Viewing George Hickenlooper's Factory Girl a second time on the DVD which will be released Tuesday, my opinion has gone up a few notches. It's not so much because the restored material -- a few snippets -- does a great deal to let the movie breathe. Instead, I found myself reading between the lines of the insightful director's commentary, in which Hickenlooper takes pains to point out to the viewer exactly which parts of the movie were the results of his original cut, and which parts were introduced at the whim of Harvey Weinstein. Invariably, it's the Weinstein-mandated changes that slow the movie down and make it sometimes seem commonplace and uninspired. (Hickenlooper is carefully to say how great the Weinstein-changes were, even as he's dutifully pointing them out.) One big problem is the 'Warhol montage' near the beginning that takes great pains to point out to us that there was a guy named Andy Warhol who was a great pop artist of the late 20th century -- as if anyone in the film's audience wouldn't know that.
Another unwelcome element is the Gia-like 'Edie in a mental hospital' bookends -- a drastic stylistic departure from the fast-paced, Oliver Stone-like cutting rhythm of the rest of the film. A lot of exposition is proffered during these moments, but to what end? Do we really need to know more about Edie's homelife than we've already learned during the A-story? I don't think so. There are a few other Weinstein-elements scattered throughout, and having seen the film twice now, I think we can conclude two things: Hickenlooper is a genuine talent who made a good film under unbearable pressures and he would have made a substantially better one if not for the heavy-handed studio honcho standing on his head. His visual chops are, while a little too close to his admitted mentor, Oliver Stone, still very sharp. He has a masterful knowledge of camera minutia and spends much time during his commentary talking about how he chose certain camera grains and lenses in order to complement the tone of a particular scene.
The DVD isn't exactly overflowing with extra features, but the ones it does have are well-chosen. I've mentioned the director's commentary, which is informative and funny -- Hickenlooper mentions several times that he's legally prevented from admitting that the harmonica-playing folk singer played by Hayden Christensen is actually you know who. There's also Sienna Miller's audition tape, which we get some background about in the commentary. Miller apparently got off a plane, drove straight to the audition and did a cold reading, having never seen any pages before having them thrust in front of her. If that's what we're actually seeing in the tape, then it's pretty remarkable. The Edie accent isn't in place yet, but many of the beats she finds in the reading are the same as what ends up in the finished film. The DVD also contains a Guy Pearce video diary and a standard 'making of' featurette. Finally, there are some talking-head style interviews about the real Edie that were created back when Hickenlooper was planning a more experimental docudrama approach for the film.
Factory Girl remains a flawed film, of course; the Weinstein 'improvements' coupled with a lot of poor pacing choices make it hard for the viewer to really immerse themselves in Edie's increasingly desperate situation, and as Hickenlooper himself points out in the commentary, the cliche of Edie's death before age thirty by drug overdose is hard to work around. We've seen that particular story so many times that we've become kind of hardened to it. Still, the film contains two spot-on performances, with Sienna Miller embodying her 'poor little rich girl' character completely and fully, and Guy Pearce swinging for the Oscar fences with an eerie channeling of Andy Warhol. How could this possibly the same actor who did Ex Exley? That Pearce wasn't awarded an Oscar nomination for his role can probably be attributed to the film's rushed release, and the same could possibly be said for Miller as well. I predict that as Miller, Pearce and Hickenlooper go on to do good work in other films, history will be a little kinder to Factory Girl.