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.