PIE IN THE SKY: THE BRIGID BERLIN STORY – The DVD Review
Review by Sam Moffitt
I love anything about Andy Warhol! I must say that right out of the gate, I love Andy Warhol! I have followed Warhol since the Sixties. Growing up near St. Louis, Missouri in the Sixties my family had a subscription to Life Magazine and they seemed to always be running articles about Op Art, Pop Art, the emerging youth and drug cultures and underground films made by people like the Kuchar Brothers, Jonas Mekas, Taylor Mead and Andy Warhol. It seemed like Warhol was in the news constantly, especially the question of whether his stuff was really art or even had any real value.
I read avidly about his ‘Factory’ in New York and his crew of strange underground people who helped him turn out art works, like….well like a factory!
I have three documentaries about Warhol himself, and have read every book by and about him I could find. I saw Ciao, Manhattan! in a theatre and now own it on dvd, the strange, drug addled movie starring one of Warhol’s crew, the doomed upper class debutant and fashion model Edie Sedqewick and read the book Edie by Jean Stein (a good place to start if you want to learn about those years in the New York art scene.).
There have been several movies made in the last couple of decades with Warhol being a character. Basquiat with David Bowie, The Doors with Crispin Glover and my personal favorite, I Shot Andy Warhol with Jared Harris looking very impressive as Andy.
There have also been several books and documentaries about Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, with and without Nico. The Velvet’s were the house band at the Factory and were both inspired by and inspired Andy Warhol in turn. All this and so much more seems to only be scratching the surface about Warhol, the artist from a working class background who wanted his fame and fortune NOW, today, not after his death. As they used to say about artists, they were only famous and rich after their deaths, Warhol wanted none of that.
Now comes this fascinating documentary about one of Warhol’s more famous and visible Factory members and ‘Superstars’ of his underground films, Bridgid Berlin, also known as Bridgid Polk, her own self applied nick name due to her habit of ‘poking’ herself with syringes full of amphetamines.
Bridgid was and still is a larger than life (literally) personality who has managed to slim down and somewhat calmed down, from her glory days in the Sixties.
We learn that she came from a very upper class family. Her Father ended up running Hearst enterprises and her counterpart, Patty Hearst, yes THAT Patricia Hearst, was brought up to hate the Berlin family and name. The two former debutantes are now good friends though, thanks to John Waters who introduced them.
Always overweight the young Brigid had tremendous pressure put on her to lose weight, be pretty and be a proper Long Island debutant and make her family, especially her Mother proud. Rebellious, right up to the present day, Brigid did no such thing. She ate whatever she wanted, took massive quantities of drugs, especially amphetamines, and ran loose like some force of nature run amok.
One major paradox and contradiction, speed freaks usually never eat and get rail thin, not Brigid. And just to piss off her Mother and Father she became thick as thieves with Warhol and his Factory crew during the height of the Sixties counterculture and was, among other things, one of the famous Chelsea Girls (a Warhol movie I still have not seen, Chelsea Girls allegedly ran 24 hours long and was two images projected side by side of the Chelsea Girls women who lived at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City.) (The Hotel itself is the subject of yet another documentary). The content of Chelsea Girls? Apparently, from the clips included in this documentary it was all improvised by the girls themselves while Warhol’s camera recorded every little nuance. Brigid can be seen chattering away some speed freak nonsense. She also can be seen in Ciao, Manhattan sitting in a toilet stall raving about how good speed cooks down to a crystal clear surface like an ice rink you can skate on!
Wait, it gets better – apparently Warhol took some ideas from Bridgid. Here is a woman who apparently photographed every person she ever met with a Polaroid camera, she also photographed herself hundreds, if not thousands of times. We see stacks of file boxes full of her photographs, Warhol ended up doing exactly the same thing. Bridgid also filled up hundreds of notebooks with her record of every little thing she ever did, every conversation, every bit of house keeping, every movie seen, every event ever attended, you name it .
And like a true speed freak, Brigid has all this material cataloged, indexed and filed. Her Manhattan apartment is spotlessly clean and obsessively arranged. This is no Crazy Cat Lady living in squalor.
Even more astonishing, despite all the drugs in her past, (Brigid does not get high anymore) her memory is apparently flawless. We hear her repeat verbatim entire phone conversations she had with her Mother, and other people, decades ago. Of course it might be a big help that she also tape recorded almost all of her phone conversations, starting in the Sixties. Another type of media obsessively filed away and yet another record of her amazing life. Tape recording conversations is another idea Warhol took from Brigid and claimed as his own.
Her self image was so bad it led to her eating disorder, which she still has to deal with. We see her weigh every bit of food and stick to a strict diet heavy on lettuce and yogurt. We also see her fall off that diet, hard, and eat about a dozen key lime pies in one sitting, no I am not making this up. Having my own eating disorder I can sympathize but I never went on a binge like that! The title of the documentary is from Brigid’s obsession with key lime pie, this woman likes her pie, do NOT get between her and a good key lime pie!
No where near as heavy as in her youth Brigid is quite presentable but, as she herself admits, says whatever comes into her head. She admits she was estranged from her Mother years ago and has sisters who she hasn’t spoken too in years. Yet we see no trace of self pity or loneliness, she seems to have lots of friends, and even better, fans.
For instance John Waters admits to stalking her when he came to New York City in the Seventies. He considered her a bigger star than Lana Turner or Vivien Leigh. We also hear from some of the other Warhol survivors who turn up in these documentaries, Paul Morrisey, Billy Name, Bob Colacello.
Recent photo of Brigid Berlin with John Waters
And another contradiction, for me anyway, in her youth she was also quite attractive. I have always liked big women and we see some nude shots of Brigid from the Sixties, she looked fine in my humble opinion.
But it’s Brigid herself who dominates her own documentary, and rightfully so, it is her show and she runs with it. One might ask, if she really is an artist what is the art? You would have to say her life is a work of art, all the photos, notebooks, tape recordings record an amazing life lived exactly the way she wanted to live it. Spending time with Brigid Berlin by watching this documentary is time well spent, in my honest opinion, this is one fascinating personality and yet another piece of the puzzle that is Andy Warhol. Brigid was an upper class debutant, very much like Edie Sedgewick, who fell in with the Warhol crew, but there any resemblance ended. Brigid was and is a survivor and a fascinating one at that.
There are out takes on this DVD which present even more of Brigid and biographies of the two directors.