Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If Any of My Daughters Grow Up to be Holly Golightly, I May Shoot Myself

I've always liked Breakfast at Tiffany's. And I've always wondered exactly why I like this movie. Holly is a precious, beautiful, irresponsible, adorable idiot, she hangs out with attractive, rich, ditzy losers, no one in the movie amounts to much of anything, and "Moon River" is one of Henry Mancini's weaker efforts, anyway. So what's the appeal? Well, finally somebody--specifically David Thomson, in a review of a book by Sam Wasson about the movie--has set the record straight:

The screenwriter George Axelrod pondered long and hard on how [Truman Capote's novella Breakfast at Tiffany's] could “work” as a movie. Then he got it, and Wasson treats this yielding as a triumph. The guy, Paul, could be straight, but a gigolo. There could be a love story between him and Holly (because love stories are life preservers when the plane goes down), but they could be so busy having sex with other people that they never quite made it together. They were chums. Do you see? I know, this was fanciful even in 1961, but suppose we cast George Peppard as the guy, and Audrey Hepburn as Holly. Peppard is so dull he hardly gets noticed, and Audrey is so adorable we don’t have to think about her. That could work, couldn’t it? With good clothes, and a song? No, there isn’t a song in the book. There usually aren’t.

All of this was done, and Axelrod was a deft, clever, talented man. But he was also a Hollywood engineer who wanted his picture to “go.” The dawning of the modern woman did not cross his busy mind. But with Blake Edwards directing (a late replacement for the edgier John Frankenheimer--and why? Because Audrey and her husband, Mel Ferrer, had not heard of Frankenheimer), with Edith Head and Henry Mancini, the picture went. And with Mickey Rooney--but we’ll come to him.

A more viciously happy take-down of a movie I haven't read in a long time. Stuff like this is good for the soul.


Cynthia L. said...

This movie was a horrible traumatic disappointment for me. I knew it from the posters (I adored the iconic image of Audrey Hepburn) and the pop song long before I actually saw the film. So I was expecting to just love it. But Mickey Rooney's turn as an Asian minstrel are nothing short of an atrocity. I was so shocked it completely ruined the whole film. More deeply, I felt very betrayed by others who liked the movie and society at large liking the movie, which I took as an implicit recommendation to me and endorsement. It was one of those big disillusionment-with-adults/society moments for me to realize that such a racist thing could be so broadly and cheerfully overlooked.

Sorry that's all awfully melodramatic, but I was ~14 when these events happened and views forged---goes with the territory.

Proud Daugther of Eve said...

My understanding is that the part of Holly was originally meant for Marilyn Monroe but she'd either become too erratic by then or had already died.

I'm another one for whom this movie was both a disappointment and a disillusionment. None of the characters were actually sympathetic and, based on her reputation for class, I'd expected better from Audrey Hepburn.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Interesting comments, Cynthia and PDoE. A conversation I had with several people on Facebook made me wonder if there was something essential to the appeal of the film that I was missing. I mean, the fact is I like it--I enjoy swinging along with the witty banter and the crazy styles, even if everyone saying those words and wearing those clothes is really kind of pathetic and even a little repulsive. Why the disconnect? And it occurred to me that I'm not the audience for the film. It's not reaching out to me; it's reaching out to my date. So I thought I really ought to consider what some women I know think of the movie.

And yet, here I get two comments from women who found the film disturbing, to say the least. So you make me think again: maybe there isn't anything about the film particularly focused on the female in the audience, maybe it's appeal really is just a random result of whether or not one happens to feel that goofball dinner-party sequences make up for atrocious stereotypes. Anyway, if nothing else, it's a film people can talk about!

Reese Dixon said...

I always loved the movie, but that's because I turned a blind eye to the racism and instead focused on a woman running away from a difficult past to a life filled with glamour, trying to stuff her life so full of distractions that she could ignore the trauma in her past. Trying to be so happy and freespirited that she could mask the pain behind it. That, I related to with all my heart. I was one of those annoying teenagers who thought that I was Holly Golightly. But really, if you don't come from a difficult past, I don't really know what there is about this movie that is redeeming. Except the style. Oh gosh that midcentury design just slays me.

Anonymous said...

I didn't notice any racism--natch--but I saw the movie for the first time last year and I just couldn't see anything in it. I was mildly rooting for the Golightly character to marry the South American, I guess, because then at least something interesting would have happened.

I'm a big Audrey Hepburn fan, but . . .

-A. Greenwood