28 August 2010 | mukava991
window into a sliver of social history
Darling is known generally as an iconic "Sixties" movie. It is at once a product of its time and a still-born anachronism. Though conceived and shot in 1964-65, there is nary a hint of the Beatles and their ilk, who by the time this film went in front of the cameras were unquestionably the major pop cultural phenomenon on earth, and certainly in Britain where this story takes place. The characters who parade before us in this slickly packaged satire are far more evocative of the earlier "La Dolce Vita" period. Perhaps the newly emerging youthful counterculture is absent because the groupings visited here are, in contrast to the many- millioned teenage Beatles fans, older, more rarefied and further up the social ladder in corporate boardrooms, haute-couture industry gatherings, mainstream television production units, the profit-driven B-movie exploitation industry, and the haunts of continental royalty. Sparkling and memorable as it is, the musical scoring by John Dankworth was also dated by mid-1965 when this film came out.
The satire is often from the finger-pointing, underscoring school. Best example: A portly dowager in furs at a charity function stuffs an hors d'oeuvre into her mouth with a bejeweled hand as a speaker pompously thanks those present for fighting the scourge of hunger in the world.
Screenwriter Frederic Raphael and director John Schlesinger organize their material in semi- documentary fashion with voice-over narration by the title character, Diana Scott (Julie Christie) in order to reveal her hypocrisy as she describes various episodes in her life while the unfolding screen actions ironically contradict her words. She portrays herself verbally as innocent, sensible and basically decent when in fact she's selfish, dishonest and miserable. The underlying causes of her selfishness, dishonesty and misery are neither explained nor explored, but she is presented in a way that encourages us to regard her as a micro-consequence of the crass, materialistic, soulless macro-society around her. The episodes in her bumpy road to despair succeed one another briskly enough to keep us diverted and shaking our heads at the imperfect human types on display. The arc of the story takes Diana higher and higher on the material plane until she can rise no more, only to find emptiness at the top. The point seems to be "looks, money and prestige aren't everything – but look how entertainingly we're presenting that platitude."
This film and Doctor Zhivago, released shortly after, made Julie Christie the most honored and publicized actress in the world for about a year and it's interesting to compare her Diana Scott with her Lara character in David Lean's epic. Lean, a stern and experienced taskmaster, got more solid acting out of her. Schlesinger's grip is looser, resulting in a more uninhibited but less disciplined performance. As one flavor of the media-created "It" girls of the Sixties (Ann Margret, Twiggy, Goldie Hawn being other flavors) she embodied a certain attitude toward life that was in the air in the industrialized world in those days, an informality of demeanor which some would call proletarian or others would call "beatnik"; hers was a looser, more naturalistic look, a beauty outside the parlor. Julie Christie was beautiful without a speck of makeup while the wind was blowing her hair in four different directions and seemed to be an entirely different person depending on which angle she presented to the camera or what kind of light was bouncing off her partly chiseled, partly soft and sensuous features. Her very presence lent a depth that may not have been written into the character. With another actress, one can only wonder how effective this film would have been. Her chief fellow players, Laurence Harvey and Dirk Bogarde, give splendid support, as does the rest of the cast. But the spotlight is definitely on Julie; it is her showcase.