Interview: James Rasin, Director of Beautiful Darling

May 06, 2011

Beautiful Darling is a new documentary about Candy Darling, the legendary Queen of Andy Warhol's downtown New York who was born a man, James Lawrence Slattery, in 1944, and died a celebrated woman in 1974. People have used labels like drag queen or transsexual to describe Candy, but as the movie explores, she's neither, always just that singular creation, Candy. She was one of the most glamorous figures in early 1970's New York, so obsessed by Kim Novak and cinema luster that, even broke and destitute, she turned herself into a Hollywood swan, gracing the dirty New York streets in pearly dresses and peroxide-blonde hair. Lou Reed wrote two songs about her, one by himself and one with The Velvet Underground, and Candy acted in some Off-Broadway plays and a few Warhol films. No role was more important to her, though, than the role of Candy Darling. Even on her deathbed, she filled the room with flowers and had the scene dramatically photographed.

Catch our interview with director James Rasin about the film, which was made in conjunction with Candy's best friend Jeremiah Newton, and see the movie yourself. It's playing at IFC in New York, the Downtown Independent in Los Angeles and at Coolidge Corner in Boston.

It’s interesting to make a so-called truthful documentary about a woman who was more concerned with a fiction and this self-created Candy Darling than the hard facts. Well she was an act of self-creation, which is, in a way, a fiction unto itself. But I think what is interesting about her kind of performance artwork is that through a kind of fictionalizing of things or creating something new, you arrive at some kind of basic truth.

Do you think she found a truth? Well I think that she was starting to. She was getting older, she had reached, by any kind of standard, especially standards around New York in those days, a pretty good amount of fame. She was a celebrity downtown. She was in Andy Warhol films, she was on his arm, she was on Jane Fonda’s arm, she was in a Tennessee William’s play. I think that she was beginning to realize, though, that maybe some of the ultimate dreams that she had of becoming a huge movie star like Kim Novak weren’t going to happen and the things that did happen were maybe a little hollow. So I think she started thinking about what she really wanted down the road, which was a husband and children. A life in the suburbs.

She wanted to move back to Long Island, right? She had these very American fantasies of a life, whether it be becoming a Hollywood movie star or a suburban housewife. It’s interesting, contrary to most Americans, she was more likely to become Kim Novak than a “normal” wife of a lawyer or something, with a suburban house and a three car garage. She had two very difficult dreams for her to achieve, given her situation.

Her fantasies were kind of conservative, almost, desiring either 1940s nostalgia or the suburbs. She was a real odd mix of all kinds of different pieces of American culture, from Hollywood movies of the ’30s and ’40s to a very traditional ’50s suburban upbringing, and then breaking out and being there in the ’60s and ’70s in this wild scene of New York City.

She had a pull towards things out of her reach. I always kind of saw Candy’s story as like a classic American dream story, like The Great Gatsby or something, where it just kind of keeps twisting.

Tell me about [Candy's best friend] Jeremiah’s relationship with Candy? Was he a fan? Was he a friend? A lover? Well I think it grew and it changed. When it started out, Jeremiah was five years younger than Candy, and Candy was a lot more experienced and street savvy and I think it did kind of start out that she needed someone who was a fan, a little slave, and Jeremiah was totally star-struck by her. But I think their friendship progressed and Candy came to realize that this was a guy she that could count on. And in that time period, and in those circles where people were backstabbing and on drugs and everyone wanted to be in the limelight, Jeremiah was someone to count on. And Jeremiah has still looked out for his friend, you know, 35 years later, and took care of her things and buried her and got this movie going about her. Here’s a guy who has though about her and his friendship with her everyday of his life.

Every time there’s a new documentary about the Warhol generation, people like Bob Colacello or Fran Leibowitz tell you that their New York was the best, the most glamorous, and more exciting than it will ever be. Do you buy that? Well, you know, I’m always pretty skeptical of people trying to romanticize the past. And I think with that generation of people, you know, they were really breaking free from a lot of things, and they were the Baby boomers and they really took over the culture. Anyone in their youth romanticizes their youth and thinks it’s the best time possible, and I’m sure that being in New York in the ’70s was amazing. But I’m not here to sentimentalize or romanticize this time period as the ultimate of all ultimates. When I first moved here, I remember going into The Strand and picking up an old guide book to New York City from the ’30s, and looking at a section about Greenwich Village. Even in the ’30s they’re saying, It's all over now, it's all posers and tourists, you should have been here in the 1890s! This is all part of the ongoing mythology of New York and everyone who was there 20 years ago thinks that that was the time. And I’m sure the people who are arriving in New York now think its the time.

Did anybody not want to talk to you at all? Lou Reed. He wrote two great, amazing songs about Candy and pretty much said all that he had to say in those songs. My movie can't do better than that.

Any great stories that weren’t in the film? Holly Woodlawn tells me that Candy would wake up at three in the morning and put on her makeup and redo her whole self so that when she actually woke up in the morning, she woke up all ready. It really was a 24-hour job.

Posted: May 06, 2011
Interview: James Rasin, Director of Beautiful Darling