Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar -- Film Review

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Berlin -- Several of Andy Warhol's stable of performers achieved the 15 minutes of fame promised by their guru, but one of Warhol's pets, the transvestite performer known as Candy Darling, probably achieved a few more than her allotted minutes before fading into obscurity. Those who are not well versed in Warhol movies of the 1960s and '70s may not remember Darling today, but James Rasin's incisive documentary, "Beautiful Darling," which received its world premiere in Berlin, not only tells Darling's intriguing story but also makes a larger comment on the lust for celebrity that is one of the enduring, unhappy legacies of the Warhol era.

Darling was born James Slattery, a Long Island boy who always felt like a misfit until he imagined that he might re-invent himself as a movie star in the mold of his idol, Kim Novak. Warhol met her and cast her in a few of his shoestring productions, along with Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn (who is still alive and is interviewed by Rasin). Yet there was something unique about Darling. As John Waters observes in the film, many other transvestites were freakish whereas Darling was genuinely beautiful. Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon photographed her, and she starred in one of Tennessee Williams' later plays, "Small Craft Warnings," before dying of lymphoma in 1974 at the age of 29.
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Rasin found a wealth of material about Darling from Jeremiah Newton, her friend and roommate, who remains obsessed with Candy some 35 years after her death. And here is where the film achieves its most eerie and haunting resonance. If Darling created a glamorous persona to pay homage to her favorite movie stars, Newton has lived his life in thrall to Darling's memory. He retains her personal belongings and conducted his own oral history of his heroine. So the film emerges as a touching and twisted tribute to all the lonely star-worshippers who find a measure of personal fulfillment in their attachment to an idol.

Rasin's approach is even-handed and unsentimental, allowing us to draw our own conclusions about the weird extremes of this movie star infatuation. The film is skillfully edited, and Chloe Sevigny recites passages from Candy's diaries with tenderness and aplomb. An impressive number of insiders -- including Woodlawn, Waters, Paul Morrissey (who directed Darling in "Flesh" and "Women in Revolt"), Warhol Factory regulars Gerard Malanga and Taylor Mead, and writer Fran Lebowitz -- provide telling reminiscences. "Darling" expertly recreates a slice of the cultural history of the '60s while also telling us something about the poisonous addiction of fame.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival

Director-screenwriter: James Rasin
Producers: Elizabeth Bentley, Jeremiah Newton, Gill Holland
Director of photography: Martina Radwan
Music: Gerald Busby
Editor: Zachary Stuart-Pointer
No rating, 85 minutes
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