A brand spanking new year and the end of the month (and Superbowl) is here. Almost. The (nearly) last day in January means it’s time once more to restart the parallel post series. If you’re new to this, that’s when the blogger otherwise known as the Scientist Gone Wordy and I take on a pair of literary and cinema works that share an interconnection. Traditionally my colleague Rachel will examine and review the text of a book later adapted to film, which I will critique.
As well, we’re kicking off with one of the two reader selections for this series determined last month.
Today the wordy one peruses 1958’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s by the famed American author, screenwriter, playwright, actor Truman Capote and his best known creation. Holly Golightly, one of the “…unattached, unconventional wanderers, dreamers in pursuit of some ideal of happiness.”, as Capote’s aunt Marie Rudisill once noted. The source novella the basis for the 1961 film adaptation I’m commenting on. Rachel’s book review can be found here:
A brief synopsis of the film: Struggling writer (what else is there?) Paul Varjak moves into a New York City apartment building. Because he has the wrong key, he rings by chance the living quarters of the pretty, quirky, and future neighbor, Holly Golightly, to be let in. At once, Paul becomes intrigued by the young woman’s shall we say unique lifestyle, which confuses and fascinates the scribe. Everyone who enters her sphere of influence discovers she flits her way through various parties and engagements with a titillating self-reliant sophistication. In private, though, when alone with Paul, Holly’s gold digger personality ebbs and her background story begins to emerge. Her vulnerability and their meeting is the crux of the story.
[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film could be revealed in this review]
“I’m like cat here, a no-name slob. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us. We don’t even belong to each other.”
Without a doubt, growing up in the ’60s made an impression. No less so because Breakfast at Tiffany‘s was one of the films that cemented my love for my all-time favorite Hepburn. Audrey. Catching it on the small screen one evening on grandma’s old Admiral TV set that decade set the hook ever deeper for the rail-thin beauty and future humanitarian. Watching it once more for this review, my son joined in and it was good to see it had the same effect.
He, too, became confused and instantly smitten with you-know-who.
Originally, Capote had wanted Marilyn Monroe in the lead role for Holly. She was cast, but her acting coach Lee Strasberg talked her out of it. Ultimately, the author was disappointed with this film adaptation of his story.
It’s easy to see why the 1961 film Breakfast At Tiffany’s was preserved as part of the U.S. National Film Registry a couple of years back. Like the character of Holly Golightly, the film has an affect with those who come into contact with it. With her, too. The free-spirit party girl dependent on men to get by, with an incurable romantic streak. Loosely based on the Capote novella, it’s a surprising mix of lighthearted comedy and romantic drama.
Holly simultaneously a showstopper and head-scratcher, at least for the men in the same room with her. Those falling for the “real” fake as they gandered at the big or little screen, as well. The character an amalgam of some actual friends among the rich and social elite the author came to know in his extensive travels. Though the film’s script, in George Axelrod‘s screenplay treatment, put aside aspects that would have been taboo1 in the early ’60s.
Still, the film remains a marvelous vehicle for Audrey’s onscreen allure. Someone who held your attention without the need of more blatant sexuality, à la Marilyn, but with near-level attraction. Hard to imagine, till you see Audrey on celluloid, that is. Could almost be said of its New York City setting, as well. Manhattan’s Swinging Sixties era captured through Franz Planer‘s stellar cinematography (with help by Philip H. Lathrop) in a manner that could only be described as iconic.
Gotham a cinematic barometer for the country in many ways2.
“It should take you exactly four seconds to cross from here to that door. I’ll give you two.”
The entire package director Blake Edwards put together thoroughly engaging, with a caveat. Breakfast at Tiffany’s became the unexpected touchstone film3 for the period. Yet, it’s no surprise for this filmmaker. The versatile Edwards made a name delivering on romantic, comical fare to this point (Operation Petticoat in 1959 and High Time a year later had already proved). My stipulation being the “elephant in the room” whenever viewers catch it for the first time, which the director-producer-writer addressed a few years back:
In the 2006 short documentary Breakfast at Tiffany’s: The Making of a Classic (2006), Blake Edwards said that when the movie was made, he didn’t think about the implications of casting a white actor, Mickey Rooney, in a role as a Japanese person, but “looking back, I wish I had never done it… and I would give anything to be able to recast it.” ~ IMDB
That aside, it could be said this film set the stage for the dramatic pivot his next two films — 1962’s Experiment in Terror and The Days of Wine and Roses — provided his burgeoning career.
Even the one detail that had no part of the original story came off more respectable than moviegoers would have imagined. Paul Varjak (an impossibly young-looking George Peppard) a writer earning his living through a wealthy socialite, Patricia Neal (captivating as ever), as her “kept” man. An appealing foil, and gender comparison, to Holly’s perhaps more looked-down (hey, it was the ’60s) métier. People gotta eat so keep your judgments to yourself.
Certainly made his character falling for Holly compelling, and perhaps more sympathetic toward her methods at securing a stable future than older audiences would have done. One of the reasons college-age viewers then connected with Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and confused inexperienced preteens like myself). A subplot clearly meant to establish Paul’s heterosexual credentials that also gave the two an initial comradeship each saw in the other.
It’s why this incongruous match-up works onscreen — maybe not in real-life as Capote’s tale made crystal clear, but who the Hell cares to point that one out. Not me. Why Paul’s anguished philippic in the lovers finale, a stark appraisal of Holly’s plight that’s falling down around her, along with his feelings for the former “Lula Mae”, still registers:
“You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, “Okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.” You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”
Perhaps it comes off as the type of love that’s feels oppressive, maybe even dangerous, but was honest in the way those living through the craziness of love relate. Balanced on the edge, just hoping it doesn’t all tip over. For both involved. Years later, I was reminded of that, and Breakfast At Tiffany’s, on a date with my future bride as we watched Moonstruck together. Its scene with Nic Cage expressing his love to Cher harkened me back to this. Still rings true, too.
Why either movie works for some us, I guess.
Filled with memorable scenes that included the opening with our Audrey in front of Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue, and one of the coolest parties ever recorded on film (the cocktail party scene likely influenced Blake Edwards’ The Party a few years later, no doubt), the film continues to stand out. Even Audrey singing (in her own voice) “Moon River”4, and that rain-soaked final scene (though it’s likely nowhere near the cat’s favorite) still gets to me.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s a classic in that it broke with many of the romantic comedies of the age with some challenging ideas the ’60s would become known for. Today’s younger audiences may not relate to the film, finding it quaint, or sexist or racist for that matter. Like it or not, it’s also Audrey at her best in a signature role. And gives the Mad Men period of New York City another stylish close-up. The times, too, whether it was truly like that or not away from Madison Avenue. Once more glimpsing young people throwing their lives and emotions at the wall, and seeing what sticks.
Parallel Post Series
- Things like miscarriage, allusion to various character’s sexuality, and Holly’s sexual activity were not mentioned in the script. ↩
- You’d only look at the city the next decade over via film to judge what happened to the country after Viet Nam and Watergate came to pass. Believe me. ↩
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s one of the most popular films for either the director and leading-lady. Even its graphic was voted among The 100 Best Movie Posters of the Past 100 Years. ↩
- “Henry Mancini wrote “Moon River” specifically for Audrey Hepburn. He later said that while many version of the song have been done, he feels that Audrey’s was the best.” ~ IMDB ↩