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Plexifilm presents
Ciao! Manhattan (1972)

"I haven't been anywhere where I haven't been known."
- Susan (Edie Sedgwick)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: December 11, 2002

Stars: Edie Sedgwick, Wesley Hayes, Isabel Jewell, Paul America, Viva!, Brigid Berlin, Baby Jane Holzer, Geoffrey Briggs
Other Stars: Roger Vadim, Allen Ginsbuerg, Jean Margouleff
Director: John Palmer, David Weisman

MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, drug use, language)
Run Time: 01h:30m:04s
Release Date: November 12, 2002
UPC: 082354000226
Genre: cult

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

What happens to you the year after you're the superstar of the year? Yes, this DVD is an opportunity to reconsider The Factory, Andy Warhol's late sixties operation from which the principal product was celebrity, manufactured for its own sake. The arbitrariness with which Andy Warhol anointed his acolytes as superstars has its own dark side: what happens to a limelight hog when their fifteen minutes are up, when there's a newer and prettier young thing coming along shoving you off the stage?

Edie Sedgwick stars in Ciao! Manhattan, and died just three months after the film's completion, at age 28, in 1972; she was more than just a Warhol creation, certainly, and her notoriety and influence persist to this day. She plays Susan, child of Los Angeles, now living on her mother's run-down estate—Susan eschews a proper bedroom and sleeps instead in the drained swimming pool, while in the house her mother (Isabel Jewell) bakes pie after pie, and Susan revisits, in her own mind, her fabulous years in New York.

The first image of Edie in the movie is startling: a beautiful, wasted, topless young woman, hitchhiking in Southern California, spilling herself into an ancient, decrepit Mercedes. It's driven by Butch (Wesley Hayes), a Houston boy figuring that he just won cosmic lotto—he brings Edie home, and finds instead that he's being groomed as Edie's next keeper, a job currently filled by Geoffrey (Geoffrey Briggs), who likes showing off his W.C. Fields impression.

The L.A. story is nothing more than a convenient framing device—this color footage provides the necessary structure for the many flashbacks, in black & white, to Susan in New York. (The supplements reveal that hours and hours of film was shot in New York in 1967, for another screenplay entirely, and only in 1972 did the filmmakers get it together to complete the project, ginning up a story that would allow them to cut something together.) There's some silly semblance of a plot, but it's the opportunity to revel with Edie in this world that's the draw of Ciao! Manhattan.

We're asked of course to blur the line between fact and fiction, for the character of Susan is just a useful contrivance for Edie and the filmmakers to talk about and show us Edie. In the flashbacks we see Edie in her New York heyday, popping lots of amphetamines, attending be-ins, appearing in Vogue and on runways, just generally being around Andy Warhol and being fabulous. There's something fascinating about all this footage, but there's something incredibly sad about it, too, knowing how many of these lives were ruined or cut short by their excesses, their potential undone essentially by their aimlessness. But this is the principal attraction of the movie: it's not a tightly told and galvanizing story, and is worth watching for the vividness with which it brings back an especially wild and mesmerizing time.

Most exhibitionists are downright modest in comparison to Edie, who seemed desperately to crave any and all attention—she spends much of her screen time topless, and her breasts are also a principal subject of discussion: "She's kinda proud of them." (Sedgwick had recently gotten relatively crude implants, and was eager to show them off.) Breaking free of New York seemed like a crucial moment for Edie, but knowing about her sad end, the wonder as you watch this may be that she stayed alive as long as she did. The filmmakers obviously have a terrific affection for their leading lady, but seeing and hearing about how her life was unraveling, at times Ciao! Manhattan can seem almost like a high-art snuff film.

Still, there's enough that's intriguing in the Warhol world to merit a look, and this is certainly more entertaining than the endless and endlessly boring movies that Warhol himself produced. It's more a tone poem about the time than anything else, but that brings with it many of its own rewards.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The low production values put a cap on just how good the image can look, but Plexifilm seems to have shined this up pretty nicely. The black & white New York footage is considerably more evocative, and the flaws and limits are much more readily evident in the color scenes, where the palette is mushy and the resolution is poor.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Germanyes

Audio Transfer Review: Well, it's mono, but it sounds surprisingly good. Even with the obvious limitations, the filmmakers make some good use of sound, and there's little hissing or buzzing on the track. Sedgwick's voice is so soft at times that it's barely discernible, though, so either the other actors sound impossibly bombastic, with the knobs turned up, or Edie's words just can't be made out.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Palmer, David Weisman, Wesley Hayes
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. still gallery
  2. outtake reel
Extras Review: The film's two directors are joined on the commentary track by actor Wesley Hayes, and their friendly competition for air time makes for dense and lively listening. There's a certain amount of wonder that they're even alive thirty years after the fact, and they're full of marvelous detail: Sedgwick was an outpatient at a rehab clinic at the time of the L.A. shoot, and the entire budget of the picture was $20,000. Palmer insists that "the film really directed itself, and we didn't want to take the credit away from a higher power," though that sounds to me like a convenient, drug-induced excuse for sloppy filmmaking. Anyway, you probably won't be surprised to learn that the principal topic of conversation is Edie, whose "beauty can peer through any state of her pharmacopeia."

Weisman also notes that in 1998 he found thirty-six hours of raw footage from the 1967 shoot, though it's picture only, and no sound; selections from that are here (27m:14s), along with a commentary track with Weisman being interviewed by Gary Hustwit, from Plexifilm. Particularly notable here is the presence of Uma Thurman's parents, and the striking resemblance between mother and daughter.

Four recent interviews shed still more light on the Edie phenomenon. George Plimpton (07m:30s), who knew Edie growing up and edited an oral biography of her, seems deeply protective of this "staggeringly beautiful" girl. Betsey Johnson (07m:58s) designed Edie's costumes for the movie, leading to her outfitting the Velvet Underground and many others in the Warhol Factory scene; she mourns the passing of the '60s from a fashionista's perspective, the days when the rage was "natural clothes over natural bodies." Co-director Weisman (10m:24s) describes the project as "an above-ground underground film," as nobody was watching the Factory product, and notes that the original shoot was based on a script titled Stripped and Strapped. Wesley Hayes (04m:34s) has shaved his head and is seriously pumped up, but doesn't have a whole lot to contribute, though he's happy to brag at every possible turn that yes, he slept with Edie.

The still gallery features images from Edie's childhood, through her early days in rehab and with Warhol, along with photos from the shoot and from her wedding. An original trailer rounds out the extras package.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Ciao! Manhattan works best as a cultural artifact, and the generous supplements on this DVD help situate it and Edie Sedgwick in their time and place. It's an admittedly messy bit of filmmaking, but it's a fine opportunity to revisit an era and a historical moment that continue to fascinate us, all these years later.


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