Back in the ’60s, it was impossible to get into a conversation about Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans without coming around to that pesky question, ”But is it art?” Time, though, has been kind to Warhol (who died in 1987). More and more, those soup cans have an eerie emotional resonance — a hidden vibrancy. It seems clearer now that Warhol, beneath his pop gamesmanship, was offering up his own peculiarly sincere response to life in a mass-market world. Superstar, which features funny and revealing interviews with (among others) Fran Lebowitz, Holly Woodlawn, Roy Lichtenstein, and Bob Colacello, is a lively, collage-style documentary portrait of Warhol and the narcotic media culture he both exploited and helped create.
The most refreshing thing about the movie is that it doesn’t get bogged down in a lot of pedantic niggling over the validity of Warhol’s work. It simply presents this singular figure in his many, overlapping guises: the shy son of Czechoslovakian immigrants who emerged from Pittsburgh to become a fabulously successful commercial artist; the budding pop visionary who turned everything he touched (Campbell’s soup, Marilyn Monroe) into a kind of fool’s-gold icon; the divinely decadent underground ringleader who created the Factory as haven for glamorous outcasts — junkies and drag queens and poor little rich girls seeking thrills and fame; the voyeuristic avant-garde filmmaker whose famously static movies predated punk disaffection by a decade; and , finally, the shameless celebrity hound who liked to pretend he was less of a celebrity than the various names (Liza, Jackie, Mick) with whom he systematically surrounded himself. Behind the endless postures and roles is the man himself, a spotty, pale, asexual wraith hiding beneath his wigs and spectacles. We know now from the various books and diaries that his mono-syllabic-zombie personality was, in fact, a charade, and that makes it doubly fun to watch him interviewed by hapless ’60s journalists desperate for some ”explanation” of his work. The brilliant fluke of Andy Warhol’s career is that he was able to turn his public image into a pure extension of his Pop-art aesthetic. He made his own shallowness seem weirdly deep, and this movie does that shallowness justice.