It is hard to imagine a less reliable narrator than Andy Warhol, but a forthcoming docuseries set to debut next month on Netflix intends to cast him as one. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology will be used to recreate the artist’s voice in a move that somehow remains poetically true, as it carries the Pop artist’s penchant for conceptual slight-of-hand into a new day. The Andy Warhol Diaries is a six-part series directed by Andrew Rossi and adapted from a book of the same name by Warhol interlocutor Pat Hackett, and will attempt to intimately explore the life of a famously enigmatic figure with diary excerpts read by Warhol himself — sort of.
The Warhol Foundation authorized the decision to use AI-generated audio to recreate the artist’s voice, according to the two-minute trailer that dropped this week. The technology has been viewed as controversial in previous projects, most notably in the posthumous Anthony Bourdain documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, whose creators did not disclose the use of synthetic audio to viewers. Voice cloning is perhaps most infamous for its appearance in so-called “deepfakes,” digitally manipulated images and videos used to spread disinformation, but it has also raised important ethical concerns for documentarians.
The effect is used throughout the upcoming Warhol Diaries series to achieve a sense of Warhol describing his own life — the subject of much rumor, speculation, and willful opacity — by narrating excerpts from his own written record. The conceit is that the diaries, which cover the period from 1976 to 1989 and were dictated to Hackett, offer a window into the artist’s soul. But like most things Warhol, there is probably more nuance — especially considering his tendency to self-archive, which suggests that even in his most personal moments, Warhol knew the material would be presented to the world.
“He could be incredibly raw and emotional as he talked to his diarist over the phone,” Rossi told Entertainment Weekly. “To fully appreciate the radical vulnerability that Andy shares in the Diaries, I felt that we needed to hear the words in Andy’s own voice.”
The Netflix project appears to attempt a comprehensive vision, covering Warhol’s life and career from his childhood in Pittsburgh to his paradigm-shifting art work and his later years. The latter were punctuated by his ambiguous relationships with Jean-Michel Basquiat and an assassination attempt by Valerie Solanas in 1968 that left him physically and emotionally scarred until his death in 1987.
For those who can never get enough Warhol, the six-part series promises to shine light on aspects of the man behind the artist. With Warhol, though, it’s likely that the deepfake technology is not simply a special effect, but in fact the whole subject.
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