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Originally published Friday, January 2, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Michel Auder's "The Feature": Self-indulgent, but with some amusing moments

"The Feature" is Michel Auder's three-hour-plus account of his collaboration with Andy Warhol and his marriage to Warhol's ever-wry superstar Viva.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"The Feature," with Michel Auder, Viva, Eric Bogosian, Andy Warhol. Directed by Auder and Andrew Neel, from a screenplay by Auder, Neel and Luke Meyer. 184 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains nudity, profanity, explicit sex scenes). In English and French, with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum.

Described by its author as a "fictionalized biography," Michel Auder's "The Feature" is a three-hours-plus scrapbook drawn largely from Auder's film and video work over the past four decades.

Essentially a collection of home movies, it's almost a dictionary definition of "self-indulgent," filled with famous faces, naked people and what certain celebrities mean to Auder.

The name-dropping gets old fast, but "The Feature" does have its poetic touches and amusing moments, especially when Auder pokes fun at his own sense of self-importance and his expensive tastes.

Born in France but based in Brooklyn, Auder worked with Andy Warhol at Warhol's Factory in the 1960s/1970s, hobnobbed with Roman Polanski and Yoko Ono, and married Cindy Sherman and Warhol "superstar" Viva, with whom he had a child, Alexandra.

Much of the footage deals with Auder's breakups with his ex-wives and his relationship with his daughter, who appeared in a film he later directed: "Chasing the Dragon" (1987), a forgotten drug drama starring a very young Eric Bogosian.

"This narrative is not a true account," the 68-year-old Auder declares at the beginning of the film, claiming that it was drawn from more than 5,000 video hours.

He points out that he could have edited the material in many ways: "The documentary footage that is present seems real, and is real — and not real."

In other words, editing is manipulation, and it can be used to create many versions of the truth. What's interesting about Auder's film is his attempt to tell a familiar story, set against the history of the Soho art movement, in a way that's quite personal.

In the opening scenes, Auder learns that he has a malignant brain tumor, but he decides to do nothing and say nothing to the people closest to him. This may sound like a subject more appropriate to the Lifetime channel, but Auder defies expectations, avoiding a conventional ending while turning the bad news into an opportunity to review his life.

He finds himself distracted by looking at ants and eating cherries, "hunting for sadness, hunting for beauty," as his camera turns a still life into a study in decay. He flashes back to the past, stopping off at Cannes and California swimming pools and the Chelsea Hotel, adjusting to parenthood and the role of husband.

"I'm getting tired of being a star," says the ever-wry, scene-swiping Viva, who turns her hands into dancing, all-but-independent creatures. "It's just like being a slave. This is my last performance."

People are poorly identified, many of the older images are murky or streaked with static, and we never get much sense of why Auder split with Viva, or why they annoy their child, who clearly adores them both.

But Warhol completists will want to put this one on their must-see lists. At the same time, Warhol virgins may be titillated by Auder's glimpse at a legendary moment in the history of American art.

John Hartl:

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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