“Candy came from out on the Island…” goes Lou Reed’s 1972 hit “Walk on the Wild Side,” describing the humble origins of Warhol superstar Candy Darling. A fixture at Max’s Kansas City (“in the backroom, she was everybody’s darlin’,” Reed continues); the star of Warhol’s films “Flesh” and “Women in Revolt;” a muse to photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Hujar and Richard Avedon; Candy’s short but full life is lovingly chronicled in James Rasin’s new documentary “Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar.”
The inciting moment of Candy’s Long Island childhood—back when she was still little Jimmy Slattery—was the day she received an autographed photo of the Hollywood actress Kim Novak in the mail. Candy’s friend and admirer, Jeremiah Newton (who also produced the film), recalls that she stared in awe at the photo for hours, realizing that fame was her destiny—and the tools to get there included a bottle of peroxide, “82 pounds of makeup” and indefatigable glamour.
People were so bowled over by her feminine beauty that her incongruous gender seemed like a minor footnote in Candy’s life-as-sweeping Hollywood tragicomedy. Her Factory friends wistfully recall her kindness and magnetic personality (Gerard Malanga even blushes when informed that, unbeknownst to him, Candy had fallen hard for him), while her diary reveals a stubborn melancholic streak. She viewed her existence through the unvarnished lens of her dual gender and found frustration and heartache.
Because Candy’s life was cut short by lymphoma (she died in 1974 at age 29), “Beautiful Darling” skillfully employs anecdotes from Holly Woodlawn, Paul Morrissey, John Waters, Malanga, Newton and other Factory associates to reveal her story. Archival footage of Warhol, Jackie Curtis and Tennessee Williams, plus never-before-seen screen tests of Candy herself, illustrate her colorful, uncompromising mystique.
“What do you think I’d see/if I could walk away from me?” Lou Reed sings on “Candy Says,” from the Velvet Underground’s 1969 debut. Candy’s unselfconscious desire for a Hollywood-style happy ending gives “Beautiful Darling” a tinge of sadness amid the fame and lights. Here’s looking at you, kid.
“Beautiful Darling” plays through April 28 at the IFC Center, 363 Sixth Avenue at West 3rd Street.