Sunday, October 7, 2012

Un-Humble Pie: "Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story" (2001)

This is yet another fantastic documentary about a member of Andy Warhol's 1960's Factory.

Unlike "Nico Icon" or the fictional "Ciao Manhattan," Brigid Berlin is alive and well (as of 1999), and still a wonderful character. Brigid was born to Richard and Honey Berlin in 1939. Her father eventually became chairman of the board of the Hearst Corporation, having to wrestle the company from William Randolph Hearst. She never met Patricia Hearst until John Waters brought them together on the set of "Serial Mom," and the two are friends despite the bad blood between the blue bloods.

Brigid was rewarded with food as a child, and became overweight almost immediately. Her mother was a socialite, concerned with what everyone else thought of her wild child. Brigid has two sisters and a brother, and is not on speaking terms with any of them. Brigid became a confidante of Andy Warhol.

She recorded hundreds of hours of telephone conversations with everyone, from her angered mother to her best friend Andy. She would be onstage, and call unsuspecting subjects, using the conversations as theater pieces. She also double exposed the new technology of Polaroid film, creating montages of her nude self and flowers, etc. At 260 pounds, she was not self conscious, and the film makers show a number of topless shots of Berlin.

At the time this was filmed, Brigid was down to a healthy 123 pounds, hardly recognizable from her larger days. She is still a firebrand, obsessive about remembering everything, and she does imitations of her mother and Warhol that are both funny and enlightening. She has a bit of a key lime pie binge, gains ten pounds in a few days, and the camera never looks away from this woman who has always been comfortable in her body, it is every one else who has told her to lose weight. Speaking as someone with a weight problem, I could identify with Brigid.

Over the course of the documentary, I came to like her immensely. She has these blue eyes that mesmerize you, whether she is lighting up her umpteenth cigarette of the interview, or just talking about her life. I thought she was very pretty when she was younger, fat or not. Now, she is older but still someone who would be fun to interview and talk with. Her remembrances of Andy Warhol are often touching. The film makers, Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont, rely on tons of footage from the Andy Warhol Museum, but we always get to see present day Brigid as well.

Brigid did some unorthodox work, and these examples are the highlight of the film. She would strip off her shirt, and make "tit prints," using her breasts and paint, and give them away. She has an old blank bible, where the famous and the infamous would leave drawings and other paraphernalia strictly about penises. It would be a gas to see other trip books, blank books created while the subject or subjects were high.

This is a fantastic, strong documentary. The Fremonts picked their subject well, and tell the story in a straightforward manner, without resulting to obvious flourishes to enliven the subject matter. Brigid Berlin is a flourish on to herself, with fire in her eyes, a compulsion to clean and organize, and not a care in the world as to what people think of her, then and now.

I really liked Brigid, and I really liked this film. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Pie in the Sky - The Brigid Berlin Story