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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Art > Fashion > Counterculture > Ciao! Manhattan (Plexifilm DVD)

Ciao! Manhattan


Film: B-     Picture:  B-     Sound:  C     Extras:  B-



The death of Edie Sedgwick on November 16, 1971, epitomized the end of an era of excess; a unique moment in history populated by the drug induced spiritualism of the tragically hip.  As the New York Herald Tribune’s 1965 “Girl of the Year” and product of the Andy Warhol Factory, Sedgwick, both fabulously wealthy and unmistakably attractive, achieved the status of cultural icon, becoming one of Warhol’s most famous stars.  However, her hard living and self-destructive tendencies finally overcame her at a youthful twenty-eight.  John Palmer and David Weisman’s Ciao! Manhattan is the final testament of Sedgwick’s life.


Originally released in 1972, the film is dedicated to Sedgwick, who died three months after the completion of shooting.  Ostensibly, the film traces the rise and fall of Susan (Edie Sedgwick, essentially playing herself) as “told” through flashbacks.  After a meteoric rise to fame followed by years of hospitalization, Susan, now living at her mother’s house, takes up residence in the empty pool, surrounded by photographs of her famous past.  She is “cared” for by a hired hippie, Geoffrey, (Geoffrey Briggs) who steals from the mother (Isabel Jewell, the only professional actor) until he is replaced by Butch (Wesley Hayes) who becomes enamored with Susan.  The flashbacks, filmed in black and white, follow not only Susan’s (mis)adventures, but also the ubiquitous voyeurism of corporate drug lord, Mr. Verdecchio (Jean Margouleff, also a producer).


The film’s narrative, hailed as experimental, is more a product of necessity than artistic vision.  All the black and white footage was filmed in 1967 and 1968 from an incomplete script.  Two years later, they finished the film by reviewing all the old footage and filmed new sequences in color to cobble together a narrative.  The lower production quality is evident in the dialogue track, where most of the conversations were dubbed in because the sound of the camera clouded the dialogue.  Its technical shortcomings, however, make the film a more honest representation of the period.


Despite the film’s historical importance, the film viewing experience would be complete if you are accompanied by your perpetually stoned college roommate uttering profound pearls of perception like “Whoa…Dude, that is sooo deep” and “Down with the Man.”  Most viewers will understand the film, but few will claim to understand it, dude.  Personally, films that glorify, or at least romanticize, heavy addiction seem more sad than satisfying.  During the feature length commentary, the directors follow up on many of the actors, noting how they are either dead or successful entrepreneurs, an ironic statement given the sadness and hypocrisy that unfolded past beyond the heydays of the sixties.


Presented in 1:85 X 1 Anamorphic widescreen, Ciao! Manhattan boasts a good deal of extra features including lost footage reels (unfortunately, or fortunately, the soundtrack was lost, but the accompanying commentary is insightful), interviews with the costume designer, George Plimpton (Sedgwick biographer and well-known spokesman/personality) and actors and filmmakers.  The feature length commentary does provide added insight into the period and production, recalling the difficulties of shooting at the time.  It is interesting to listen to them discuss how they contrived a narrative from the footage they already shot.  This Plexifilm offering has decent picture quality, whereas the sound is a bit more suspect.  However, given the conditions and the quality of the original print, they did a passable job.



-   Ron Von Burg


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