Andy Warhol’s film Lupe (1966) restages the mythic account of one celebrity’s suicide as a strategic ploy to envision another’s. Lupe is known to be Warhol’s take on Kenneth Anger’s own fabricated account of Lupe Vélez’s (also known as Hollywood’s ‘Mexican Spitfire’) suicide; Edie Sedgwick is cast as Vélez living out her last morning, evening and final dramatic exit. The film, Edie Sedgwick’s last official work for Warhol, takes on a dark prophetic tone and highlights Edie’s personal weaknesses and likens her self-destructive behaviour to reflect Vélez’s fatal end. In fact, according to Robert Heidie, Warhol had even stated, “I wonder if Edie will commit suicide. I hope she lets me know so I can film it”. Lupe evidently is the closest realisation of Warhol’s hope. Edie’s own ‘not-acting’ style erodes the façade that this film is Warhol’s ‘regurgitated’ account of Vélez’s final moments, and instead reveals Edie’s own corrosive treatment of her body, with her addiction to pills and long-term battle with bulimia.
Following the typical trajectory of several ‘Edie-centric’ films, Lupe’s first roll presents Edie preening, chatting and smoking in a lavish apartment. Edie simply ‘performs as herself’ for the camera instead of actually acting, which Michael Kirby defines as feigning, simulating, representing or impersonating someone or something else. Edie does not clearly exhibit any distinguishing traits or behaviours that would facilitate reading her performance to be an impersonation of Lupe Vélez. Like in all Warhol’s Edie films, Edie presents and intensifies her own attributes in a way that captures Kirby’s notion of a ‘not-acting’ performance. Edie self-represents through her clothing, makeup, hairstyle and her body language. In addition, the camera captures her in a similar way to Warhol’s other Edie films by duplicating her image in mirrors and establishing a magnetic pull between Edie and the camera. Lupe appears to be entirely coded by ‘Edie-isms’ with almost no inherent references to Vélez herself.
If one examines the film closely, an immediate counterpoint could be made to my previous claim, that Lupe Vélez is indeed missing from Lupe itself. There are several details in the film that undeniably connect to Kenneth Anger’s account of Vélez’s death. For instance, one shot from the ‘dinner scene’ reel focuses on Edie as she swallows a pill at the table — this could represent the final pill that had triggered Vélez’s overdose. Another explicit example is the shot of Edie wrapped around the toilet, which directly connects to Anger’s degrading description of Vélez’s final pose. While I agree there is undoubtedly evidence of Anger’s account of Lupe Velez’s death, these moments however, cannot be divorced from Edie’s history of her destructive drug addiction and long-term eating disorder. In fact, before even learning about Lupe’s basic premise to serve as a grim tribute to Lupe Vélez, the film can easily be interpreted as Warhol’s own ruthless portrayal of Edie’s struggle with bulimia.
In Lupe, Warhol focuses on self-harm and purging as the critical point of intersection between Vélez’s fabricated death and Edie’s hypothetical one. In the ‘dinner scene’ Edie delays indulging (or even touching) the meal prepared for her on the table to the extent that it becomes unbearable. Indeed, the camera’s single extremely long take records Edie doing just about everything (dancing, smoking and drinking) but eating. This extended examination enables the viewer to survey her body, realising how dangerously thin she really is. Edie’s low arch in her dress reveals her protruding clavicle and ribcage; in fact the longer one watches her, the more emaciated her body appears. Next the camera lens scatters hazardously by using quick pans and tilts that drift all over the space of the room. As Edie gets up and sits down repetitively throughout the scene, it appears that the camera’s movements imitate her vertiginous state as she attempts to animate her visibly weak body. It is only in the final moments of this reel that Edie gives in and eats a small piece of lettuce, then a small slice of her meal, and eventually a couple substantial bite sized pieces for nourishment. Here Warhol offers the viewer some relief that Edie has made some progress with her meal, only to quickly cut back to the image of her wrapped around the toilet, revoking the momentary sense of fulfilment for both Edie and the viewer.
Lupe utilises Kenneth Anger’s false, but legendary account of Lupe Vélez’s suicide to expose and predict the impending death of Warhol’s own feisty superstar, Edie Sedgwick. Although Edie did not pass away as a consequence of her eating disorder, Warhol’s prophetic depiction of Edie’s death was, in reality, not far off from Lupe Vélez’s own fate in that Edie too cut her life short because of one too many pills (even if it was not recorded to be a deliberate act to take her own life). Lupe Vélez seems to serve as the perfect platform for Warhol to stage his desire to capture Edie’s death, even if it was only a fictitious one. In the end, both stars burned out far earlier than they should have, leaving the world with only excavated relics from their past and a mythic status to their names.