Arts Desk

A Perfect Forgery: Beautiful Darling at the Hirshhorn

"A perfect forgery," exclaims producer Jeremiah Newton as he alters Candy Darling's official death documents to include her chosen name and not simply her birth name. It's a fitting opening. Beautiful Darling is a study in Darling's exquisite fraudulence, tracing it back to her youth and following it to her untimely demise. A true paradox according to interviewees in the documentary film, the Andy Warhol associate Candy Darling was both extremely genuine and entirely fake. She was beautiful enough to effortlessly convince many unknowing men of her gender, but she rarely went home with any for fear of being found out. A regular at the parties of the rich, she appeared wealthy yet mostly lived off of gourmet leftovers and crashed on friends' couches.

We see Darling grewing up as a boy named James Slattery, acutely aware from the age of five that she was different. Over the years, she immersed herself in movie magazines and tried on different names and appearances until she settles into the ever-glamorous persona of Candy Darling as the embodiment of both her transwoman self and her Marilyn Mondroe ambitions. It's a daring move, as simple cross-dressing was extremely illegal in New York at the time. Yet her undeniable "aura," as its called in the film, attracts a slew of followers that regularly attend to her needs, including Newton, whose archival footage makes the film possible.

Under the direction of James Rasin, the movie tracks down countless interviews with those who knew Darling, including important players from that scene, audio quotes from Tennessee Williams (who cast Darling in one of his plays), and video of Andy Warhol. They discuss the nature of Darling's change and the power of her presence, while Chloë Sevigny voices her diary entries. Her time in Warhol's cabal is the centerpiece of the film, and it's a fascinating intersection of the posh and the avant-garde. Candy Darling is at once both conservative and outlandish amid that crew; she simply wants to be a throwback Hollywood star, but such a striking reinvention of herself is in practice unprecedented.

Beautiful Darling screens tonight at the Hirshhorn at 8 p.m.

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  • Gina

    I hope you have some vague idea about how offensive your story's snarky headline, "A Perfect Forgery" is when discussing the life of a trans woman like Candy Darling. Trans identities, whether you wish to believe it or not, are neither "forgeries" nor "fakes." You and your paper should be ashamed to trying to 'get cute' with your coverage by disrespecting who Candy was (and some of this same disrespect, btw, is shown in the film by ignorant interviewees like Fran Lebowitz). I expect more sophistication when discussing happenings at the Hirshhorn Museum, nor do I believe this was written with innocent intent. Washington Paper has had a very mixed history of covering the issues of the trans community and this is yet another sad example.

  • Ryan Little

    Thank you for your feedback, and I hope you'll oblige a clarification on my part.

    The headline is actually in reference to a direct quote from the movie itself that happens to describe much of Candy Darling's life (insofar as it is portrayed in the film). As discussed in the article, Darling regularly gave the appearance of being rich and glamorous, but she made very little money and often lived off of the goodwill of her friends. Additionally, several of the interviewees describe her overall persona as both extremely fake and exceedingly genuine. The title is simply a reference to her consistently complex depiction within the film.

    Neither the piece nor its title are intended to be a comment on transgender identities in general, and Candy is intentionally referred to as a female and as a transwoman throughout. No disrespect was intended!