SIFF spotlight: Candy Darling
Candy Darling was born in Queens as James Lawrence Slattery but she had aspirations far beyond the cookie-cutter conformity of the suburbian into which she was born. She loved the movies of old Hollywood and was particularly enamored of the elegant Kim Novak, her role model. Escaping into Manhattan, she eventually became part of Andy Warhol’s Factory. After a small role in Warhol’s Flesh along with Jackie Curtis and Joe Dallesandro (portrayed in a documentary that played at SIFF 09), she took a central role in Warhol’s Women In Revolt, playing beside Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn in a story about a socialite recruited into political activism.
After those films, she went on to a few more independent films and appeared in Klute with Jane Fonda and Lady Liberty with Sophia Loren. She also appeared on stage taking roles in plays by Jackie Curtis and Tennessee Williams (at Williams’) request and others. The mainstream fame that Candy Darling desperately desired eluded her, however, and she died of leukemia in 1974.
Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar (June 13, 6:15 pm at SIFF Cinema) tells the story of Candy’s life from birth to death with the help of wonderful archival footage; interviews with people who knew her, including close friend Jeremiah Newton, keeper of her legacy; Fran Lebowitz, Julie Newmar, John Waters, Holly Woodlawn, and many others who knew her appear in current interviews; deceased members of the factory speak of her in archival materials. Chloe Sevigny reads from Candy’s diary in voice over, adding an extra level of intimacy to what is a carefully constructed portrait of an interesting, charismatic, and charming woman who would’ve been able to become the star she dreamed of being in a fairer world.
Director James Rasin recently spoke about his film in Seattle.
What made you want to do a film about Candy Darling?
JR: Well, I’ve always been very interested in that time period and that scene in New York and Warhol and the Velvet Underground, so she was obviously always on my radar screen. And then Jeremiah asked me if I was interested in doing it, so it was a combination of being interested in her and her story knowing that it was a very interesting story, a kind of American dream story. I’ve always been very attracted to those stories in real life and in literature, the kidn of classic American mythology of someone transforming themselves and going on a journey of discovery and usually ending up tragically.
It was probably easier for you that there was so much archival material available. Was it hard putting it all together?
It was pretty hard putting it together. That was one of the things that appealed to me, besides from her story, the background her story plays out against: New York in the 60s and 70s, Max’s Kansas City, the Factory, Off-off-Broadway and Lou Reed…just from a filmmaker’s perspective I was like, “Wow, this would be an interesting challenge”, how to put together Jeremiah’s audio interviews, his audio diaries, Candy’s diaries, the photos, the archival footage, my interviews, so much material to stitch together to create a tapestry of a story. Thanks to my editor Zac Stuart-Pontier who’s a young guy, we sat side-by-side and figured it out together like a jigsaw puzzle.
How much storyboarding did you do in advance?
We didn’t even start putting things up on a wall like that until fairly well in the editing process. We just started organizing things and I said to Zaz at one point, “We’re not really going to have any kind of outline here, we’re just going to let the story evolve and let the structure evolve”. We just thought of this as a dinner conversation, like a bunch of really interesting people having a conversation about someone they used to know. The way a conversation goes, it goes here, it goes there, it goes back on itself, and the film evolved from there and obviously got more structured and more film-like quality but that was the genesis, the beginning of it, and then as we started really finding the structure and the pacing then we started putting up yellow legal pad pieces of paper on the wall and started moving them around and it started coming into focus.
How long did it take to put the whole thing together?
Well, I started going through all of Jeremiah’s tapes and audio interviews and boxes of stuff four and a half years ago. We shot the interviews about three and a half years ago. Jeremiah wasn’t originally going to be in the film, it wasn’t really a part of the original idea but then after I shot the interviews and we started cutting it together, I always knew I wanted something more. You know, this will still be a good film but it’s still kind of a talking head, archival footage and I had the diaries there and other things but I thought it would be great if we had something else to make it more. We have Jeremiah here, he’s got her ashes and he’s going through this whole process, and you talk to all these people that knew her and they knew her, of course, but they didn’t really know her like Jeremiah knew her or they didn’t remember her as strongly and as deeply and weren’t as affected by her life and her death as much as Jeremiah was and I said that’s a story onto itself. So instead of just having him as another talking head, I introduced him as the cinema verite story unto itself, his own journey of coming to grips with her memory and hopefully his story brings the film into another place where, yes, it’s all about Candy and her life but it’s also about Jeremiah and their relationship and their friendship and loyalty and time.
How challenging were the interviews? Were people generally receptive to talking about Candy?
Yeah, everyone was very receptive. Everyone we called up and they all knew all knew Jeremiah or knew of Jeremiah and some of them we found otherwise, they all had…”Oh, I love Candy, I was so sad whe she died, I always felt so sad that she didn’t get more attention, she wanted fame so much and she worked so hard.” People had a real connection to her because she wasn’t someone like Edie who was self-destructive or a pain in the neck or dug their own grave, she was someone who was really genuine…she could be a diva, but she was someone who worked hard, who was a good person and really had a tough break so they were very happy to hear that someone was making a film about her and they were very generous with their time.
In certain ways, at least looking backward, Candy almost seems naïve. The kind of woman that she was, she wanted to be a movie star. It would be hard enough for someone in her position to achieve that goal today, let alone back then.
It’s an amazing thing. It’s kind of an odd thing. Paul Ambrose said in one interview, “Candy just arrived in New York and dressed like a movie star and acted like a movie star and expected everyone to treat her like a movie star and so everyone did.” She willed it. It was a lot of work involved, but the way she behaved and the way she looked and in some ways it was kind of an odd thing because what she wanted to do was such a throwback. You’re talking about the late 60s early 70s when the idea, the style in those days was to be “real” and…the more unkempt you were, the more honest you were and the whole idea of superficiality and imagery was really very not cool. So she was like behind her time and ahead of her time and stuck in this one little moment. I remember asking Penny Arcade – Penny Arcade was around in those days and a little more political, well, very political and a feminist and I asked, “Well, how did you feel? I mean, here you are women in those days especially fighting to be seen as not a superficial, not that image, that you’re a real person, that you can be taken for your own worth, for your brains, for what you can accomplish. And here’s a ‘guy’ who shows up and says ‘I’m going to be a woman’ and ‘he’ perpetuates this stereotype of the blonde superficial bimbo. Wouldn’t that be so insulting, wouldn’t that piss you off?” And she said, “Well, no. Normally it probably would, but Candy was just so radical in what she was doing that everything else just faded into the background because it was so revolutionary and so subversive and so radical that you couldn’t really pigeon-hole it that way.”
Do you think that Candy’s life would’ve been substantially different if she was born later?
Who knows? I don’t know. She was there at that time. I don’t know.
Do you think then that she was a product of those times?
Well, I think that she was certainly a product of, in an odd way, post-World War II suburbia. Watching the Million Dollar Movie where they would play the same movie every day or twice a day for a week and watching old Hollywood movies and she would memorize the lines and practice the lines. I think that for a kid and it probably still holds true today, I mean, I guess kids today can go online and obviously there’s so much more available to you but when you’re a kid, you’re only about 30 miles outside of New York City but you may as well be a million miles and you make that journey sitting in your bedroom reading movie magazines and watching the Million Dollar Movie and dreaming this incredibly almost unachievable dream of becoming Kim Novak. For a ten-year-old boy in Massapequa dreaming of becoming Kim Novak, it’s just an odd thing. But she really believed that she could do it and she did.
What has been audience reaction to the film?
The audience reaction has been incredible. There’s a cross-section of people that knew her or knew a lot about her and they find it very interesting but what is really interesting are the people who didn’t know anything about her or even necessarily about Warhol but somehow or another they ended up in the audience and I take it as a great compliment that they walk away saying I didn’t know anything about that and yet she’s so interesting, and she’s so compelling and she’s so human and the movie’s so compelling, and I think it really kind of takes them by surprise because they were expecting to see something that it’s not. So people are very moved by it and very thoughtful about it. I think it raises a lot of questions about gender and identity and who we are. You don’t have to be a transvestite or transgendered or gay or straight or male or female. It’s just a simple question of who am I, really, and what do I have to do to become myself and everybody deals with that question in one way or another.