Bright Lights Film Journal

Candy, or Libertinism

“I’ll do anything …  ANYTHING” to save Daddy!”

Introduction

Based on the famous – or better, notorious – faux pornographic novel by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg, Candy (Christian Marquand, USA/Italy/France, 1968) is an oddity from the countercultural past. Adopting the picaresque form of its namesake Candide, the film tells of the variously humorous and frightening sexual encounters of seventeen year-old ingénue, Candy (played by Ewa Aulin), while at the same time debunking the then current myths of celebrity authorship, religious dogma, aggressive militarism, scientific positivism, and finally – and most hilariously – counter-cultural mysticism. By no means an American International Pictures-type, low-budget, exploitation film, Candy involved several production companies and a host of international talent, including a screenplay by Buck Henry, opening and closing sequences designed by Douglas Trumbull, title and other music by The Byrds and Steppenwolf, and cameos by Charles Aznavour, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, James Coburn, John Huston, Walter Matthau, and Ringo Starr.

Not widely available for viewing in any format until its April 2001 DVD release, Candy is a remarkable op-pop happening. What follows is intended as a picaresque journey through the event that is …  Candy.

Prologue

There lived in the Mid-West a young lady blessed by nature with the most agreeable manners. You could read her character in her face. She combined pleasant disposition with unaffected innocence; and that, I suppose, was why she was called Candy … .

Amid the cosmic reach of Dog Star Man and 2001: A Space Odyssey, amid swirling gaseous worlds-in-formation and glistening topographic oceans, we see a girl, cross-legged, meditating on a beach. A series of lap dissolves leads us to the same girl, seated in a classroom, gazing vacantly. Lost in her thoughts, Candy is presented as the eternal innocent, a (pretty vacant) marker of cosmic spiritualism.

A call of “Miss Christian, Miss Christian” from her teacher intrudes upon the cosmic day-dream: “Yes, Daddy …  I mean, Mr. Christian,” she replies.

Chapter I

How Candy left Daddy to meet McPhisto, the great poet, and how Candy did it in the limousine

“Daddy” Christian (John Astin) is a symbol of conservative American values, an overprotective father panicked by his own incestuous thoughts toward his daughter. Detaining Candy after class, Daddy reveals himself to be the shaky cornerstone of the traditional family and (by extension) the entire American sociopolitical system (no surprise that the “temple” will come down around his ears in the film’s penultimate sequence).

As Candy dashes from the classroom, Daddy calls after her: “What’s the hurry? What’s all the excitement about?” Candy calls back: “McPhisto.”

McPhisto – poet, adventurer, superstar …  bore – enters Rolling Fields Center High School auditorium, adoring students lining every row, Candy seated in the aisle. Spotlit, McPhisto (Richard Burton) begins a tortured recital from his anthology, Forests of Flesh: “Life which burned and bled in the triumph of my dream dim days … ” Hair and scarf perpetually windblown, McPhisto addresses swooning fans: he preaches the celebration of the virtue, the beauty, the wonder, the ultimate, ineffable desire of the ecstasy of the human spirit” and, spying Candy in the crowd, he speaks of a child-like “freedom and virtue, of giving oneself without restraint, uninhibitedly, unashamedly … ”

If John Astin’s parody of the concerned (but confused) father resonates with his role as the kooky patriarch in The Addams Family television series, then Richard Burton’s rendition of McPhisto is a self-parodying star performance, one that mocks both the cult of celebrity and the pretensions of the intellectual elite.

In his black Mercedes limousine, McPhisto grandly introduces himself: “I …  AM McPHISTO.” The ingénue blithely replies: “Hello, I’m Candy.” He instructs his driver, Zero (Sugar Ray Robinson), to take them to Candy’s house.

On route, Candy tells how, moved by McPhisto’s words, she believes she has a capacity to give freely of herself (to whatever needs her). Gulping down liberal amounts of whisky, a drunken (sexually inept) McPhisto forces himself upon Candy, telling her of HIS NEED: “my huge, my giant need, need, NEED … ”

His words reverberate, his advances documented from below, as the jammed tap of the whisky decanter floods the floor of the glass-bottomed limousine.

Chapter II

How McPhisto incited the gardener Emmanuel, and how Candy did it on the pool table

A hand-held camera follows Zero as he helps a whisky-sodden McPhisto into Candy’s basement and recreation room. Candy calls the reluctant Mexican gardener, Emmanuel (Ringo Starr), into the house to help with the ironing of wet trousers and dress. “Oh no, thees no good,” says a worried Emmanuel.

In the basement, McPhisto recites poetry to a life-size marionette, but at the same time urges Emmanuel to forget he is a “good boy” and to give of himself: “to remember his hot Latin blood. To remember the Alamo. To remember …  La Revolution!”

Ripping away Candy’s clothes, Emmanuel takes her on the pool table while McPhisto, like a Fellini Casanova, mechanically fucks the marionette.

Emmanuel shouts “Viva Zapata!” McPhisto mutters Latin verse. Daddy arrives … .

Chapter III

How Candy was sent to school in New York, and how Candy did it in the airplane

Consulting his liberally-minded twin brother, Jack Christian (John Astin, again), and Jack’s wife, the lascivious Livia (Elsa Martinelli), Daddy decides to send Candy to school in New York.

At night, on route to the airport, the Christians are pursued by three women on motorcycles (Fellini again, but this time it’s Roma). Livia comments that one looks like an ad for one of Jack’s magazines. “Whips and Chains?” he inquires. “No, the other one,” she says, “Lover Ladies.

On the tarmac, the women reveal themselves to be Emmanuel’s sisters: “Hey Gringo, you in some big hurry?” They want “the little cheecken” who has dishonoured Emmanuel: he was a virgin, he was studying for the priesthood. Although Emmanuel appears to have been spiritually transformed by his brief encounter with the virginal Candy (‘Miss Christian, stay with me” he pleads) his sisters cannot see beyond the institutionalised dogma of church. Emmanuel is ruined, and the intended revenge – like a scene from Jodorowsky’s El Topo– is no less than castration for Daddy.

Gunshots from a military aircraft facilitate the Christians’ escape, but Daddy sustains serious head injuries before all are taken aboard. “We’ve got a horizontal,” says General Smight.

Smight (Walter Matthau) is a square-jawed symbol of US militarism, a warmonger no less paranoid than Dr Strangelove‘s General Jack D. Ripper. When Uncle Jack endeavours to secure assistance for the injured Daddy by mentioning that he has influential friends in Washington, Smight replies that having “pals in Pinkoville” won’t buy any favours. Candy offers: “I’ll do anything …  ANYTHING” to save Daddy.

Smight takes Candy forward to the cockpit, ordering the pilots aft for Daddy’s much needed blood transfusion. Alone with Candy, Smight tells her “some of us haven’t had much dolce in our vitas.” The ever-enduring Candy is ordered to strip down “for the sake of all that is sacred in the free world.”

Pushing READY and JUMP signal-buttons as he forces himself upon Candy, Smight inadvertently commands his 24 paratroopers to drop. As in Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, Smight’s orgasm is a rapid montage of plummeting chutes.

Chapter IV

How Daddy was operated upon by Dr Krankeit, and how Candy did it on the examination table

Posters in New York advertise a “sub-cranial medulla oblongotomy” performed by Dr A. B. Krankeit (James Coburn) with “T. M. Christian as the patient.”

In a domed auditorium adorned with celestial cherubs an enthusiastic, society audience applauds as Krankeit enters the ring, like a matador. Hands raised in the ready for surgical gloves, a circling camera documents the adoration of Krankeit.

Settling into surgery (this could be Altman’s M*A*S*H*), Krankeit’s first incision sends a spray of blood across his mask and forehead. The audience edges forward in their rows as Krankeit, soon covered from head to toe in gore, announces: “my left index finger is now fully three inches inside the patient’s head. A hiccup would put a dent in the patient’s speech centre that would leave him not only incapable of pronouncing the letters L, R, D, Y and F, but make him absolutely incapable of digit-dialing. But, no chance of this, says a triumphant Krankeit, rapidly popping a blood-stained finger from Daddy’s injured head.

Candy searches the hospital for Krankeit to learn of Daddy’s progress. She finds them both at what Uncle Jack describes as the “best post-operative bash” he’s ever attended.

Uncle Jack now attempts to seduce Candy on Daddy’s recovery bed (pushing Daddy to the floor in the process) but is interrupted by Krankeit’s “personal assistant,” Nurse Bullock (Anita Pallenberg), and the hospital’s director, Dr Dunlap (John Huston). The latter calls Candy “a tramp, a tart, a trollop …  A TEENAGER.” Candy faints and is taken away by Krankeit.

In his rooms, on his examination table, Krankeit tells Candy: “slip out of your things. I’m going to examine you … ”

Chapter V

How Candy found herself on the streets of New York, and how Candy did it in the lavatory and on the piano

Fleeing the hospital, Candy finds herself alone on the streets of New York. This leads to two further sexual encounters: first she is set upon by an underground filmmaker, G3 (Enrico Maria Salerno), in a flooded men’s room, and next she is taken to a Gothic mansion by a hunchback and human fly (Charles Aznavour) who promises her “rub-a-dub-dub” on the top of a grand piano.

Pursued during these encounters by the police, Candy is finally arrested. The two cops plan to give Candy the frisking of her life but, distracted by their own lewd thoughts, they lose control of the squad car and Candy escapes.

Chapter VI

How Candy met the Guru Grindl, and how Candy did it in the semi-trailer

Loose again, Candy accepts a ride from a rig, only to find that its trailer is in fact the sanctum of Guru Grindl (Marlon Brando). Cracking joints to break his meditative pose (this is Brando as Indian as Peter Sellers) Grindl tells Candy that her name is sacred, and that together they will “assume the trail of true selfishness – er, selflessness. Together they will move up past the valley of material concerns, past the rocky cliffs of negative sensation, climbing, struggling, until they have attained the void. …  Beyond time, beyond space, beyond self – the void, pure energy and light.”

“Lie down,” Grindl orders Candy. In search of the immutable self, Grindl locates it – not surprisingly – in Candy’s crotch (this is Grindl as Maharishi as Sexy Sadie). The figure of Grindl not only parodies the Eastern religious experience (and psychedelic transcendence) of 1960s counter-culture, but effectively denies its being a viable “alternative” to the Western institutions so effectively deflated to this point.

As Candy and Grindl move through seven (sexual) stages on the trail to the void, the Guru’s sexual prowess is no match for Candy’s unending capacity to give of herself, and the exhausted Guru tells her that a “Teacher with a sacred bird” will take her on the final part of the journey.

Candy and the Guru travel not only toward the void but also across the U.S., from New York to Las Vegas and finally into the desert where Candy finds the Teacher.

Chapter VII

How Candy found enlightenment, and how Candy did it with Daddy

“Are you the one who will take me to the void?”, Candy asks the holy man.

The Teacher and Candy make it to California where they enter a cave-like temple. Among idols and icons, among the Buddha and Ganesh, amid an earthquake-like cataclysm, Candy and the Teacher embrace. Only now does Candy recognise him: “My God. It’s Daddy!”

Candy’s voice reverberates, providing a sound bridge. Candy transcends time and space, crossing a field – perhaps a hippy love-in – where, amid music and flapping banners, she passes by all those to whom she has given so freely of herself. Finally, in a reprise of the film’s opening, her journey complete, Candy is returned to her (own) self and the cosmos: YOU ARE A CHILD OF THE UNIVERSE … .