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Factory Girl

The nemo is a man's sense of his own futility and ephemerality; of his relativity, his comparativeness; of his virtual nothingness.
- John Fowles, The Aristos (1964).

I first heard of bohemian muse Edie Sedgwick in 1996 whilst writing a 21C Magazine profile on maverick physicist Jack Sarfatti. George Hickenlooper’s Factory Girl (official site, IMDB page & Wikipedia entry) has received flak for its portrayal of Edie, Andy Warhol’s Factory, musician Bob Dylan and the “swinging ‘60s”. Despite this, Factory Girl has several themes of interest to Strategic Foresight practitioners. Spoilers warning!

Factory Girl's narrative arc is essentially a lifecycle of Edie’s awakening, challenge and conflict in attempts at maturation, decline, death and apotheosis. The film’s scenes move through a series of Edie’s decisions and reactions, framed retrospectively via a Santa Barbara clinic session: to leave Radcliffe’s art school and move to New York; to meet Pop maestro Andy Warhol and appear in The Factory’s underground productions; have a romantic affair with the Dylanesque ‘Musician’; get manipulated by Warhol and replaced by Nico; fall into drug addiction; and escape to San Francisco. Factory Girl ends with an epigraph about Edie’s death which suggests a failed attempt at remanifestation. Sarfatti and others wonder what Edie could have been.

Factory Girl is thus an example of Johan Galtung’s “biography as microhistory” in Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah’s Macrohistory and Macrohistorians (Westport CN, Praeger Publishers, 1998), p. 231: the personal ‘I’ versus the deluge of sociocultural, civilisational, cosmological and macrohistorical forces. Other ways to conceptualise this are popular understandings of the chaos and complexity sciences, E.J. Gold’s Life In The Labyrinth meme, and process models such as George Gurdjieff’s Law of Seven octave that are aware of hazard and randomness.

For the film’s viewers and perhaps for Edie, these impersonal forces are crystallised in Warhol whose Factory salon is situated on the dissipative edge between exploitative power and transgressive emancipation. Factory Girl might be historically inaccurate and biographically unfair to Warhol here but it intuits the attraction-fascination-magnetism-repulsion dynamic that surrounds “genius”. Initially, Warhol offers Edie a way to transcend her profane existence, to awaken and step into these broader forces as a change agent, to gain the “personal freedom” that novelist John Fowles discusses in The Aristos (1964). Edie’s dramatic impact on fashionistas and journalists also mirrors an inner crystallisation of essence: the “force of character” (James Hillman) as a bulwark against the paparazzi.

Factory Girl’s final third angered many Warhol fans by capturing the flipside: what happens when the dream is over, and when differences trigger a “faultline” or “schism”. The trigger for this is ‘The Musician’ who Warhol perceives as competition, and who Edie senses as an alternative muse for her self-growth and individuation. Feeling betrayed, Warhol removes his attention and discards Edie for a new chanteuse, Nico. Edie first tries to regain Warhol’s trust through self-degradation at the hand of The Factory’s manipulative film crew, then has a reaction formation to Warhol’s charisma and “identity theft” of her dreams, and finally spirals into drug-fuelled oblivion at the Chelsea Hotel when the parade has passed her by. This narrative arc evokes Anthony Storr's study of charisma and prophetic gurus, Feet Of Clay (1997). Warhol's "exchange" with Edie is ultimately revealed in the film as an exploitative form of vampyrism, Warhol's defence against Fowles' nemo.

Edie is given at least two opportunities by different co-journeyers to escape Warhol, her dark family past and her fate. The co-journeyers act as alarm clocks and mirrors to warn and reflect back to Edie her trajectory. The first is a Radcliffe college friend, whose photograph frames Edie's innocence versus her self-dissolution, and who introduces her to the second: 'The Musician'. In several important scenes Edie and 'The Musician' debate their personal values, authenticity, the role of political awareness and social protest, and their respective priorities. For me, the pivotal scene in Factory Girl involves a confrontation in which 'The Musician' attempts a Gurdjieffian Shock channelled through Allan Watts' detachment: he throws a treasured motorcycle off a pier in an attempt to show Edie that she must wake up now. But this isn't enough to overcome her fashionista ego-inflation and infatuation with Warhol nor her "consensus trance" (Charles T. Tart, Milton Erikson). The feedback loop takes time to occur, and by the film's end Edie recounts in the Santa Barbara clinic room how she is scarred, yet more grounded, and even hopeful about the future.

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