' Cinema Romantico: Julie Harris. Julie Christie. Darling. Modish Operandi.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Julie Harris. Julie Christie. Darling. Modish Operandi.

The first time I saw “Darling” was after I’d seen “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.” So the fashion made prolific fun of by the latter was intended as ultra-modish by the former. In that light, I’m supposed to say that I couldn’t take John Schlesinger’s 1965 film seriously; that the fashion was “dated”; that “Austin Powers” made such a mockery of the garb that all its original eye-blazing style had been squandered by the persnickety sands of time; that it was like seeing 80’s fashion now. But I was there in the 80’s. I know how posh 80’s fashion looked in the 80’s. And film is a time capsule, and if the time capsule in “Austin Powers” took its titular character into the future then “Darling” was a time capsule that took me back to the past, and, for a couple hours, I felt like it was the present.


Admittedly, a significant part of my virtual and total inhabiting of the Now of Then in “Darling” stems from Julie Christie. “Beauty is central to the cinema,” David Thomson has written. That’s why he’s my favorite film critic; because he, more than any other, has the nerve to confess that what and whom we see on screen can sway our emotions which can sway our judgments. This happened for a long time before I watched “Darling” but I never realized it was happening before “Darling.” As a gawky, moronic teen watching “Cocktail” I didn’t realize how much Elisabeth Shue was pulling me in; she just was. In “Darling”, Julie Christie was pulling me in, and I grasped it.

Funny thing about that Thomson quote, however, is that isn’t the whole quote. The whole quote is part of his response to “Darling”, found in his indispensable New Biographical Dictionary of Film, and it goes like this: “Beauty is central to the cinema and Schlesinger seems an unreliable judge of it, over-rating Christie.” Damn, that’s harsh, and proof that we can disagree with even our favorite film critics, and that beauty is subjective. All due respect to Mr. Thomson, but as if. I’m still not sure I’ve ever seen a more flawless representation of ocular beauty captured on screen than Julie Christie in “Darling.”

Thomson dismisses “Darling” by giving it backhanded praise, writing that it “deserves a place in every archive to show how rapidly modishness withers.” That’s not inaccurate. The further I got (get) from the film, the more it feels like an indictment of the Swinging Sixties, whether intended or not. The film can feel purposeless, not unlike Christie’s Diana Scott, a character who just sorts of...drifts, selfishly, greedily. She can come across like a tin woman. She’s not inherently likable. Yet, watching the film, watching Christie, watching Christie wear shit, it’s electric. Modishness may wither on the clothesline, but until it does, it’s still, like, you know, modish.

That which eventually withers is captured in the costuming. And what Christie wears was designed by Julie Harris, who won an Oscar for designing it, rightfully, respectfully, and who passed away last week at the age of 93. She said in a 2011 interview that “when we made it, ‘Darling’ was just another contemporary film. I had no idea that it would become such an iconic portrayal of that time.” And that’s as it should be. Ultimately “Darling” is transitory, but as it happens, its forever.

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