Beautiful Darling

"Candy Darling on her Deathbed" by Peter Hujar

I went to see Beautiful Darling at the IFI which was being screened as part of their Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Festival last Saturday.  Beautiful Darling is the story of Candy Darling, a transsexual woman who was an actress known primarily for her roles in Andy Warhol’s Women in Revolt and Flesh, and also in Tennessee Williams’ Small Craft Warnings.

The film shows Candy’s life from her beginnings as James Lawrence Slattery in Long Island, to her transformation to Candy Darling, glamorous blonde film star, and her eventual death from leukemia aged 29.  It contains interviews with New York luminaries including Penny Arcade, Bob Colacello, Sam Green, Fran Lebowitz, Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead, Paul Morrissey, Julie Newmar, John Waters and Holly Woodlawn.  Beautiful Darling was originally conceived by Jeremiah Newton, who was a close friend of Candy Darling and is the executor of her estate, and who is interviewed extensively in the documentary.

The most moving parts of the documentary are Candy’s diary extracts read aloud by Chloë Sevigny. She had been keeping diaries since the age of 14, and her natural humour and warmth radiate from the page. Candy conveys her loneliness, her longing for love and a relationship, with an honesty that was perhaps otherwise missing from her life in the fast paced emotionally shallow world of Warhol’s entourage.

Candy died on March 21st 1974 in Columbus Hospital, New York. Even on her deathbed she craved attention and although she was very ill, she requested that Peter Hujar come to the hospital and photograph her. The photo (shown above) is impossibly glamorous, poignant and beautiful; a fitting image to end to Candy’s life. Those interviewed in the documentary said that Candy had achieved everything she set out to – she was a successful film star, adored for her beauty – but I think that misses the point somewhat. Candy also dreamed of finding love, great romantic love, but she died without ever finding someone who would completely accept her for who she was and love her for it, not in spite of it. As another famous blonde movie star once said “a career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night”.

The film is showing at many film festivals around the world in the coming months. Make sure you get to see it. It’s a compassionate and intelligent portrait of a brave groundbreaking woman.

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