Jun 01 | Author: Mike Plante
James Rasin’s award winning films with Beat writers Herbert Huncke and Gregory Corso have been screened internationally, including the Venice Biennale. Aside from writing Abel Ferrera’s Andy Warhol feature film and Lakeshore Entertainment’s Robert Mapplethorpe/Patti Smith biopic, he has written, directed and produced off-off Broadway theater.
Rasin’s new documentary BEAUTIFUL DARLING, features never-seen-before footage and photographs, as well as interviews with the people who knew Andy Warhol Superstar Candy Darling.
Tell us briefly about the film’s story and subject matter, how did you find your subjects?
Around four years ago, my friend Jeremiah Newton and I decided the time was ripe to make a documentary biography of his late friend Candy Darling. She was such a glamorous and inspiring figure, with a really unusual life story and a tragically early end, and she’d been a part of exciting, even revolutionary, scenes – Off-off Broadway 1960’s theater, LGBT history — besides the obvious Warhol connection, which is how most people have heard of her, if they’ve heard of her at all. I wanted to give the viewer, not just a portrait of Candy, but also a sense of where she came from and who and what she lived with, and to introduce these various lively characters who were once associated with her, and let them each have a say. Candy was kind of an extreme example of the self-creation that we all engage in, when building our identities, and we’ll never have a window directly into her mind or soul – or anyone else’s – but we can try to see what effects she had, intentional or not, and recognized or not, on other people. You could say that the movie is a “group portrait of Candy”.
Also – Jeremiah was reluctant to do this part, but I thought it was important – I wanted to show some of his story, this friendship that has continued long beyond Candy’s death, to the point where Jeremiah himself isn’t young anymore and is thinking more and more about his own mortality, and looking back on his friend who died when they were both young. I wanted to story to be very much about Candy’s life, and not to dwell morbidly on her illness and death, which were quite grueling, but death is inevitably a character in the film.
Were there many discoveries about Candy’s life that you didn’t expect?
I already was acquainted with a lot of the people in her world, and in this crowd, nothing surprises me.
How does a documentary film succeed in ways other media cannot? (TV news, newspaper articles, the internet…)
I came to film from writing, and I think the documentary film format gives the director, one person, like an author, a chance to spend a significant amount of time getting a complex subject across to an audience, while also letting interviewees and filmed incidents speak for themselves to some extent, in that the audience can actually see the faces, watch how people conduct themselves, hear the accents, and so forth. I don’t have to come up with adjectives and adverbs, because there it is, right on the screen. At the same time, every single editing choice obviously represents me imposing my point of view on the subject matter, and perhaps attempting to shape the audience’s point of view as well, or else to leave it open – successfully or not. And you also have to think about all the incidents that never made it onto film – which, in the case of Candy’s life as she lived it, is an awful lot. But we were incredibly fortunate to have discovered, and had access to, the amount of rare and revealing footage of her that we were able to build the film around.
TV and newspapers are shaped so heavily by political and financial considerations, advertisers, corporate ownership, the audience’s perceived interest and attention span, not that, believe you me, these things don’t come into documentary filmmaking! But because the politics and finance are on a much smaller scale, the documentary director generally gets more freedom. At the same time, I think a lot of the internet is an example of too much freedom being a bad thing for art. Blogs, fan sites, MySpace… some of it is really great, and freedom of expression is a beautiful thing, but the hard discipline that comes with having to compress your story into a standard length of time, and edit it down, and think about usage fees for copyrighted work, and work with people who don’t necessarily agree with you, all force you to think intensely about creative ways of storytelling.
Still, I would have loved for this movie to be about three hours longer, and to get some kind of magic free pass for copyrights! Some people still love the multi-hour assembly we made as a first step toward editing the film. It was just clip after clip from all the interviews we’d conducted, and it sounded like a very long, sometimes raucous, dinner party. So… maybe on the DVD extras…
What do you think the role of a film festival is?
To screen new work in fresh contexts; to give filmmakers and others in the industry a venue to meet up and exchange ideas; to give the audience a chance to see work from points of view that aren’t often represented in the multiplex. And, perhaps the most important aspect for a filmmaker, to provide the opportunity to show one’s work in front of a live audience, which, after years of toil, is not only an important part of the filmmaking process, but perhaps the only reward a filmmaker will ever receive.
Do you gamble?
Every morning when I get out of bed… Also, I’ve been to Vegas several times – I love Vegas — and, each time I return, I hope I hit a hot streak, and sometimes I do.
2009 CineVegas Film Festival screenings:
Thursday, June 11 – 5:00 PM
Friday, June 12 – 6:30 PM