James Rasin’s “Beautiful Darling” is a bittersweet, brimming scrapbook of photos and faces and archive footage and survivors growing old in small New York apartments swaddled in memories and surrounded by memorabilia. The transgender Darling was one of the “Superstars” who moved through Andy Warhol’s Factory, performers who became larger than themselves through exaggeration and presentation. Think a houseful of Lady Gagas before their time; mix with drugs, sex and female impersonation with just a whiff of Lou Reed’s sulfur. (Darling was an inspiration for Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”) Tightly framed talking heads alternate with glimpses of a time long gone, a time not only of social exception but also of illegality. Born which way? Darling, born James L. Slattery, cuts a striking, Harlow-esque figure, but as one of three Warhol abruptly cut loose, she’s a cautionary figure as well. Men? Do y’all wrong. Celebrity is a bright and guttering flame. Fran Lebowitz repeats some of her cynical patter about 1970s outsider-dom, beat-for-beat, that’s also in Martin Scorsese’s “Public Speaking,” also opening this week. Darling’s diaries are not-so-convincingly performed by Chloë Sevigny. With John Waters, Andy Warhol, Michael J. Pollard, Julie Newmar, Tennessee Williams, Penny Arcade, Paul Morrissey, Holly Woodlawn, Taylor Mead, Helen Hanft. 82m. HDCam video. (Ray Pride)
“Beautiful Darling” opens Friday at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.