If you want to watch a dumb but beautiful woman’s descent into drug abuse and an early death, this is the film for you. Ciao! Manhattan is a shambolic piece of true exploitation cinema that cuts two shoots the filmmakers did with Edie Sedgwick in various years to make a film starring her. She is renamed Susan Superstar in the film, but even the filmmakers know the subterfuge is a bit pointless, and rarely mention her fictional name after a while.
The directors, John Palmer and David Weisman, first shot some footage near the end of Edie’s association with Andy Warhol and The Factory, and then she disappeared. This may have been due to her turgid affair with Bob Dylan (something he denies to this day), which just sent her further into her descent into drugs, mainly speedy drugs but some downers too. The later footage is a far different Edie: the chic glam of the stripey tops, black tights, eyeliner and silver hair are long gone, and have been replaced a bad boob job (which she requested to show off) and her natural brown hair. At this point she is clearly so far down the rabbit hole of drugs that you almost feel like you are watching a snuff film.
There is a hilariously awful storyline about a hippy who picks up a drugged-out Edie and brings her to her family’s home. It’s cliched to the max with its tale of a young Texan kid who is out in California for kicks. It’s cringe-inducing, but you eventually just have to laugh at its absurdity. Her mother is played by ’30s movie star Isabel Jewell: I almost thought it was Shelley Winters for a second, which would be slumming it even for her. The mother hires the Texan kid to build a UFO with Edie… I’m not joking. It’s safe to say Edie wasn’t the only person who was in a drug-induced state during the production.
The disclaimer saying basically “oh, it was basically finished, then Edie died” is utter bullshit of the highest order. They clearly had a mess of a film that they were trying to finish, so they just took loads of speed and finished the edit to exploit her death and notoriety. Weisman would go on to cobble together the magnificent Frankenstein monster that is Shogun Assassin, which is a re-edited version of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films. He also later worked with Leonard Schrader (Paul’s brother) on his great doc The Killing of America; on Kiss of the Spider Woman, for which Schrader supplied a script; and on Schrader’s only film as a director, Naked Tango.
Ciao! Manhattan is a lot like Edie herself: a beautiful trainwreck. The film has gained a cult following, obviously due to Edie, and because it’s the only film she did that is widely available. The Warhol films are too expensive for any company to ever licence, they are “art” and the estate won’t licence them for home video release for anything less than a seven-figure sum. It would make a fascinating double bill with another trainwreck, the glossy Hollywood biopic of Edie, Factory Girl, which is not a good film. However, Sienna Miller as Edie is great, and the film really shined with Guy Pearce as Warhol. Pearce remains the best actor to play Warhol, although Jared Harris in I Shot Andy Warhol is a strong contender, as is Crispin Glover’s turn in Oliver Stone’s extremely watchable and laughable biopic on Jim Morrison The Doors.
The disc includes some previously lost reels and a bunch of interviews with the filmmakers and the editor of the definitive biography on Edie Sedgwick, simply titled Edie.