‘The Andy Warhol Diaries’ review: Netflix’s Ryan Murphy-produced docuseries gives the artist another 395 minutes of fame

Warhol would probably embrace the idea of extending his way-more-than-15 minutes of fame, and the project — directed by Andrew Rossi, and produced by the prolific Ryan Murphy — certainly does that. In fact, while the “Everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” quote might have been misattributed to the artist, with most episodes running more than an hour, “Diaries” adds 395 minutes to Warhol’s tally, for whatever that’s worth.

Rossi uses the posthumously published diaries as the program’s narrative spine, while darting about in a manner that represents the chaotic times during which Warhol lived, the lives he touched, and the various contradictions associated with him.

Straddling cultural spheres, Warhol could popularize Campbell’s soup cans or befriend and champion talents like Jean-Michel Basquiat (the subject of an entire episode); turn out cutting-edge movies, as well as pioneering videos for a then-nascent MTV; and still incongruously appear as a guest in mainstream vehicles like “Love Boat” and “Saturday Night Live.”

Few personalities have possessed such range, and the breadth of Warhol’s reach and influence is only rivaled by the name-dropping in the diaries — including those who lined up for his celebrity portraits — a list as impressive as it is exhausting.

At the same time, Warhol continuously played coy about his own sexuality, sidestepping those questions. Toward that end, Rossi spends a considerable amount of time focusing on Warhol’s relationships — first with Jed Johnson, and later film executive Jon Gould.

In those moments and others, the artist doesn’t always serve as the most reliable of narrators, and the third-party voices enlisted to discuss him — ranging from close associates to biographers — often shed more light on who Warhol really was than the diary entries do.

The disembodied voice that reads from the diaries proves distracting at first, eventually settling into a kind of soothing rhythm with its detached, mechanical delivery. Increasingly popular, the approach has matured but still feels like a gimmick, and hiring an actor for those purposes surely would have been just as effective. (CNN’s recent Anthony Bourdain documentary, “Roadrunner,” employed a similar device, triggering a debate about the practice.)
“The Andy Warhol Diaries” provides ample detail about the artist’s life, beginning with his humble origins in Pittsburgh, creating his trademark image and encompassing events like his shooting in 1968 and subsequent fear of hospitals, which played a role in his death in 1987.

Yet for all that the series meticulously reveals, it only goes so far in penetrating Warhol’s protective shell, and like its subject, alternates between being fascinating and frustrating.

Warhol was an extraordinarily public figure who endeavored to maintain a private curtain. The artificial voice revives his words and thoughts, but there are still aspects of the person who dictated them that can only be guessed at — a colorful riddle that even an effort this comprehensive can’t entirely decode.

“The Andy Warhol Diaries” premieres March 9 on Netflix.

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