I will be hosting a showing of one of my very favorite films, “Darling” on Thursday 10:45pm at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles for my dear friend Wayne Federman’s comedian-curated film festival. I know it’s late but really the movie is worth it, and it’s black and white and easy on the eyes and a nice thing to watch right before bed. Black and white films have a soothing effect on the psyche, like hot milk and lavender baths and spooning with the larger person on the outside the smaller person on the inside, or human on the outside, dog/cat on the inside.
I always loved watching black and white television shows before bed, but color shows seemed to make me unable to sleep. I would feel hypnotic and somnolent after episodes of the old Twilight Zone. With shades of grey and black and bright white, the surreal and haunting images and subject matter were the perfect introduction to sleep, as if the flickering lights and words were translating into your brain as a form of sleep itself, manufacturing REM and kickstarting the dream mechanism. Rod Serling did a good lullaby.
But then you would have to turn off the television right away or you might catch a glimpse of Night Gallery, Serling’s terrifying later offering – a horror series in lurid and screeching all too lifelike and all too deathlike COLOR, or god forbid, a trailer for the most scary movie of all the scary movies – MAGIC with Anthony Hopkins and Ann-Margret and that ventriloquist dummy! Both Night Gallery and MAGIC preyed upon my very worst fear – DOLLS. I fucking am so freaked out by dolls and puppets.
The only puppets I can have in my home and commune with are the wooden articulated cobras I purchased from a reluctant but reasonable marionette wrangler, with a fat pocketful of Rupees in Rajasthan, Lily and Lord Khimsar respectfully, which is probably weird because they look like real snakes, living snakes, and have been known to move themselves around the house – I am not kidding. I put them down somewhere and they appear in another place. I deal with it because I love them, and I respect their puppet life. But I don’t think I could survive within the same room as a ventriloquist’s dummy. They really freak me out, especially ones from the 20s and 30s, with their thin eyebrows and lines around the jaw. If ever I was looking at an unmanned dummy and one brow or lip lifted, I think I would faint from fright.
There is no puppet terror in Darling, which is John Schlesinger’s very best film, although it is hard to pick, he made so many amazing ones. Julie Christie is a wonder in this movie, a wise old soul in a young swinging London girl body, with the always magnificent Dirk Bogarde and fierce as ever Lawrence Harvey madcap behind. It’s a fun movie and kind of a tragedy and kind of a comedy and calming and exciting and terrific and sexy and also somewhat anti-sex. It’s a 60s movie that has a 50s air about it and it’s so British but also very European and actually if you think about it, pretty American. It’s a story about straight people but they could also be gay. They are white but they want to be black. It suggested and supported 3 ways and walking on conference room tables and marrying into royal families and I’d like to wear all of Julie Christie’s clothes in the movie, and I think for a couple of years in the late 90s, my manic vintage shopping accomplished this goal. You would be hard pressed to do this nowadays, with all the furor over the outfits in mad men. If you like mad men style, and of course I do, look to Darling. It’s the same well cut era.
John Schlesinger is unparalleled and hands down my favorite director, and his movies I return to time and time again when I want to know how a story should be told, how a film should be made, how movies should be. In the dark of an old fashioned rep house or film collective, when any of his glorious work is projected onto the screen and my nice ass is in a seat, I know everything always all the time will be ok (everything sunny all the time always). Midnight cowboy and day of the locust and Sunday bloody Sunday and darling could get stuck in any one of my all region dvd players and I would be happy to watch these films over and over for the rest of my days. He approached filmmaking like a painter, and every shot, every frame, in every film is a work of art. I knew John in the 90s, partly because of my sartorial obsession with Darling and my deep personal love affair with all of his films, and partly because he was a fan of mine also, which was a tremendous honor.
He brought me to Santa Fe, where he was planning to build a museum entirely dedicated to Georgia O’Keefe. His hot boyfriend Michael drove us around in his jeep and we went swimming and then tanning and ate mysterious southwestern style caesar salads with cornbread croutons with Bryan Singer and kept an eye on the clock so as not to be late for a party John and Michael were throwing for their lady friend.
Their lady friend was Lauren Bacall (!!!), and the icon(truly, I mean it, ICON) and eternally beautiful actress looked down from the top of a barstool and stopped the drinking of a large fizzy watery lemony concoction and with her booming-and-commanding-in-person voice and living legend largesse uttered simply, “……John….”. everyone turned to look and time stood still and the whole room was entirely ears and someone said, “John – Lauren wants you….” and he, the illustrious John Schlesinger, the best director ever, came running. How could you not? it’s Lauren fucking Bacall.
Ali Macgraw and Joyce Dewitt surrounded me and astounded me with their famed brunette manes and crisp white shirts and glowing desert rose beauty. They both wore the hugest squash blossom turquoise necklaces I had ever seen in my life and hugged me warmly and the impressive and costly silver banged into my chest. Humbly, they introduced me to their gay husbands. They loved their gay men and bowed their shiny heads at them and looked up at them through black eyelashes thick and wet with the appreciation and adoration I know well. Joyce said in a quiet whisper, “Margaret – this – THIS – is Artemis. He is very special.” She opened her arm to reveal him, like she was showing me her heart, and he stepped forward, handsome, ponytailed and shy, to kiss me on both cheeks.
There was a show of some kind, I don’t remember it though, just these details and small stories I have shared here. I miss John and I miss his moving pictures and he needs a predecessor. He was gay and the greatest filmmaker of all time and I will always be proud of that and of him and that I knew him and that he loved me. I am glad that I get to show Darling on the big screen, like it was my movie, and in some ways, it is.