Ciao! Manhattan is a scripted art film based on the life story of an early super model named Edie Sedgwick, who fell in with Andy Warhol's Factory crowd in 1965, starred in some of his underground films, and got hooked on hard drugs, only to enter a slowly decaying orbit. After staggering through a series of mental hospitals, electro-shock therapy sessions and endless amounts of drugs and alcohol, her ravaged organs gave up the ghost in Santa Barbara, California in 1971.
Holed up at a California mansion in an empty swimming pool covered by a makeshift tent and filled with gigantic photos of herself and friends from her glory days in New York, Susan Superstar (who is really just Edie playing herself), filmed in full color in 1970, tells her life story to a young, naive Texas drifter named Butch through a series of black and white flashbacks filmed in 1967. After years of severe substance abuse, Edie is a sloppy mess with a quivering voice who stumbles around and can barely stand up, let alone walk. Although Edie was 27 years old at the time of filming, she comes across almost child-like.
The black and white segments feature gorgeous footage of Edie in her prime as she floats like a beautiful thistle through the uber-hip New York art, fashion and drug spheres. (There's even footage from the first Central Park Be-In from Spring 1967!) A couple of random side-plots involving Butch's fascination with flying saucers, and Edie's "paranoid fantasy" of an old tycoon named Mr. Verdecchio, who conducts video surveillance on her and some of the other characters, are weaved into the mix in a pleasingly confusing manner. And, almost as a bonus, the bitchin' soundtrack includes lots of weird Moog freakouts and tape head echo.
Timeframe: Pre and post-Altamont.
Public Impact: Sad yet captivating, Edie Sedgwick's tragic story was an early blueprint for today's ubiquitous celebrity meltdowns. More importantly, she'll always be remembered as Warhol's superstar, and as one of the most beautiful models ever. And if you can deal with flimsy plotlines and enjoy generous amounts of general chaos, Ciao! Manhattan may just be your next Netflix rental. The DVD packaging includes an eight-page booklet full of liner notes by David Weisman and gorgeous photos of Edie, plus bonus features like exclusive never-before-seen footage, staff interviews, production stills and a trailer.