Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Pure Food Poisioning

I don't know how many people, and by people I do mean both men and women, have said to me that the 1961 Audrey Hepburn film Breakfast at Tiffany's is their favorite film. Whatever the number, believe me, it has been many.  As an exercise in keeping myself knowledgeable of the canonical body of film "classics", I decided to finally watch this film, after all, how could so many people say they love this film and it have nothing interesting to say?  I would agree, this film contains a chatter-boxy diatribe of overtly didactic messages...too bad they are all inherently negative.  Racist... Sexist... Obnoxious... Forced...  These are the words that floated through my mind.  It must have been refreshing back in 1961 to find a film heroin such as Holly Golightly: wispy, free-spirited, independent, fashionable - but with a semi-relatable girl-next-door quality; a far cry from the conservative/matronly vs. vixen/temptress roles reserved for women in the B&W era. However, the script is limited to what was culturally acceptable subject matter in the early 60'.  Holly Golightly is obviously a prostitute, or at least she is a well paid escort.  The stage name, which she assigned to herself after making a break from the country to the city, reeks of a bygone era of cutesy-poo stripperdom.  As a character, it is apparent that Holly is supposed to pass for an actress of some sort, with an agent who comes to the rescue on more than one occasion, but whom should probably be interpreted as more pimp than agent.  I don't deny that Audrey Hepburn is a beautiful woman, and embodies the waifish aesthetics popularized by the French New Wave, but the role, her Holly character, is so obnoxious I almost couldn't watch it.  In the end, I would imagine that the moral of the story is to follow your heart, not your pocketbook, but even that is a bit of a shame.  Holly needed to be saved by Paul, aka Fred, and brought around to her senses, a sort of daddy-come-and-clean-up-my-mess narrative.  These damsels in distress / gentleman savior narratives are as old as cinema, but Breakfast at Tiffany's is merciless.  Rather than approaching Holly as a confused and complicated woman, Holly is made to be an insufferable child who happens to be pretty and can flaunt her sex-appeal to attract a suitable man, Paul, who will help her to see the error of her gold-digging ways. 
Mickey Rooney plays the Chinese neighbor from upstairs.  Within the first several minutes of the film, we are bludgeoned by despicable, racist representations of minority culture, beginning with the basic fact that a white actor has been made-up to play a Chinese man with stereotypically exaggerated features, ending with the slapstick stupidity with which the character interacts with his environment. Disgusting. That alone would lose my vote completely for "favorite film". It leaves me to wonder why anyone would call Breakfast at Tiffany's a classic.  I found it to be nearly unwatchable.         

Friday, April 16, 2010

Moments that Melt You: Philadelphia, la Mamma Morta


If you don't know what I'm talking about when I say "the opera scene from Philadelphia", please click the You Tube link presented above and spend 5 minutes with cinematic greatness. I have heard it said that this scene solidified the Oscar win for Tom Hanks.  It certainly is a masterful performance as well as an example of genuine cinematic artistry.  Minimal and pure, all elements of this scene contain poignant meaning and emotion.  The lighting, the angle of the camera, the close-ups of Hanks face as he becomes the embodiment of Maria Callas vocal suffering, the manifestation of the miraculous emotive quality of the music, and the curious cuts back to Denzel Washington as he finds himself immersed within his clients grief and lust for life. When the film was released in 1993, I was 14 and no more interested in Opera or cinematic artifice as I was in eating liver for dinner. I wanted to be entertained, not asked to think about mortality and the impact of art and music on the vibrations of the transcendent soul.  This scene helped me to fall in love with art, fall in love with music and fall in love with the cinema.  Such moments are rare enough in life, but reflect the human need for artistic self-expression and acceptance of the awesome nature of the mysteries of connectedness.