FILM REVIEW | BEAUTIFUL DARLING: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CANDY DARLING, ANDY WARHOL SUPERSTAR
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
there is something identifiably AMERICAN about CANDY DARLING.
as a relatively new country, throughout our history there has always been this unique capacity to SELF-MAKE ourselves in some optimistically divined utopian vision of what we could and should be, unhampered by centuries of triumphs and mistakes. in essence we are collectively in the process of bringing a more perfect vision of ourselves to fruition. the SELF-MADE, projected figure of ANDY WARHOL superstar and cultural icon CANDY DARLING showcases that distinct TENSION that comes between LIVED FANTASY and LIVED REALITY.
born in LONG ISLAND amongst the post-war newly built track houses and stifling suburban CONFORMITY of MASSAPEQUA, CANDY knew from an early age that she was different. watching a relatively recent documentary such as this reminds you instantaneously that the larger cultural discussion regarding SEX and GENDER identity has only become mainstream in recent years (about a decade after this film). the whole concept of not identifying with your assigned GENDER was completely taboo in 1950s AMERICA, where POLITICAL, ECONOMIC and RELIGIOUS CONFORMITY was practically a national value in and of itself. what makes BEAUTIFUL DARLING: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CANDY DARLING, ANDY WARHOL SUPERSTAR (CORINTH FILMS, 2009) such an intriguing documentary is how it showcases a specific downtown NYC arts scene in the 1960s where SEXUAL EXPRESSION was not only tolerated but celebrated. in some ways these WARHOL superstars (JACKIE CURTIS, HOLLY WOODLAWN and CANDY DARLING) along with the likes of LOU REED were the trailblazers that opened the door that we have been walking through as a culture for the past half century. its been in the past five years that mainstream magazines like PLAYBOY and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED have used TRANSGENDER models in their publications and actors such as ELLIOT PAGE and LAVERNE COX have brought their powerful presence to film and television screens. despite modern troglodyte conservatives that wish to drag us back to the stone age with their REGRESSIVE GENDER PRESCRIPTIONS prescriptions and bullshit self-serving, binary moral constructions, we very much live in a new world that takes into account that life is complicated. people are complicated. deal with it.
that being said its interesting to hear writer FRAN LEBOWITZ' opinion on CANDY and the seemingly SUPERFICIAL, PERFORMATIVE conception of FEMININITY she arguably brought to life. as a caucasian CISGENDER man i feel more than a little out of my depth speaking on this subject, but there does seem to be some light in how much of our GENDER is PERFORMATIVE through our ADOPTION and INTERNALIZATION of SOCIETAL CUES and CULTURAL PRESCRIPTIONS surrounding BODY IMAGE, PRESENTATION, VOCAL AFFECTATION and even POSTURE. the fact that CANDY grew up a severely abused child who took SOLACE and ultimately ESCAPISM in the 1950s cinema. her ideation of FEMININITY was informed by silver-screen starlets like MARILYN MONROE, JEAN HARLOW and especially KIM NOVAK. in many ways her INTERNALIZATION and eventual formation into becoming CANDY was performance of such that seeming coalesced into an IDENTITY. again, i am not denying her ability to self-identify as TRANSGENDER, but i do think that LEBOWITZ angle regarding the performative aspects of gender to be compelling if not food for thought.
ultimately for CANDY this was her LIVED EXPERIENCE and her LIVED REALITY, and she paid dearly for it. one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this documentary are the diary entries where she confesses to the DESPAIR and ISOLATION she felt about not being accepted by SOCIETY and not being able to partake in normal life rituals like being in a relationship, having a normal job and even visiting relatives. after her death her mother basically disowned her memory after remarrying.
for me BEAUTIFUL DARLING is just another reminder of how we need to treat each other with a sense of DIGNITY and genuine COMPASSION. very moving film. well worth checking out.
photo & text by nacrowe
i only saw LOU REED perform once. it was at IRVING PLAZA and he was a guest of CAMP FREDDY, which was essentially a PERRY FARRELL-less JANE'S ADDICTION that did cover songs with the actual musicians that wrote them. he performed "VENUS IN FURS" and "THE BLUE MASK." what i remember most was his lack of interaction with the small audience, deadpan cadence and quirky syllabic stresses that seemed to avoid the original melody. it was as if he wasn't prisoner to his own song.
and to me that is the essence of the guy, he was an original that wasn't concerned with anyone's judgement or expectations except his own. and it is that intransigent temperament that is displayed throughout the narrative of his life and career in ANTHONY DECURTIS' excellent biography LOU REED: A LIFE (LITTLE BROWN & CO, 2017).
REED is portrayed as a hyper-literate contrarian and cultural iconoclast. it is this proclivity for both knowledge and rebellion that leads him to innovate and expand, first with THE VELVET UNDERGROUND and later his solo career, the breadth and tone of the lyrical content we now take for granted within modern music. his work has influence every major movement afterwards, including PUNK, INDIE ROCK, HIP HOP, INDUSTRIAL MUSIC, GLAM ROCK, ALTERNATIVE ROCK and beyond. it is also this stubborn, crusty, misanthropic worldview that limited the success of his career in purely financial-terms, unable to take advantage of waves, fearing being pigeon-holed. his life was completely on his terms for better or worse.
this idea of his erudite yet exceedingly aggressive personality DECURTIS presents an interesting frame by which to refocus our understanding of the LOU REED the artist and his relationship to LOU REED the man. on one hand it enabled him to be a distant observer, as many of his songs are presentations of extreme events and people (with some poetic license) presented plainly without resorting to any sense of bias or sentimentality. he is seen as VIRGIL giving us a tour of hell to our collective DANTE. he isn't passing judgement, just making us aware of the true nature of our surroundings. in doing such he expanded the landscape and lexicon of the medium of modern music. his contribution is largely literary in nature, presenting his audience with a world filled with drugs, sex and quote unquote deviant behavior of all stripes sans judgement.
reading this book you really got a sense of the toll the man took spiritually, physically, emotionally and psychically throughout his life. there is an unsettling thread of violence and abusive behavior throughout his life, both physical and emotional in nature especially with regard to past partners. in many ways he was a bit of a vampire in how he used and discarded people he found no use for anymore, despite their previous intimacy. this is especially true of his more virulent behavior in the 1970s when he was at his drugged-out peak. you get the sense that his later years were more about coming to terms with such baggage.
it is hard summing up REED because he is very much still with us in the attitudes and approaches of uncompromising artists. he is an archetype at this point. i think where DECURTIS really triumphs in this book is the detail from which brought out how fragile, insecure and bitterly human LOU REED actually was. and how such vulnerability and openness to the true span of human experience (consciousness, sexuality, identity, etc.) was the source of his strength.
great book i would recommend to anyone interested in art, music or literature.
note: this book is also a great source to learn about REED's relationships to past inspirations, mentors and collaborators such as DELMORE SCHWARTZ, ANDY WARHOL, HUBERT SELBY JR, JOHN RECHY, JOHN CALE, DAVID BOWIE, MICK RONSON, BOB EZRIN, ROBERT QUINE, JOHN ZORN, ROBERT WILSON and VACLEV HAVEL among many others.