Almost completely uninteresting on its own merits, Ciao! Manhattan enjoys a certain cultish status as an artifact of Andy Warhol’s heyday and as a celebration of Edie Sedgwick, arguably the most glamorous individual elevated to stardom by Warhol. A beautiful but troubled model-turned-actress, Sedgwick plays a character based upon herself in Ciao! Manhattan, which is often inaccurately described as a documentary. The picture is wholly fictional, although the use of vintage footage from Sedgwick’s New York period blurs lines. Ciao! Manhattan began production in 1967, near the apex of Sedgwick’s fame. Remnants from the original black-and-white version appear in the final film as flashbacks. Drug-related disorganization behind and in front of the camera derailed the initial shoot, but the filmmakers got a fresh start in 1970, by which time Sedgwick had ended her association with Warhol and adopted a new look. It’s startling to see the difference between the gaunt ’60s Sedgwick with the iconic pixie haircut and the more filled-out Sedgwick who appears in the 1970 color scenes, especially since Sedgwick plays most of the color scenes topless. (One character notes that the woman Sedgwick plays is “really proud of her tits,” and the observation seems true of Sedgwick herself.)
As for the movie’s narrative, Ciao! Manhattan presents more of a situation than a story. Years after her reign as an underground actress/model in New York, Susan (Sedgwick) now lives in the empty swimming pool of a decaying California mansion, with an aunt and two male caretakers attending to her needs. The pool is covered with a tent and tricked-out like a weird palace, complete with giant photographic blow-ups featuring Susan/Sedgwick in her prime. Susan tells stories of past triumphs, thus triggering sloppily edited flashbacks, and she endures the attentions of a Texan idiot named Butch (Wesley Hayes) in between visits to the Dr. Feelgood who keeps her supplied with drugs. Nothing actually happens, and, despite her beauty, Sedgwick is not interesting to watch. Therefore, Ciao! Manhattan inadvertently presages the current reality-TV era, because it’s about a formerly famous woman lamenting the rigors of fame while struggling to become famous again. It’s not Keeping Up with the Kardashians featuring a guest appearance by heroin, but it’s close. Levity aside, Ciao! Manhattan has tragic significance, because Sedgwick died of an overdose during post-production. Seen in that context, the movie is a shapeless but sad homage to a wasted life.
Ciao! Manhattan: LAME