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Docurama presents
Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story (2000)

"Honey Berlin and Andy Warhol and me. The big pie in the sky."
- Brigid Berlin

Review By: Dale Dobson  
Published: November 19, 2001

Stars: Brigid Berlin
Other Stars: John Waters, Bob Colacello, Patricia Hearst
Director: Vincent Fremont, Shelley Dunn Fremont

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, some archival nudity and drug use)
Run Time: 01h:14m:56s
Release Date: November 20, 2001
UPC: 767685949238
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-A-A- C+

DVD Review

Brigid Berlin was born to privilege as the daughter of Richard Berlin, chief executive of the Hearst Publishing Empire. A childhood burdened with weight problems and constant lectures from mother Honey led the young adult Brigid to join the underground culture, centered around Andy Warhol's "Factory" in New York in the nineteen-sixties. As "Brigid Polk" (a not-so-subtle reference to her intravenous drug habit), Brigid became an underground film legend, a Warhol Superstar defined by her effusive verbal riffs and her joyously anti-Establishment lifestyle. Her own artistic efforts included her infamous "cock book" and her trip books, as well as her tape recordings of phone conversations that influenced some of Warhol's projects.

Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story examines Berlin's life past and present, combining archival footage from her childhood and her adventures at the Factory with significant new material. Documentary filmmakers Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont interviewed Berlin extensively on videotape in late 1999, chronicling her current obsessions with diet, pugs, long-strained family relationships, and Key Lime pie. Brigid Berlin today is a dignified (and occasionally indignant) individualist, slightly addled by age and/or residual effects of her youthful excesses, but still feisty, intelligent and loquacious. Her ancestry and breeding lend Ms. Berlin an "elder statesperson" aura, even as she unabashedly removes her top to demonstrate her "tit print" painting technique at the Gramercy International Art Fair. Her memories of the Warhol era and thoughts on life at large make for engrossing, entertaining viewing.

The Fremonts have also gathered memories and thoughts from Berlin's friends and colleagues, including writer Bob Colacello, "classmate" Patricia Hearst, and film directors Paul Morrissey and John Waters (another surviving member of the "underground," he has included Berlin in his recent films Serial Mom and Pecker). Rare footage fleshes out the narrative, with restored home movies depicting Berlin's early life and foreshadowing her later exhibitionism. Berlin's audio recordings of conversations with her mother (as well as her ability to reconstruct Honey Berlin's vitriolic tirades) give us a clear and disturbing picture of the stress Brigid must have endured as an unhappy, overweight child. The film also draws extensively from the Warhol archives, including Berlin's notorious self-injection scene from Chelsea Girls and several videotaped monologues from the early nineteen-seventies.

If Pie in the Sky has a failing, it's in the establishment of context—we're given a very clear picture of Berlin as a person, but the details of her world are left to whatever impression grows out of the participants' remarks and the available archival footage. It's great, for example, to see actor Taylor Mead, who appeared in such underground films as The Nude Restaurant, Lonesome Cowboys and Taylor Mead's Ass as well as mainstream movies, but his memories of Ms. Berlin might mean more to an audience with a bit of background. And Brigid's younger sister Richie, also a Factory regular, is only briefly mentioned, because the sisters were not speaking at the time the documentary was in production (a temporary rift, as it turns out).

Still, Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story is a valuable contribution to the record of American culture. The film blends oral history with substantial, rarely-seen historical material, and the Fremonts give us a vivid picture of a pop legend. Viewers familiar with Warholian history may get more out of it than the uninitiated will, but Pie in the Sky will fascinate anyone with an interest in American art and culture. Recommended.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Docurama presents Pie in the Sky in its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, though the transfer is rendered in nonanamorphic letterboxed format. The production was edited on video from digital video, film and archival videotape sources, with film sources converted to video using 3:2 pulldown. The DVD is drawn from the original video edit, not from a theatrical film print, and the DigiBeta footage looks just great, crisp and stable with no visible compression artifacts. Most of the archival material looks very good too, especially the 16mm Berlin family home movies restored for this production. This is a documentary, so the extra sharpness an anamorphic transfer might have provided isn't sorely missed, and may not have been possible given the resolution of some of the component materials. Bottom line, the production looks clean and solid on DVD, as it should.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Pie in the Sky is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround format, a straightforward documentary mix that places dialogue in the center and spreads music across the front of the soundstage and into the matrixed surround channel. "Blondie" member Chris Stein contributes an evocative, thoroughly appropriate score with a "Velvet Underground" feel, and interview segments benefit from clear audio, surprisingly free of the "live" echoes and hums common to documentary filmmaking. Archival video and audio materials, of course, suffer from limited frequency and dynamic range, but this is definitely a contemporary documentary soundtrack, nicely produced and recorded.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Regret to Inform, Speaking In Strings, Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, Fastpitch
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Film Outtakes
Extras Review: The Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story DVD features 12 picture-menu chapter stops and a few worthwhile extras.

The Film Outtakes supplement is the most substantial, featuring approximately twenty minutes of funny, poignant material not included in the final film. The "outtakes" include "deleted" scenes shot for Pie in the Sky, as well as vintage Brigid footage from the early nineteen-seventies and material from Berlin's recorded phone conversations with Andy Warhol and her mother Honey, played over artwork and still photographs. The video material seems to have been drawn from an Avid system, with noticeably lower resolution than the main attraction, but no matter—it's interesting, historically valuable stuff, and a nice addition to the DVD package.

Brief bios cover producing/directing team Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont.

Several pages of onscreen credits cover the film credits (3 pages) and the DVD production team (1 page).

DVD publisher Docurama also includes a promotional About Docurama page, as well as an onscreen catalog promoting 16 of the company's releases. Video trailers are included for several titles, includingRegret to Inform, Speaking In Strings, Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, and Fastpitch. Most of the trailers are of middling quality, drawn from smeary 1.33:1 full-frame videotape masters, with the exception of the Bob Dylan selection, which presents the film's famous "cue card" sequence with commentary track audio from the DVD.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story is an engrossing, affectionate look at the past and present life of an underground legend. Docurama's DVD presents a clean (though nonanamorphic) transfer, with worthwhile supplements courtesy of the producing/directing team and the Warhol archives. A must-see for anyone with an interest in the "Factory" era or human nature in general.

 


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