I Shot Andy Warhol, the story of the radical feminist and Warhol fringe figure Valerie Solanas, who seriously wounded the artist in 1968, is an exemplary and dynamic work that goes about as far as a narrative film can in both analyzing a complex personality and portraying a cultural scene.
The general view of Solanas, who died destitute in 1988, a year later than Warhol, is of a lunatic lesbian acting in revenge for being spurned by the Factory. There is truth to that explanation, but much more to the story as well.
By 1966, Solanas (Lili Taylor) is living on Manhattan rooftops and writing her defining work, The SCUM Manifesto, a revolutionary tract for her one-member Society for Cutting Up Men. Along the same lines, she pens a subversive play, Up Your Ass, which she determines only Andy Warhol (Jared Harris) can produce. Butting in on the invitation of her transvestite friend, eventual Warhol superstar Candy Darling (Stephen Dorff), Solanas manages to get a copy to him. But her pushy personality and guerilla attire don’t jibe with the drugged and zoned-out Factory crowd and its taste for artifice. Warhol tries to placate her with a screen test and one actual film appearance (in I, a Man), but soon has Solanas excommunicated from the Factory.
First-time feature director Mary Harron has said that what takes place in the picture is about ‘95% real,’ and a tendency toward scrupulous accuracy tinged with critique pertains to the portrait of the Factory. But the main opposition is between Solanas and Warhol, the first abrasive, loud and confrontational, the other wimpy, mild-mannered and masterfully evasive. Without question, the picture rides on Taylor’s stupendous lead performance, agitated, vibrant and resourceful. John Cale, a survivor of the Warhol-produced Velvet Underground, contributes an excellent score.