Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Breakfast At Tiffany's!

Monday. Movie Day. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a beautiful,  captivating movie  I watch whenever I need to feel better about myself ....... Fantasy movies are my forte, & Breakfast at Tiffany's is still first and foremost a fantasy.  An undeniably romantic tale of a 'damaged' girl finding love despite herself.

The use of Henry Mancini's magnificent  "Moon River" cements the dreamy atmosphere which is introduced at the beginning of the film with establishing shots of a New York City that never was.  This is not the real world ... it's another sort of place, a fantasy construct, where Mafia dons are nice men, disappointed suitors react with grace, improbable lovers can overcome the odds and girls like me live life happily ever after.  And Holly Golightly is a product of this environment.   Although Holly at first appears to be little more than an airheaded,   jet-setting socialite, the more we get to know her, the more we understand the pain and loss that have led her to embrace her current lifestyle. Holly has low self-esteem and a sordid past, and she has surrounded herself with bright, gaudy things in an effort to give herself a level of comfort.  I am Holly Golightly !!!!

Set in then present-day 1961 (as opposed to during World War II as in Truman Capote's novella, the inspiration for the movie), the film introduces us to a sparkling Audrey Hepburn, 'Holly' as she strolls home early one morning in her 'little black dress' and sunglasses after yet another all-night bender during which she likely doled out small favours to amorous older gentlemen in exchange for rent money. Pausing in front of Tiffany’s, Holly munches a danish and sips coffee as she admires the jewellery in the window. It’s an iconic movie moment. Holly sees herself as a free-spirit, a party girl, someone who, as she puts it, won’t be "put in a cage". It’s a lonely life, but it pays the bills.

Capote has no interest in telling a typical boy-meets-girl love story. The relationship between Holly and Paul, (whom she calls Fred in honour of her brother), evolves in unusual ways, especially as we learn that Paul/Fred is guilty of the same kind of shady behaviour that he finds so unattractive in Holly. While many of the book's broad strokes (and even a few of the details) were retained in Axelrod's script, changes were instituted to make the movie more palatable to a mainstream audience. Chief of these is the nature of the relationship between the two leads, which results in a new, different, and more optimistic finale. This is it's Hollywood touch.

Paul Varjak (George Peppard), who is sort of gay in the novel but quite straight & indeed, manly here, an aspiring author with a bad case of writer's block, is the new tenant in her building. The two meet on the morning Paul moves in, when he drops by to use Holly's phone. Her cat, named appropriately, Cat, a major character in his own right, watches all this with disdain. One night, when a drunk man is banging threateningly on Holly's door, she climbs the fire escape and slips into Paul's apartment. As thanks for 'rescuing' her, she invites him to a party, which swings like Sixties parties should. Paul is fascinated by Holly & soon after they become friends.

She inspires him to start writing again. And, for one memorable day, they go out on the town together doing things that they have never before done, .... 'Firsts' for both of them, like shopping at Tiffany's (new for him) and checking out a book from a library (new for her). Ultimately, their feelings end up running more deeply than normal friendship, but, when Paul confesses his love, Holly rebuffs him. She has set her heart on marrying a rich South American (Villalonga) so that she will have enough money to support herself and her brother, whose tour of duty in the army is almost over. 

Neither Holly nor Paul is a model citizen. In order to finance her wasteful lifestyle, Holly accepts a weekly payment of $100 to visit an ex-mob boss in prison and carry a verbal message to his 'lawyer'. It's a subtle form of prostitution with no sex involved. The same isn't true of Paul, who could be called a gigolo & a gentleman.  His lover (the elegant & terrifying Patricia Neal) is a well-to-do woman with a much older husband. She sneaks out to see Paul whenever she gets the opportunity, and in fact this latest apartment is a gift from her. Every time she departs from his bed, she leaves behind a 'care' package of $$$$$$$$. 

During the scene where Holly first realises Paul is in the same business as herself, both are semi-naked; Paul asleep in bed, Audrey wearing a flimsy nightgown. Stripped of sartorial armour they are exposed to each other for what they really are ... two people who sell themselves for money. She teases him about the cash on the dresser, but what she is really saying is 'I understand, because I’m there myself'. Such affinity allows her to be vulnerable & to show her vunerability.  This is the moment when Holly falls for Paul.

But who is Holly anyway? Where has she come from? Why, Paul wonders, does she travel to Sing Sing prison on a weekly basis to visit a jailed mobster? She’s not the type to dwell on unpleasantries, & the second half of the movie finds Paul unraveling her many mysteries with the help of a surprising out-of-town visitor who knows much more about Holly’s past than she would like to make public.

Two particular attributes set Breakfast at Tiffany's apart from the overfamiliar continuum of romantic comedies. The first is character depth, particularly where Holly is concerned. Despite her name and her lighthearted disposition, she is actually a troubled individual, a 'damaged' girl. Orphaned at an early age, she married the kindly Doc Golightly at the age of 14, then abandoned him for a stint in Hollywood. As played by Buddy Ebsen, Doc appears to be a genial elder gentleman, but there's something ambiguous and less-than-wholesome about his relationship with Holly. There's also a question about the status of their marriage. She claims it was annulled long ago, but her tendency to live in a world of her own creation brings that into question. For the most part, Holly has done her best to forget the past, but there are instances when it creeps into her mood, turning her sad and wistful.

Capote had always envisioned Marilyn Monroe in the part, and felt betrayed by the studio when Hepburn was cast. Yet the choice was inspired. Hepburn holds the movie together. Her chic, uncluttered, effortless style and fragile beauty give Holly a disarming artlessness. She looks fabulous in her sophisticated clothes, waves a long black cigarette holder around, and spouts odd little bits of French (calling one aggressive suitor "quel beast"). Yet she seems to float untouched above the seamier aspects of her life, only occasionally letting us see her vulnerability and loneliness. She's irresistible. And despite all the glamourous party clothes, she's just as charming wearing a pair of jeans and a simple shirt when she sings the movie's hit song,"Moon River".   Clothes are often employed as a separate discourse for Holly. Early on during the party sequence Audrey wears a white silk wrap and then minutes later changes into a plain black evening gown with upswept hair, huge jewelled necklace and ludicrous cigarette holder. This informs her transformation from lucid, charming Holly to tipsy, man hungry Holly on the prowl.

Audrey’s Givenchy fashions are still a talking point forty years on and the movie produced lasting icons of American fashion.  The little pink cocktail dress she wore in one scene sold not long ago for $192,000. The 'little black dress' she wore to go visit Sally Tomato in the pen has ever since been a staple of the chic female wardrobe. And the black Givenchy gown she wears in the opening scene was auctioned for $800,000 in London in 2006.  The outfits are distinctly Givenchy, lots of satin and big hats and buttons, yet Audrey bestows distinctly Audrey touches. The tight wrapping and not fastening her belts for example. Emphasising her tiny waist, Audrey knew how to spotlight herself on film without altering character or narrative (she is meant to be ‘skinny’ after all, as Doc heeds with disdain).

Then there's the dialogue, which, although neither sparkling nor 'peppered' (ha, ha .... pun intended!) with scintillating one-liners, is nevertheless solidly written and enjoyable to listen to. The key to its effectiveness is that conversations do not feel truncated ~ they are allowed to run on naturally. The film's best scenes involve Holly and Paul doing nothing more complicated than talking to each other. Over the years, strong dialogue has been an important characteristic of all the great romantic comedies, up to & including another favourite of mine, Richard Linklater's 'Before Sunrise'.

For a movie made in the early 1960s,  Breakfast at Tiffany's is surprisingly bold.   Audrey Hepburn is shown in a number of provocative and revealing costumes (the trailer trumpets that the film offers the actress "as you've never seen her before"), and the screenplay includes several forthright lines with a clear sexual connotation. There also isn't any beating around the bush when it comes to the nature of Paul's secondary profession.

Breakfast at Tiffany's most glaring fault was not considered a problem during the movie's initial release. However, looking back through a 40 year window, the inclusion of the stereotyped Asian character of Mr. Yunioshi (played by Mickey Rooney) borders on offensive. Mr. Yunioshi's sole purpose is to provide cheap comic relief, but, what might have been funny in 1961 has long since lost its humourous edge. The character's presence is a double blow to the Asian community ~ not only is he fatuous & uncomplimentary, but he is played by a Caucasian actor in heavy makeup. Fortunately, Mr. Yunioshi is a background character, and his scenes are not plentiful enough to spoil an otherwise lovely movie.

While Breakfast at Tiffany's probably would have been a more powerful and moving story had it stuck to Capote's original storyline, there are advantages to the film's approach. The central struggle of the movie is whether Holly & Paul can accept happiness and possible poverty together, or continue their attempts to 'trade up' to a loveless monied union. The ending is evocative and over-the-top, but, in the way of all great romantic finales, it culls a smile and a somewhat wistful sigh from 'everyone in the audience'. (I hope the non Irish among you understand that!!). 

Capote’s hip & heartless New York City is not a place where love comes easily, but maybe these two can find it. And, Holly so deserves a happy ending.

Perhaps Dinner at Macy's.?????


  1. One of my favorite Audrey flicks! I think this movie inspired many other modern romance movies.Thanks for posting Pixel.

  2. Pana, this is a beautiful piece, well written. You say a lot of stuff I would have said if I could have found the words. You have a way with words & I think you have found the secret of the movie! Why are you 'damaged' though? Like Holly??

    You really resemble Audrey Hepburn, more than any one else I know or have ever seen. Even more than Jennifer Love Hewitt who played her in that biopic. And I think you know it too.

    You are like Audrey, You are so beautiful, kind too, please don;t feel bad!!

  3. I love this movie & I love this review of yours Pana. It is a fun movie & Audrey is very pretty, like you are. And I agree with Ben you look a lot like her. My friend Jessica remarked on this today in the library as I was reading this. Go Holly girl to Hollywood .... ha ha ha!

    You got much more from the movie than me. I thought it was kinda shallow!

  4. Thanks Guys!!

    I think the Movie Monday thing is working. And I do so adore that movie!!!

    Audrey is an icon. No more to be said.