Love that early Schlesinger. Right after Billy Liar Schlesinger made Darling, which also marks his second straight collaboration with Julie Christie.
I wish the director had continued to make films like this throughout his career. I really do love his The Day of the Locust, but for my money nothing matches Billy Liar, Darling, and Sunday Bloody Sunday. Darling is vaguely Kane-like. It’s told in flashbacks, features various relationships, a character ends up alone in a mansion breaking stuff, a fishbowl is almost a surrogate snowglobe.
I like the movie so much in part because of how majestic and pristine the director’s frames look. Here’s Julie Christie’s Diana Scott at the beginning of her relationship with Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey). She starts playing with his safe in a medium shot and then the camera anticipates her movement a bit and tracks right to left:
She turns and Schlesinger finds her in these nice wides:
Punch in to Miles-
-before this really awesome, really distant shot where Miles wreaths the bottom of the frame and Diana feels tiny:
She stands on the table and walks towards him and the camera starts to crane down and tilt up to accommodate her motion:
A new angle on him, pushing in. Ostensibly her POV:
And then back to this show, now totally craned down to a looming low angle:
It’s a nice seduction and Schlesinger’s camera plays the part as well, framing them hugely opposite one-another, before dollying and craning to coax them closer and closer and emphasize the romantic dance of it all.
There’s an emphasis on fish in this film. I liked this shot a lot, which starts with this CU of the fish bowl-
-before pulling out and panning right to show the couple in the background. That fish bowl is most certainly a metaphor, but it’s also just a nice way to transition from one set of inhabitants to another:
Schlesinger’s blocking isn’t all fluid moves. Here he uses eyelines and montage to put together a great sex scene. It starts with Diana in a wide shot (framed by some pretty phallic lights):
We cut to her parking meter outside, turning to “Excess Charge.”:
We get this shot-reverse of Miles and Diana. Here’s where eyeline is so important. Where’s he looking?
Her eyes, right? How do we know that? Basic film language. They’re looking to approximately the same place in frame, more or less directly into the lens. The shot-reverse therefore sells the eyeline match.
So when Miles moves downward:
We know where he’s going before her reaction shot because of the eyeline match:
If her eyes were into the lens, and he moves below the lens…
Schlesinger then cuts back to the parking meter with a little tongue in cheek “Penalty”:
The montage isn’t necessary. We get it without it. But it gives some humor to the scene, is a clever way to expand time, and shows that Schlesinger’s got a large bag of tricks.
Later in the film we get those fish again:
We cut from them dead in the bowl to them dead in this box:
I love this shot. It’s simple, but the perspective is great, and there’s something so sorrowful about it: it’s nearly our POV, and the box ends up so alone, adrift, and forgotten:
All of this and I didn’t even get to Dirk Bogarde. Who’s awesome!