[Solved] pie in the sky the brigid berlin story

Among the oddballs and exhibitionists whoclustered around Andy Warhol in the 1960’s and70’s perhaps the scariest was Brigid Berlin, achubby, motormouthed rebel from an upper-crust NewYork City family who relished the way her undergroundcelebrity embarrassed her proper conservative parents. Herfather, Richard Berlin, a friend of Richard M. Nixon andan admirer of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, ran the HearstCorporation, which he had helped save from bankruptcy inthe 40’s. Her mother, Honey, was an elegant,ladies-who-lunch-style socialite of the old school.

Ms. Berlin was one of Warhol’s favorite telephonecompanions, and she taped hundreds of hours of theirconversations, some of which were adapted into a playcalled Pork that flaunted the Berlin family strife. Likemany of Warhol’s acolytes, she fancied herself an artistand was one of the first art world personages to work witha portable tape recorder and Polaroid snapshots (shespecialized in double exposures).

Her more notorious antics included a theatricalperformance in which she telephoned her parents from thestage without their knowledge and broadcast live her mother’s furious tirade about her lifestyle and choiceof friends. That lifestyle included an addiction to speed (in the 1966 Warhol movie, The Chelsea Girls,she played a pill-pushing lesbian who shoots up in front of the camera) as well as an eating disorder thatpushed her weight to 260 pounds. Despite her obesity, Ms. Berlin often appeared nude in Warhol’s movies,displaying not a trace of self-consciousness.

Excerpts from her taped conversations with Warhol and with her mother run through Pie in the Sky: TheBrigid Berlin Story, Shelly Dunn Fremont and Vincent Fremont’s unsettling close-up portrait of Ms.

Berlin, which opens today at the Film Forum. This fascinating but somewhat repellent documentaryrepeatedly contrasts interviews with Ms. Berlin filmed two years ago when she turned 60 with excerptsfrom the mostly black-and-white Warhol films in which she radiated the aggressive ferocity of a B-movieprison matron.

Much slimmer today than in the Warhol years, Ms. Berlin, who lives on the East Side of Manhattan withtwo dogs, looks sleek and matronly at 60. But when she reminisces, it becomes clear that she retains a lustfor the spotlight along with a continuing inability to edit what comes out of her mouth. As she chattilyrecounts a life of squandered privilege and wasted opportunity, the movie casts a bitter chill. After all herwalks on the wild side, you wonder if she has learned anything at all. Not a smidgen of wisdom orenlightenment passes from the lips of a woman whose main goals in life today seem to be keeping a neatapartment and fighting an obsession with Key lime pies (one scene shows her berating herself for havinggiven in to that weakness and gobbling three at one sitting).

Ms. Berlin emerges as someone whose life and art were determined by her own obsessive-compulsivebehavior, be it consuming sweets or collecting celebrity drawings of sexual organs in a notoriousscrapbook. Besides her weight, the guiding motif of her life appears to have been her controlling mother,who comes across as cold, judgmental and image-obsessed.

Ms. Berlin has her fans, one of the most articulate being the director John Waters, who modeled his owninformal repertory company on the Warhol crew. In his view her work with tape and snapshots led Warholto adapt them into his repertory of techniques. He also admires her bravery for appearing nude.

Because she no longer takes speed, Ms. Berlin seems less scary than distracted. Although her memoryappears intact, she conveys the disengagement of someone who is either too traumatized or too self-centeredto have much psychological perspective on the past. In the most revealing scene, she revisits the ChelseaHotel, the site of some of her more outrageous antics. Growing visibly anxious, Ms. Berlin says she feelsuncomfortable there and wants to leave, but she is at a loss as to why.

PIE IN THE SKY: THE BRIGID BERLIN STORYProduced and directed by Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont; director of photography, Vic Losick;edited by Michael Levine; music by Chris Stein. At the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west ofSixth Avenue, South Village. Running time: 75 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Brigid Berlin, Richard Bernstein, John Waters, Taylor Mead, Bob Colacello, Larry Rivers andPatricia Hearst.

Arts Essays


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