Saturday, 13 May 2017

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)


 
Pigen Holly
With ”Breakfast at Tiffany’s” I have reached a particular milestone. This is the first movie on the list that my wife agreed to watch with me. As you may have guessed she is not a fan of very old movies so the fact that she likes this one is actually telling of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. This is a movie that feels far more modern than its actual age would indicate.

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is, I believe, generally much loved, but also frequently torn to pieces. While I understand the second position I find myself solidly in the first group. The reason is fairly simply: Audrey Hepburn. Few actors or actresses can singlehandedly carry a movie, but Hepburn is one of them (actually both Hepburns, but that is another story). To my mind she cannot and has never set a foot wrong and in “BaT” she nails the role. You might even call it career defining, but that would dismiss movies like “Roman Holiday” and “Sabrina”.

Hepburn is a society girl called Holly Golightly, who happen to live in the same building as Paul Varjak (George Peppard) and a choleric Japanese photographer upstairs (Mickey Rooney). Holly is an extremely impulsive girl who does whatever she wants and to hell with the consequences. She lives off the graces of her many admires and seems to have as goal in her life to find a rich guy to marry. In fact, Holly Golightly is completely infuriating, but seems to get away with it through her impressive female charm. I mean, she is Audrey Hepburn, who can honestly stay upset with her?

When Paul moves into the building they become fast friends. Paul may be a writer, but gets along by being a paid lover to a rich woman (Patricia Neal). As both live off the hands of others, essentially prostituting themselves, they do not have anything on the other. Holly is in constant need of help though and Paul finds himself drawn further and further into her life. It gives him purpose enough to reevaluate his own life and move one, but Holly seems to be completely without direction.

Yes, she is funny, and her life seems to be one, long party, but what we discover is that it is all an escape. Holly cannot face life, so she closes her eyes and pretends it does not matter. Instead of facing consequences or even consider them she ignores them. We learn that she ran away from her family in Texas and changed her name, we learn that she brings messages for the mafia, but refuses to consider the implications and she seems constantly on the lookout for a way out. Behind the happy-go-easy exterior there is a restless desperation. Holly’s refuge is to build a pink, peaceful haven where nothing can touch her, symbolized by Tiffany’s jewelry store in New York. This is where she turns when reality gets too close and that refuge is also the title of the movie.

I think this angle is important. Without understanding the desperation Holly becomes a beautiful, charming pain in the ass. She is frankly obnoxious and it is infuriating that she can glide off all trouble with a smile and a kiss, but in those last scenes in the rain we finally see the real girl and you know, she is a far more attractive woman than the Givenchy-clad glamour girl.

The theme song “Moon River” is heavily used in the movie, but I am okay with that. It is a wonderful tune and fits the movie beautifully.

What I cannot forgive the movie however is the disgrace which is Mickey Rooney’s Japanese photographer. I know he is played for laughs, but it is both racist and toe-cringing and not funny at all. Whenever he appears the illusion break and we are reminded that this is “just a movie”. Awkward.

Audrey Hepburn may steal the picture, but my second favorite character is Cat. Yes, a big ginger cat by the name Cat that manages to charm me completely. Not difficult I admit, I love cats, but this one has a lot of character and in the last scenes in the rain he becomes a symbol of the real Holly Golightly.

 

6 comments:

  1. You beat me to it! It's on the list in the next couple of days. I think we will agree completely on Mickey Rooney ... and on Hepburn.

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    1. That sounds like we will be pretty well aligned. I will look out for your review

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  2. I love Cat as well! Watching him respond to the party guests is one of the funniest parts of the film. I first watched this as a teenager, and only really saw the glamour and romance of Holly's life. As an adult, I saw the much darker parts of the story, and found Holly a lot more infuriating, but still fun to watch.

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    1. I think that is a common enough pattern. First time I watched BaT I only saw a very annoying and selfish girl and frankly wondered what Paul saw in her (except that she is Audrey Hepburn), but revisiting the movie I saw a lot more and the movie makes a lot more sense now.

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  3. I want to like this more than I did. True, the Mickey Rooney character is an embarrassment in the modern world and should have been an embarrassment when this was made.

    There's a lot here to like, but I think this is a movie that is misremembered by a lot of people. It's billed as a comedy when it really isn't one, and I find that jarring as well.

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    1. I think you are right about that. This may look like a comedy, but it is more of a drama. If you watch it as a comedy you are bound to be disappointed.

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