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Sienna Miller: A Movie Star Is Born

There’s about to be a lot of fighting over "Factory Girl," the most troubled movie of 2006.

But it’s getting a one-week Academy Awards-qualifying run, starting tomorrow in Los Angeles. If you’re out there, you shouldn’t miss it.

Sienna Miller and Guy Pearce give truly great performances, and the movie — at least the version that’s going to play now — works.

What about Andy Warhol? He was crass, commercial, mean and disloyal. Sorry, but that’s the truth. He was smart about real estate.

The Factory — where no manual or menial labor took place — was a loft building in Manhattan where Warhol produced his magazine, Interview; his art (Campbell's soup cans, silk-screen prints of celebrities); and his semi-pornographic, crudely made movies.

Warhol came to New York from Pittsburgh and reinvented himself from Warhola, his real Polish last name, into a kind of vacuous pre-Paris Hilton who, instead of saying “That’s hot,” repeated the incantation “That’s great.”

He worshipped old money, old fame, power and venality. “Kids” — young people of age, not children — came and went from the Factory, and he used them for his own purposes. No one was paid for anything if he could get away with it.

Into this world came Edie Sedgwick, who was beautiful, young and wealthy, thanks to her abusive "old money" father. She was one of the few who didn’t change her name and background story when she came to the Factory.

Everyone else around her did, though, and we meet them at the beginning of George Hickenlooper’s uneven but nevertheless compelling movie. After all, this is where Andy’s self-pronounced “superstars” like Ultra Violet, Viva and Paul Morrissey were born.

Hickenlooper is a documentary filmmaker with a lot of credits, including the short film that became "Sling Blade." But it’s important to note that it was Billy Bob Thornton who directed the feature version of that project.

So “Factory Girl” has a documentary feel, whether Hickenlooper likes it or not. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. This means that he’s made a film that often feels unexplained and a little like you’re eavesdropping on real lives. It gives "Factory Girl" a natural look, but the reason the film is so late to the release schedule is that it required a lot of work to make it an actual narrative.

Nevertheless, Pearce is astounding as Warhol. You know Pearce from "Memento" and "L.A. Confidential." In those films, he plays the square-jawed hero. As Warhol, he really shows off his chameleon-like qualities.

He deserves an Oscar nomination for this work, bringing out Warhol’s petulance and stripping away the veneer of a kooky eccentric. He almost makes him seem like a cult leader rather than an artist, and that may be a more accurate characterization than any biographer has captured thus far. Warhol as Charles Manson is a concept whose time has come.

Which brings me to Miller. She co-starred in the highly underrated Lasse Hallstrom comedy "Casanova," and you should rent it. It’s a top-notch film, and she’s very good in it.

As Edie, Miller is part Judy Carne and part Liza Minnelli. She’s incredibly charming, and can run the range from cherubic to brittle. She’s also sensationally sexy, with a wide killer smile that can also make her appear to be incredibly fragile.

Was this the real Edie Sedgwick? I have no idea. But Miller makes Edie sympathetic and sad, and more than just a curiosity. Her rendition feels like the breakthrough performance in a huge career.

A lot of the debate about “Factory Girl” will be centered on its veracity, as if there were any truths in the Factory. You can read "The Andy Warhol Diaries," edited by Pat Hackett, to get the truest account of life with Andy, and still be confounded.

It’s unlikely, for example, that Edie had an affair with Bob Dylan. In the movie, Hayden Christensen, whom I’ve accused of being wooden in the past, does a great job playing a Dylanesque character named Billy Quinn. Dylan didn’t want his name used, but it’s him, right down to the harmonica. Dylan should be flattered. He comes across as hot stuff and never looked better.

But Edie’s real affair was with Dylan associate Bob Neuwirth. She lived with him for two years, but he’s not in the movie. Some books about Edie and Dylan suggest they may have had a fling, but only Dylan knows and he’s not telling.

Dylan, of course, is famous for not owning up to his personal life. He likes to keep secret the number of children he had (after his initial four with wife Sara Lownds) and the names of their mothers. When I reported a few years ago that he’d romanced Raquel Welch in recent times, he denied it even though it was true.

But what is true? Biographical films no longer stick to any truth. Characters are combined, incidents are rearranged. “Facts” are reinterpreted so the plot moves along better. “Fur,” this year’s movie about photographer Diane Arbus, was billed as an “imaginary portrait.”

You can only wonder which parts of James Brown’s life will make it into the film announced yesterday about the recently deceased star. Will his PCP addiction be reduced to an undefined, quickly mentioned tic? How will the newly interpreted cheerful “I Feel Good” — like sugar and spice — be reconciled with “Sex Machine”?

If you really want to know more about Edie, Andy, Bob and all the people in "Factory Girl," there are plenty of books and documentaries from which to draw the "real" story. But if you just want to see a really entertaining movie about a slice of New York pop culture, with terrific, energetic performances from good young actors, this movie is sufficient.

Edward Herrmann is heartbreaking as the family accountant. See “Factory Girl” for all of the good performances, and don’t worry about the details. None of them will change the fate of the republic, or bring Edie back.

By the way, actress and TV star Kyra Sedgwick, Kevin Bacon's wife, is Edie’s cousin in this long legacy of a wealthy American family that reaches back several centuries. Kyra was born in 1965, the same year in which “Factory Girl” takes place.

Of course, the difference is that Kyra has gone on to have all the things Edie wanted and couldn’t get: fame, artistry, respect and the love of a family of her own. It’s sort of a karmic, cosmic irony.