Monday, April 18, 2011

James Rasin's exhilarating and painful BEAUTIFUL DARLING opens at IFC Center

Of all the oddities in Andy Warhol's stable of "stars," Candy Darling -- to me, at least -- always seemed the most deserving of "superstar" appellation. Yes, Edie Sedgwick was more perky, while Viva and Nico perhaps possessed more "real" beauty (but did anyone want reality back then?). Yet Candy was out-and-out glamorous. Infinitely more beautiful than, say, Holly Woodlawn or Jackie Curtis, she was the only one of Warhol's transsexuals who even began to touch the hem of Dietrich's or Monroe's garment. Yours truly didn't know much about Ms Darling back then, only that "she" was a "he," albeit one who could have fooled me -- and most everyone else who didn't get too close.

Now, with the supremely involving, strange, funny and moving documentary BEAUTIFUL DARLING by James Rasin (shown at right), we do get close to this exotic fake flower, and it's an experience at once engrossing and sad, surprising and even strangely uplifting. Of all the films, documentary or narrative, to come out of the Warhol years, this one seems to me the best. It honors its subject by presenting her both as she wanted to be seen and known, and by digging deeper into character and circum-stance to allow us to under-stand the how and why of Candy Darling.

Mr. Rasin has managed all this in a round-about manner that involves history, psychology, sociology and culture, and some help from Darling's best friend (and the film's producer) Jeremiah Newton, whom we see both today -- and back in the day (above, kneeling), soon after an ordinary, if rather pretty, Long Island boy named James Slattery who didn't "fit in" suddenly became known as Candy Darling.

Fitting in and how to do it, while garnering fame if not fortune, is what Candy was all about, and the road that s/he traveled is not open to all homosexuals (you've got to have beauty on your side), but as the movie reveals, it is the one that she chose and then pursued with single-minded ferocity.

Beginning with Newton now, filling out a form for the Garden State Crematory, we travel back and forth in time, visiting young Slattery and the older Darling, a few relatives, and many friends in and out of "The Factory" who made up Ms Darling's world. Many we see via archival footage (they're dead now); others (like writer/historian/
raconteur Fran Lebowitz, at left) prove good guides to both the old days and modern times.

We learn of Candy's struggle with the idea of having a sex change, her constant economic difficulties (Warhol, shown above, right, as usual, was no help with this), and though it appears that there were no sex-providing men in her life, at least one person interviewed here hints of some whoring around simply to pay the bills. Late in her short career, she appeared in a production of the Tennessee Williams play Small Craft Warnings, and we even see and hear Mr Williams talk about his "star."

By the end of this rich and event-filled but only 85-minute-long movie, the sense we have of actually understanding this deprived, strictured life -- given over primarily to the constant application of glamor, with its commensurate rewards -- is surprisingly strong. Rasin and Newton have given us probably as close a look at the life of a specific glamorous transsexual as we are likely to see. The film is full of compassion, affection and honesty.  I'd like to believe that Candy Darling would regard it -- rather than the now-famous "deathbed photo" (below) -- as her proper memorial.

Beautiful Darling, a Corinth Films release, opens this Friday, April 22, at IFC Center in New York City -- and elsewhere, too, I hope, for this is a film that deserves a wider release.

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