to and even found myself oddly moved. More interesting to me than the aforementioned undercurrent of Hollywood Gothic is the prevailing vibe of technology-driven paranoia that we more readily associate with such films as THE ANDERSON TAPES (1971), KLUTE (1971), THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974), and THE CONVERSATION (1974). And the visual motif of fine art as a sort of mockery of our highest aspirations, when combined with the logline of a beautiful woman spiraling into madness, looks ahead to the Italian psychothrillers known as gialli (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, WHAT ARE THESE STRANGE DROPS OF BLOOD ON JENNIFER’S BODY, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK, AUTOPSY) that started to become a going concern around the time e time that Edie Sedgwick cashed out. But what stays with me post-several viewings now is the sense of sadness and the palpable feeling of loss — not just in death, but for the passing of time and the turning of corners — that CIAO! MANHATTAN has in spades. 

1 Response This Week on TCM Underground: CIAO! MANHATTAN (1972)
Posted By Ben Martin : March 23, 2015 1:59 pm

Well I’m glad I watched it. Still, the movie seemed to me to have difficulty rising above being a spliced together hodgepodge of clippings and uncompleted footage which probably wouldnt have turned into much to begin with.
That said, it is an absolutely riveting socialogical study which in a way stands as a redefinition of the possibilities of film as a biographical medium. I was moved and in similar ways to you – I had a palpable sense of sadness as well. and though I expected to feel embarrassed for Ms. Sedgewick, I didnt. Though its hard not to feel as if she were exploited somehow. I assume it was her idea to be topless through most fo the new footage – showing off her surgically enhanced breasts. But still…
So I’m glad it was made and I am glad I watched it. I can’t think of anything quite like it. Just one last thing: do you agree that the newer footage – all the scenes with Wesley Hayes and Jeff Briggs is pretty lame? It was all I could do to keep from fast forwarding through their scenes. If only a writer with a tad more talent and imagination would been invovled, and actors too who were drastically less annoying – a lot of the newer footage wouldnt have seemed like so much padding.

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