Review: Darling (1965)

Darling (1965, UK) dir. John Schlesinger.  B&W, 35mm.

Continuing what seems to be a pattern of watching ’60s films/UK films/films with mod stuff as I work my way through the BFI 100 (I am also on an AFI 100 quest…more on these in a later post) and nourish my developing interest in British film, I watched Darling, a very important film in Julie Christie‘s career (her performance won her a Best Actress Oscar; Darling also won the category of Best Original Screenplay).  The film chronicles the life story of Diana, a model/actress who works her way up through society via sex and sex appeal.  As usual, this review is free of major plot spoilers.

The film begins with a billboard worker plastering Diana’s face, in an advertisement for “her story” being published in a magazine (the premise of the film’s voice-over narration), over an older billboard for helping world hunger:

This motif recurs; for example, when Diana and one of her lovers check into a hotel, the newspapers they put in their suitcases to add weight are tossed aside, revealing the headline “MINERS – ALL HOPE VANISHES.” These moments help reinforce the film’s theme (Diana doesn’t want to hurt anyone through her affairs, but she ends up narcissistic and jaded, always looking for a new way to entertain herself) and also provide extremely interesting social commentary.  The postwar generation, unconcerned with the world, only interested in a good time and escaping the dreariness of daily life; “It should be so easy to be happy, shouldn’t it?” Diana asks.  This idea shows up in many films from this time (I discussed it briefly in my review of Billy Liar).

Camerawork and shot composition – excellent.  Though this film uses the zoom lens a lot (as do many films from the ’60s and ’70s), the zoom shots are set up in a significant way, really using the lens.  It’s hard to illustrate here, but there’s a great scene of Diana spying on one of her lovers as he spends time with his family.  The zoom begins with the man and the kids in his yard, and slowly comes out to reveal the house and the street, and then back through a telephone booth to where Diana is standing.

Here’s some more well-composed shots from the film (click for fullsize):

The distance between them....

A "Citizen Kane"-like distance across the table...

virginal innocence?

use of mirrors

Is it because I'm young?

And now for the bad points – it’s hard to say, actually.  I think that for me, the plot was just a little bit uninteresting.  Maybe it was Christie’s character.  Whatever it is that keeps this from being a perfect film, it’s there…somewhere.  I’m sorry I have to be so unprofessional here.  Maybe it will come to me in time and I will be able to make this a better review/essay.

Darling makes brilliant use of a “mixed-style” approach.  Much like another Schlesinger film, Billy Liar (which made use of a fake newsreel at one point), Darling includes a TV news programme where an interviewer talks to people on the street about “what Britain should be ashamed of,” in response to an American statement that Britain has lost her pride.  I found this scene interesting from several standpoints: one, I can’t tell whether it’s documentary footage or acting, which presents a tantalizing ambiguity (and relates to Diana’s character’s conduct, if you want to take it that far); two, regardless of its “reality,” it’s a scene of historical interest that situates Darling in contemporary events; three, this kind of “current event” medium-within-a-medium plays out in counterpoint to Diana’s excesses and lifestyle, much like the aforementioned “stack of newspapers” scene.

Another “inserted medium” is a newsreel later in the film that discusses an *important event* that happens to one of the characters (which I will not spoil for you).  The newsreel, and by extension the film’s use of “inserted media” reminded me of Citizen Kane.  That’s when a whole train of theory came into my mind, and I realised the two films relate to each other in two more ways: both chronicle someone’s life, both make use of mirrors in the mise-en-scene (see below screenshots for one example of this in Darling).  Most likely mere coincedence, but the newsreel idea was probably inspired by Welles.

Another remarkable scene is Diana’s “princess rampage,” in which she wanders angrily and desparately through the rooms of a palace, stripping and flinging off the many articles of clothing and jewelry she wears, until nothing is left but a bare woman (you’ll notice in the trailer that the censors conveniently cover Julie Christie’s nudity with a title bar).  Christie’s acting is direct and appropriate, and the camera that follows her through the rooms gives a sense that she will always be followed by misfortune/media problems/what have you until there is nothing left.  This scene reminded me slightly of Kane’s destruction of his second wife’s bedroom in Citizen Kane.  It’s highly effective emotionally, thematically, and plot-wise, but I can’t tell you why here, as it would spoil the plot.

This film definitely deserved the Oscar it won for best black-and-white costume design.  Mod girls, you will love the clothes and scenery.  It certainly made the film more enjoyable for me.

John Schlesinger turned out great films during the ’60s and ’70s (Midnight Cowboy, Billy Liar), which I consider to be the apex of his career.   The direction of actors here is great, it’s hard for me to tell the actor apart from the character, even in the case of Christie, who I’ve seen in a lot of other films (and honestly, her early work is some of the best).  Great acting, great camerawork, a good structure, and an interesting story make this film a must for anyone interested in the time period or Julie Christie, and a solid recommendation for film buffs of all persuasions.

Rating: 9/10

Availability: Region 1 and 2 DVD, VHS.

Trailer: Seriously, this is one of the most annoying trailers I’ve ever seen (but that’s a rant for another post :P)  I hate the “sexy” voice-over.  But you do get to see a spoiler-free portion of Diana’s “princess rampage” scene.  Yes….I also thought it was ironic that she’s “Princess Diana”.

—Recca 9/12/08

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3 Responses to “Review: Darling (1965)”

  1. danyulengelke Says:

    Great review!

    We’re linking to your article for John Schlesinger Friday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

    Keep up the good work!

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