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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

DARLING (1965)

An emblematic peek under the covers of London’s ‘Mod ‘60s’ (and Britain’s cinematic New Wave), Jon Schlesinger’s acclaimed film now looks as studied & hollow as its hedonistic heroine, Julie Christie. (1965 was her breakout year, with this & DOCTOR ZHIVAGO.) Frederic Raphael’s script has a real sense of place & dialogue, but he scores too many easy points and opts for a stilted structural device with Christie dictating memoirs to some unseen party. (A late addition mandated by a nervous producer?) As Christie evolves from fresh young thing to rich, EuroTrash misery, we go along past lovers and a modeling career, with little satisfaction from either. Intellectuals & minor royalty, sybarites of all persuasions, an abortion, an orgy, booze, pills, furs & a yacht, but alas, no repose. If only Christie’s emptiness were met with something stronger than ‘clever’ juxtapositions of rich people and their clueless behavior . Laurence Harvey is perfectly cast as a smooth operator, and Dirk Borgarde manages to make his writer an oddly sympathetic heel. (It helps to be the scripter's alter-ego.) Too bad second-tier lenser Ken Higgins had so much trouble figuring out how to shoot Christie to her advantage. He only unlocks the magic toward the end when we’ve lost all patience.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: A couple of years after this, Frederic Raphael came back with two near-classic screenplays. A more benign look at the glamorous rich in the adored dramedy/romance TWO FOR THE ROAD, with Hollywood helmer Stanley Donen cleverly adopting French New Wave techniques; and a fabulous reteaming with John Schlesinger & Julie Christie in an adaption of Hardy’s FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD. Christie still goes thru men like tissue paper (Alan Bates, Peter Finch, Terence Stamp), and she still can’t act, but under the rapturous gaze of lenser Nicolas Roeg, you’d be crazy to care. One of the great underseen literary epics.

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