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Action Diana: the film of a thousand faces, Ben Child review,, Tuesday 29 September 2009



The Centre of Attention's rough and ready remake of John Schlesinger's Darling is fascinating testament to the fact we're all ready for our 15 minutes of fame these days


Last month, Ben Child went to Bute to watch the filming of Action Diana, a remake of John Schlesinger's Darling, but starring random strangers, rather than Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde. Here, he assesses the finished film.

A dull hum, or perhaps more of a hiss, emanates from the speakers. The images on screen are often punctuated by periods in which there is nothing much visible at all, just a black space. When it was originally announced in July, Action Diana – Anglo-French art group The Centre of Attention's new version of Darling, the 1966 drama about a young model and social climber that won Julie Christie an Oscar – was touted as a shot-for-shot remake. But I do not remember any potholes in the visual narrative of John Schlesinger's film. Nor did it feature amateur camerawork, footage which is often hugely over-exposed, and editing that appears to have been carried out by a three-year-old wearing boxing gloves. The whole thing also comes in at just over an hour, where Schlesinger's tale of swinging 60s London was over two.

And then there's the acting. While the original Darling featured a fairly wooden turn from the famously stiff Laurence Harvey in a supporting role, it was generally something of a tour de force, with Christie and Dirk Bogarde both turning in standout performances. By way of contrast, the 500-strong cast of the new version, named Action Diana for legal reasons, range from spectacularly hammy to apparently disinterested, with a side helping of extremely confused.

All of the above, of course, matters not a jot, in theory. For this is an art film, and therefore (arguably) not bound by the usual critical constraints. Furthermore, the whole thing was put together for about a hundredth of the cost of the big screen we're watching it on. Co-directors Gary O'Dwyer and Pierre Coinde, who together make up The Centre of Attention, worked with just one camera and members of the public in Merseyside, Vienna and Bute (doubling for the original's London, Monte Carlo and Capri) to put the project together. There were literally hundreds of Diana Scotts, the character played by Christie in the original, ranging from 10 to 82 in age. And very few of them had more than a few moments to learn their lines.

The result is a hotchpotch of human existence, individual actors' quirks and features highlighted, often mercilessly, occasionally kindly by the camera. An older lady, mumbling, confused but game, kicks off one scene, but is suddenly replaced by a younger, more confident player. The actors in some sections appear to have received meticulous prepping, while in others you get the impression they haven't a clue what's going on.

Eventually the viewer stops trying to follow the narrative (I felt particularly sorry for those at the debut screening here at the Abandon Normal Devices festival at FACT in Liverpool on Sunday night who had not even seen the original) and simply concentrates on the wonderful variety of different personalities on screen. We have mere seconds to evaluate the faces and voices before they shift. With some, it's immediately clear that the camera loves them; others, not so much.

Does the movie say anything useful about film-making, other than making it pretty clear that there is a very good reason why most films cost an awful lot of money to make and are put together by professionals who really know what they're doing? I'm not sure. It certainly suggests that in the era of reality TV and YouTube, the public has little fear of the camera, and we are all willing and ready for our 15 minutes (OK, seconds) of fame at a moment's notice. Most of those involved in Action Diana, to their credit, seem to have taken the whole process super-seriously. Some pass muster, others do not. It is often the latter who make for the more fascinating spectacle.

There is a particular section at the end of film reviews in Hollywood trade newspapers, such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, in which the critic passes judgement on a particular movie's technical prowess. Action Diana would no doubt be roundly trashed. But for its humanity, its bravery and its endeavour, it deserves a rather more positive reaction. If it is more important for art to mine new territory than to meet basic technical requirements, then this is a fine project that deserves your attention.



Ben Child, the Guardian


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