Andy Warhol on the set of “Chelsea Girls” (1966), with Mario Montez.
The artist’s last name was originally Warhola; a typesetter at a magazine where he was illustrating advertisements omitted the “A,” and Warhol did not bother to correct it. He had his nose reconstructed and his skin sanded when he was in his 20’s. His mother moved in with him in 1952 and stayed with him for 20 years. Because he delivered his early commercial artwork in brown paper bags, his colleagues nicknamed him Raggedy Andy.
Most people mistakenly assume Warhol was the aloof poseur he appeared to be, Mr. Burns said. “His posterity is obscured by that image of Andy in the black leather jacket and the wig and the sunglasses,” he said. “Did they really think he was born that way?”
While Warhol is closely associated with what was essentially a disguise, Mr. Burns said that he wore it lightly. In fact, he wanted to let people in, the filmmaker said, he wanted to be liked and to belong. The film tries to explore that vulnerable, childlike side.
“Andy wasn’t hiding anything,” Mr. Burns said. “He was a rule-breaking, paradigm-shifting artist who loved to play possum. He loved to pretend there was no meaning there.”
The challenge in making the film was to create a piece of media about such a consummate creature of the media. Mr. Burns said he realized right away that he should not even attempt a stylized approach, or a Warhol-caliber cool. In fact, he said, he went in the opposite direction: “to do it in the most conventional way possible.”
“I think it’s as conventional a film as I’ve done,” he said. “It’s the one that goes back to the beginning and goes through to the end.”
Mr. Burns sought out people who could speak to the quality of Warhol’s art, as well as to his cult of personality, among them the art dealer Irving Blum, the museum curator Donna De Salvo, the Warhol biographer Wayne Koestenbaum and one of the artist’s brothers, John Warhola. “I didn’t want to interview anybody hip or because they were a famous hanger-on,” Mr. Burns said.
As a result his research consisted of “diving into the archive and coming up before you drowned, and finding people who could speak to his seriousness as an artist,” Mr. Burns said. “That’s why it’s really a nerd film.”
The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has an extensive archive of the artist’s professional and personal output, including time capsules he kept for 30 years holding fan mail, business correspondence, telephone messages, dinner invitations and other memorabilia.