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A Warhol superstar's walk on the wild side

Beautiful Darling (USA 2010). Directed by James Rasin with Chloë Sevigny, Fran Lebowitz, Gerard Malanga and others. Vancouver premiere of documentary at Pacific Cinémathèque July 29-Aug. 3. Rating: 7 (out of 10) John Goodman jgoodman@nsnews.

Beautiful Darling (USA 2010).

Directed by James Rasin with Chloë Sevigny, Fran Lebowitz, Gerard Malanga and others. Vancouver premiere of documentary at Pacific Cinémathèque July 29-Aug. 3.

Rating: 7 (out of 10)

John Goodman

The hard, cold reality behind the transgendered make-believe world of Warhol superstar Candy Darling is the subject of James Rasins first feature film.

Born James Lawrence Slattery in 1944, Candy came from out on the island, goes the line in Lou Reeds song about the Warhol milieu Walk on the Wild Side. He became a she long before Andy discovered Candy performing in an off-Broadway play Glamour, Glory and Gold (which also featured a young Robert De Niro).

As a Factory regular Candy was paid something like $25 per scene to appear in Warhol movies such as Flesh and Women in Revolt. She also had roles in several mainstream films (Klute, Lady Liberty) and worked with German director Werner Schroeter. A consummate street hustler, she was an important part of the Warhol scene during a brief period of the late 60s/early 70s.

Rasins documentary reconstructs the little-known history of the New York underground icon using diary passages (read by Chloë Sevigny), archival film footage and new interviews with people connected to the Warhol scene back in the day.

The director spoke to the North Shore News about the making of the film in collaboration with Candy Darlings longtime friend Jeremiah Newton.

North Shore News: Literature seems to be a big component in your work. How did you become involved in filmmaking?

James Rasin: I actually started out wanting to be a writer and working in publishing. When I came to New York in 1987 I came with a novel I had written after college under my arm but I quickly learned I was segueing more into film. I found writing screenplays and stuff was more collaborative and more interesting so I took a filmmaking workshop and learned how to make films. I made some short films, one with Gregory Corso another with Herbert Huncke, and started writing screenplays which I would sell or option out one about Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith and a few others. Im from a writing background really and this is my first feature film.

North Shore News: How did you meet the Beat legends Huncke and Corso?

James Rasin: When I first moved to New York my first apartment was on 11th St. and Greenwich Avenue. I used to walk to the A-C-E train on 14th Street and 8th Avenue and take the subway to work everyday. There was a bookstore on Greenwich Avenue called The Rare Book Room, just a little store with really interesting books in the window that I always admired. I went in there one day after work this was a bookstore owned by Roger Richards and hanging out there at the Friday afternoon salon was Roger and Gregory Corso and Herbert and a bunch of other young people. We became friends. The first people I met in New York really.

North Shore News: Beat New York.

James Rasin: Yea, the last days.

North Shore News: How did you get involved with the Candy Darling project?

James Rasin: Id always been very interested in that scene and that time period and New York City. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and I remember hearing Walk on the Wild Side on the radio when I was nine when it first came out it was an AM hit. I got into the Velvet Underground and music and I read a lot and was very influenced and inspired by a lot of those underground scenes from New York City back to the 30s to the abstract expressionists and especially the Beats and the Punks and Warhol and all the various scenes that are from New York.

In 88 or 89 I went to a book publishing party at the Chelsea Hotel and I met Jeremiah (Newton) there. He was working at Columbia then and then he moved to NYU and hes always been very supportive of my work and some of the plays Ive written and stuff. He was just a person who was connected with this scene and Id heard a lot about Candy from him.

When he thought about getting this film going he asked if I would be interested in directing it. I said sure because I knew there was a great story there and I knew that he had incredible material that from a filmmakers perspective would really be an interesting challenge to work into the film and really bring this person to life. Especially with someone like Candy whose presence was so much in the here and now. It was more about being with her and seeing her ongoing 24/7 performance all the time.

North Shore News: Candy seems to have been in New York for a couple of years before crossing Warhols path.

James Rasin: She would come in when she was younger, take day trips in on the train and goof around for the day and just kind of get her feet wet. She was on the streets for awhile and then it really was through meeting Jackie Curtis and starting to get into some of these plays that put her on to the radar and got the attention of Andy.

I think that says a lot about her charisma and her unique appeal because in those days it wasnt so easy to get a camera put on you. Its not like today where everyones got a cellphone camera and putting stuff up on YouTube. If you wanted attention paid to you and were talking about New York City downtown where everybody was looking for attention, getting Andy Warhols attention in that scene was really hitting the big time. He was a guy who could give you access out of that hermetically-sealed world of downtown New York and maybe give you a platform to a much bigger audience.

North Shore News: How developed was Candys identity when she started hanging out at Warhols Factory?

James Rasin: It was pretty developed. She was Candy at that point. Shed gone blonde which was a key piece of her puzzle. By the time she met Andy she was pretty well developed as Candy. Of course becoming an Andy Warhol Superstar is a whole other dimension and layer of mystique but she was pretty well formed by the time she met Andy.

North Shore News: How did you obtain the archival footage?

James Rasin: It was a lot of investigative work. It was not easy to find. Anton Perich had footage and he knew Jeremiah. A lot of these people remembered Jeremiah and liked him and that was not only crucial in getting interviews but also the material. Some people, like Anton, were running around downtown shooting things with early videotape. The Warhol Museum had the Warhol Factory diaries of Candy in the Chelsea Hotel or up at the Factory that they let us use. There were more traditional places, like there just happened to be some footage that the BBC had or CBS Television or things like that. Sometimes we had to go through normal archival research routes and pay and sometimes people just had it that theyd shot with early equipment and kept and let us use it. It was kind of like an archeological dig.

North Shore News: You did a lot of new interviews during your research for the film.

James Rasin: Some people didnt make it of course. The Warhol scene was infamous for having a high mortality rate but theres still a lot around and I thought they brought a lot to the film. Not only in terms of what they had to say about Candy but theyre all such unique characters in their own right.

They also added a lot of the New York element. We did all the post-production in L.A. and all the people there doing the soundmixing, or whatever, were saying, This cast of characters is so interesting. They werent used to the accents some of them have old school New York accents which is something I hadnt even realized but it really does bring another New York level to the whole film.

North Shore News: Fran Lebowitz is both analytical and very funny. Shes a quote machine.

James Rasin: Fran is pretty famous for that. Shes the Dorothy Parker of her time very trenchant and hard-hitting. She takes no prisoners. During the editing process things changed all the time and sometimes there was more Fran, sometimes there was less Fran. It was hard to keep that equilibrium about her because what she has to say is so strong, sometimes harsh, certainly not sentimental. I think shes a very important witness. Certainly a very controversial voice. A lot of people dont really like what she says too much. My attitude was always this is a conversation, the film is a discussion about identity, about gender, about a lot of things and you cant just mute certain voices because you dont necessarily agree with what they have to say.

This film isnt just made for people from downtown New York or people who knew Candy. I really wanted to make a film that people could relate to across a broad spectrum because that Candys story was a universal story of finding ones self and I think thats something everyone can identify with and asks some basic questions.

Fran adds something to that discussion which is then countered by other people. When I started talking to Zac (Stuart-Pontier, the editor) about the structure of the film and what we were trying to do I said, This is a lot of interesting people sitting around having a dinner conversation about a very interesting person they knew a long time ago. Their memories are going to conflict, they are going to have different takes on it, theres a give and take.

North Shore News: Chloë Sevigny reads the diary passages in the film how did she become involved?

James Rasin: The whole time we were cutting the film I just did it on a scratch track or had a friend do it. As we got towards the end and things were getting nailed down it was really time to figure out who was going to do this and how we were going to get to them because we were nobodies.

Id always thought of Chloë because shes a talented actress and very New York. In some ways I think she is a spiritual heir of Candy in that shes the nexus of art and fashion and film in downtown New York. Im friends with Ryan McGinley, the photographer, and hed seen an early cut of the film and said if theres anything I can do to help let me know and I said I certainly will. So when the time came, I knew he was good friends with Chloë and I said, I would really love Chloë to consider reading the diaries so if you could tell her about it and hook me up with her that would be great.

He told her about it and she sent me an email and said, Ryan told me about your film and that its really good, and she sent a picture of herself from about 10 years before leaning up against a wall reading Candys pink diaries. She said, Ive had her diaries for a long time and always cherished them and I would love to do this. Send me a copy of the rough cut. I sent it to her and she said, Wow, this is really great. Id love to do it.

She was in L.A. and I was in New York and we talked on the phone about how she would do it. Her one question was, Do you want me to read this in Candys voice or in my voice? Which is always kind of the question. I said, No, I definitely want you to do it in your voice. Your voice is beautiful. Candys voice is all over the film and its inimitable and it would be kind of corny to have you re-enact that voice. Besides your not the Candy voice, which was a contruct anyway. It wasnt her voice anyway, your the inner voice of Candy. Thats really what matters.

North Shore News: The diaries cover a significant portion of Candys life from childhood on.

James Rasin: She started those diaries when she was a preteen. You have her diaries from about 12 or 13 until right before she died at 29. Some of them are traditional-type entries, some of them are letters and some of them are audio tapes made by Jeremiah.

He had this big bag of tapes of interviews he had done and I put some excerpts in the film. Hed gone to Candys mothers house after shed died (in 1974) and he was going through her stuff before her mother ended up destroying it all. He found other diaries in there and some of the most poignant passages come from him reading these diary entries into a tape recorder in Candys bedroom in a hushed tone. Actually at one point you can hear the mother on the outside yelling, What are you doing in there? Its really great that he did that because he couldnt take them all with him and they ended up getting burnt by the mother.

There were dozens of hours of tapes. You could almost do a whole film on the diary entries. This is truly Candy in the film. This is her voice, these are her inner thoughts. We see a lot of the struggle she had in those diary entries.

Some people go to the film because they are interested in Warhol or in that time period or maybe theyve heard of Candy.I think most are expecting to learn something about a relatively minor Warhol character. And they all walk away saying, That really took me by surprise how moving that film was and how I could relate to it. People dont expect to have such a personal connection to the trials and tribulations of a trangendered person from the late 60s, early 70s. They come away genuinely moved by her and her story. Its just a simple tale of someone setting out to achieve her dreams.