Turner Classic Movies had a day dedicated to the films of Julie Christie. The whole day was filled with some of her best work done in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I remember seeing her in “Darling” when it was first released and recollect how daring and “sophisticated” it seemed to be. So watching it again could only be good, right? Well more on that later. For a plot synopsis, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darling_(film)
The film, directed by John Schlesinger, documented, and parodied the swinging culture of mid-1960’s London. Christie was quite beautiful. She plays a woman, Diana, who cannot seem to be without a man. She takes another woman’s husband (Dirk Bogarde as Robert) so she herself can be happy, at least for awhile. When she becomes bored with that relationship, she moves on to another one, and then another. Each segue from one man to another has a brief introduction or ending using Diana in a voiceover. Each is a self-serving justification for her deplorable actions, while being humorous at the same time.
There is one scene that I found particularly interesting. She is at a lavish party in Paris with Laurence Harvey’ character Miles. One group activity for the evening involved having the participants begin to remove their clothing while dancing in a circle. As one person removed something, another would pick up that article and put it on. There was also a movie projector that had its light focused on a screen. As each person would move in front of the screen, they would stop, and someone shouted out the name of the person whose character they were to assume. The participants would then ask embarrassing questions that had to be answered by the person on the hot seat. The answers were snarky and bitchy. A black gentleman had to answer questions as if he were Diana character. Also in this scene, Miles introduces Diana to an older female partygoer. This character took an immediate interest in Diana. Miles says sotto voce to the woman that she should not forget that he knows she is a man. We also find out a bit later in the film that Miles is impotent.
So moving along- Diana is at a modeling assignment being photographed by Malcolm, played by Roland Curram. They strike up a friendship and eventually end up in a department store stealing food for a sumptuous supper. Diana and Malcolm agree that they will be “brother and sister forever” given that he was interested in men. They decide to travel together to Capri because she was in need of rest. While on the vacation, Malcolm took to picking up some of the local culture, leaving Diana alone, much to her chagrin. There is one scene where Diana is laying on a beach with three men on her left and three on her right. Each of the men was wearing a somewhat skimpy bathing suit. There is a quick cut to a kitchen alarm that goes off. In response to the bell, each of the men turns over in order not to get too much sun. They made the turn with the precision of the Rockettes. The movie goes on to another relationship in which Diana becomse involved but my mind was distracted by an emerging revelation.
About two-thirds of the way through the move it dawned on me that I (and probably a good percentage of those who have seen the film) had been somewhat duped. It occurred to me that Christie’s character was a stand-in for a gay man. Just as “Sex in the City” has been described as a show about four gay men, “Darling” is a film about the gay-life style in London during the mid-1960s. While watching the film, I wanted to explore this issue more so I used my cell phone to Google the cast. In fact, Bogarde, Harvey, and Curram were all gay actors. Schlesinger was a gay director. In an early scene, Bogarde’s character was conducting an on-the-street TV interview where he asked passers-by what embarrassed them about England. I thought it was an odd scene, but likely was included by Schlesinger to establish John’s bona fides as a TV personality. One of the interviewees said that he was embarrassed by how open the homosexual community had become and how uncomfortable he had become with being hit on by the locals. I should have realized then that something so seemingly out of context had to have some grander meaning for the film. But, I did get it eventually.
I don’t know if Christie was aware of the subtext in the role she was being asked to play. If she did then she gets kudos for taking the role seriously. If she didn’t, shame on Schlesinger. For me, the movie became a disappointing ruse once I realized that subtext, since a story about a woman addicted to men and relationships with them could have stood on its own, especially during the 1960s.
One final note- there are a few scenes where young children are being disciplined by their ever-so- mannered English parents. I can’t imagine how a 3-year old in the US would react if told by their mother “Don’t be such a bore”!
I liked “Darling” for reminding me of the 1960s, which was a decade of great cultural change and societal exploration. Some of the London architecture at the time was impressive and Diana’s wardrobe was impressive. Bogarde’s clothing was all tweedy and professor-like, while Harvey’s was ultra-sophisticated and stylish. But, at its heart, “Darling” left me very disappointed with its subterfuge. The Parisian party was like watching Kathy Griffen do one of her bitchy routines. It’s funny for awhile, but then it becomes “enough already.”