Last week, I started watching the limited series documentary on Netflix, “The Andy Warhol Diaries.”
I love how the show’s creators have constructed and paced the narrative. They even used AI to reconstruct Warhol’s actual voice reading from his diaries — which he did not write in his own hand. Instead, he dictated his living journal over the phone to Pat Hackett from 1976 to 1987.
Dictating his journal to someone else is another performative aspect of how Warhol created art and put distance between himself and the final ‘piece’ for public view.
From a historical and documentary standpoint, the amount of work that went into collecting the archival images and video footage from the time is breathtaking.
I admit to being fascinated with the queer history of the 70s and 80s, and in particular, the way sexuality was performed and presented — some of which could never happen today. It’s as if the narrowness of heteronormativity of those decades blocked the ‘straight-cis’ gaze from seeing the true nature of Warhol’s queer perspective.
Warhol’s personal story is also sad.
From a queer perspective, I see a person who, while so public, still concealed much of his truth. This is not unexpected for the time he lived in. He wasn’t attractive and never fit in. He sat outside the margins doubly so which is perhaps part of his genius—and also his allure.
Thanks to the archival video footage, so often when Warhol was interviewed, he would gently touch his lips with his fingers.
Touching your lips unconsciously is a parasympathetic nervous system trigger to increase the feeling of calm and safety. Perhaps this was Warhol’s way of creating a bubble of safety in the public eye to be able to maintain his persona of distant and non-emotional indifference. To be seen in public, but not to be fully seen.
That might be the most publicly vulnerable thing he did without even realizing it.
While I still have several episodes to go, I highly recommend the series to anyone interested in art, creativity, queer history, and documentary filmmaking. There’s a tenderness in the telling that makes my heart ache for Warhol’s genius, the pain of creative expression that challenges the status quo, and his ambivalent desire and need for love.