The Drugs Don’t Work – Rediscovering ‘Ciao! Manhattan’ (US 1972 – 84 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - December 08, 2014
The Drugs Don’t Work – Rediscovering ‘Ciao! Manhattan’ (US 1972 – 84 mins)

Started in 1967 but not completed until 1972, ‘Ciao! Manhattan’ is an interesting oddity that mixes fact with fiction in paralleling the short, tragic life of pretty, crop-haired ingénue Edie Sedgwick with her alter ego Susan Superstar. Although it sometimes makes for uncomfortable viewing, it’s also a fascinating look at an era that continues to captivate to this day.

After a pre-credit dedication to Andy Warhol “It Girl” Edie Sedgwick (who died of acute barbiturate intoxication 8 months before the films release), we meet her spaced-out alter ego Susan Superstar (Sedgwick), who proceeds to tell a young drifter (Wesley Ames) about her wild life as a famous model in Manhattan, New York. Using actual audio conversations from her days at Warhol’s Factory, as well as footage from the original 1967 script, it unflinchingly records the sad descent of Edie’s fictional alter-ego, as well as her own.

I remember seeing an old 1966 interview that Edie Sedgwick did on The Merv Griffin Show. Introduced as a self-proclaimed superstar, the elfin-like 21 year old actually came across as an intelligent and likable young woman. So it was pretty sad knowing that a year later she would start this troubled movie and that five years later (November 16th 1971) she would be dead at just 28 years old.

Plagued with problems, (including Sedgwick’s stay in rehab) ‘Ciao! Manhattan’ is at times fascinating but also disturbing to watch. Its sad seeing Edie in a drug-induced state, falling out of her car while high on amphetamine, and then being carried half-conscious into her (fictional) mother’s opulent home. Although they are rather confusing, the earlier black and white scenes are the easiest to watch, as the rest of the picture (shot three years later) mostly comprise of a vodka swilling Edie (now with silicon implants) lounging around her mother’s California home, topless and in a drunken haze.

Directed unevenly by Warhol Factory regulars John Palmer and David Weisman, the movie also features Edie’s fellow Warhol ‘Superstar’ Paul America, as well as the likes of Roger Vadim, Christian Marquand and poet Allen Ginsberg, who also pop up in pointless minor roles.

A sometimes haunting and often depressing tale of celebrity and excess; ‘Ciao! Manhattan’ is a candid time capsule of a Sixties counterculture, and a frightening reminder of how a young and promising life can be quickly destroyed by drugs. It’s a thought-provoking watch and, rightly or wrongly, has become a minor cult classic.

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