PIE IN THE SKY: THE BRIGID BERLIN STORY

NR
Reviews

The "pie" in the title Pie in the Sky refers to a certain type of Key Lime patisserie, which is but one of the film's subject's major obsessions. Brigid Berlin's story is a great one, a true reflection of the last half of the 20th century. She was born into wealth and position as the eldest daughter of Richard Berlin, who oversaw the Hearst publishing empire. Her parents envisioned an elegantly conservative future for her: as debutante leading to a "proper" marriage and family, with country home, station wagon and every other accoutrement of the American dream, c. 1960. She, however, saw things differently and, from childhood, continually disappointed them.

First, there was her weight--which has been an all-encompassing, lifelong issue with her, and then, her decidedly alternative lifestyle. She fell in with New York's downtown art scene in the '60s and became a close friend and employee of none other than Andy Warhol. She helped run his magazine, Interview, and appeared in a number of the underground films which helped establish his reputation. Going by the name Brigid Polk, she became infamous for her intravenous injection of drugs, blithely jabbing herself with a needle right through her jeans (and on film in The Chelsea Girls). Such behavior outraged her parents, and she continued to provoke them by photographing and taping them on every occasion and then putting these family records on public exhibition. (She would, for instance, secretly mike her telephone conversations with her lifelong nemesis of a mother for the delectation of paying audiences.) When Warhol died in 1987, Berlin was at one of her habitual fat farms in London, and was just as startled as the rest of the world to learn of this famously talented, famously cheap master exploiter/artist's passing. Today, life has calmed down considerably for her, living with her pugs in an elegantly appointed Murray Hill apartment and still brilliantly neurotic, while fighting the eternal battle of the bulge. She compulsively weighs each and every gram of food that enters her mouth and admits to only enjoying her cigarettes immediately after her annual mammogram. ("It's all downhill from here!")

Using extensive material from Berlin's own archives as well as the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Vincent and Shelly Fremont's documentary is a riveting, smoothly crafted piece of work. They are inordinately fortunate in their subject, as Berlin is an extraordinary raconteur, a mordantly witty figure of Lucullan proportions that maybe only Chaucer could have dreamed up. She's scathingly honest about herself, her embattled family connections and personal relations. She blew her first inheritance when she married a gay window dresser at a very young age, whose sexuality she was unable to change: "I rented a house in Cherry Grove and would take the seaplane out there. I'd stop at Tiffany's, buy him some sapphire cufflinks and throw them into the pool from the plane." Her photographs, unabashed "tit paintings" and trip books (including the infamous "cock book") reveal her as a real artist manqu. Indeed, her early use of tools such as Polaroids and tape recorders prefigured Warhol's vaunted employment of them, and many star witnesses (Paul Morrissey, John Waters, Larry Rivers, etc.) aver that he got more than a few ideas directly from her. Berlin's story has shock value to spare, but is always invested with such a fabulous wealth of humor and humanity that you can't take your eyes off the screen and, indeed, are left wanting even more.

--David Noh