WARHOL'S SUPERSTAR CANDY DARLING MAKES THE SILVER SCREEN
A restaurant in New York, Spring 1968. "Hey Candy," purrs Artist/Pop Idol Andy Warhol, in his shy and almost whining understated tones, "How often do you get your period?" Without missing a beat, she replies in her trademark breathy voice "Oh, Andy, every day, I'm such a woman!"
Last year's movie I Shot Andy Warhol portrays the life of Valerie Solanis, radical feminist founder of S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men) and would-be political assassain of Andy Warhol. Also prominant is her roommate/friend Candy Darling, drag queen qua transsexual, and member of Warhol's inner circle.
Had this film been made ten years ago, Candy might have been a minor character, meriting a cameo appearence. But with drag the momentary rage in American cinema, Candy is a major figure in the film, almost co-equal with Valerie. And for the Transgender community, Candy is one more member of our own Pantheon.
We first meet James, soon to be Candy, in late 1966. He's a long black-haired effeminate looking gay man, wearing a black bell-bottomed unisex pantsuit. "You're a guy? I'm sorry, I thought you were a lesbian," cries Valerie upon meeting her. "Thank you," answers Candy modestly.
6 months later, Candy's apartment reads the subtitle. The vaguely soft-looking gay man has now become an extremely feminine looking young woman. She has Marilyn Monroe style platinum blonde dyed/ waved hair and a brightly rouged, mascara'd and lipsticked face. She lounges on her bed in a flowered dress, dark stockings and high heels, girlishly writing in her diary.
Dionne Warwick's song Walk On By is playing; either as a contemporary song to set the period, or perhaps on a deeper level to say "Don't see me as a freak, I'm just a woman. Nothing out of the ordinary, so just walk on by". In contrast to her dreamy romantic highschool diary keeping, her new roommate Valerie is in the next room furiously typing the latest feminist manifesto. She herself is clad in sexless jeans and a sweater.
The queen and the radical feminist become the most unlikely of friends, a truly Odd Couple. In one poignant scene, Candy helps Valerie get dressed for a date at a posh restaurant with a potential publisher. The queen artfully shows the tomboy how to use her secret weapon, bright red lipstick. "How about the red dress?" Valerie asks, and Candy momentarily winces: it's her favorite one. But she lends it to her all the same.
Earlier, Valerie explains the radical feminist view of the transgendered. She is questioned at their local hangout restaurant by another longhaired femme-looking gay man, who's trying out for a part in her new play. Valerie opines that all men should be destroyed. "And what about Drag Queens, men who want to be women?" She contemptouosly replies "They're not really women, they have no idea what a real woman experiences". "And what about Candy?", who's sitting over at a booth by the window all this time. Softening her tone, Valerie says "Candy's the classic victim of male oppression".
As time goes on, their differences come out. They watch the Miss America Pagaent, and Candy coos over the contestants and their outfits. Black is classic, she says, a sentiment most cross- dressers also hold as a truism. But then the scene cuts to a group of feminists protesting the pagaent's objectification of women, and they burn their bras. "All these revolutionary girls come across very hard to me," Candy says, and argues that a woman is supposed to be soft. Valerie, of course, applauds it and feels she should be out there protsting along with them.
They finally come to blows when Valerie is consumed by her paranoia over her fear of losing artistic freedom to her publisher and to Andy Warhol. In a fit of rage, she starts to pummel Candy. "You're not a woman.....you're not even a man," she spits, refering to him by his male name "Jimmy". And, she goes on, "Andy only likes you because he hates women and he knows you're a man".
But how does the Warholian "Factory" feel about Candy? She was a novelty, and a useful one. Andy is alleged to have preferred Queens in his films because "Real women didn't get excited much about anything, and Queens got excited about everything". In one scene, Factory members look at screen tests for various tryouts, caustically remarking on many. But they remark that "Candy looks so real...she's getting realer and realer every day". Towards the film's end, she's doing photo shoots, and well on her way to her starring role in the underground classic Women In Revolt.
And Candy gets the last word. After Valerie's arrest and incarceration after the shooting, Candy writes to her friend Steven: "What Valerie did was a bad thing....but you should still write to her". And touchingly, she lights a candle to pictures of Valerie and Andy both. They weren't just assasain and victim, but actually had much in common with each other.
The film footnotes that Candy died of cancer in 1975. It implies she may have gotten it from the massive street hormones she took to develop that desired feminine image. Ironically, another famous queen, Chrysis, was to die the same way 15 years later.
Like Rachel Harlow, star of the 1968 documentary The Queen, Candy had crossed the line from Drag Queen to transexual. At the film's end, she even mentions the then-recent book by Dr. Harry Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomena. In the straight community, many would-be transexuals pass through Crossdresser support groups before finding their own path. Conversely, others pass through the Gay and Drag Queen community before reaching that same conclusion. Same destination, different paths.
In her book A Low Life In High Heels, Holly Woodlawn writes that Candy was "a glamorous blonde movie queen who in reality was just a dying young man lost in a world of celluloid dreams and Hollywood glamour". Maybe so. But through Andy Warhol's Factory she found more fame than many other Queens just as desiring. Candy Darling is a link in the Transgender chain, a chain that runs from Julian Eltinge to Ed Wood to Ru Paul. She's one of our own.
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