Sunday, June 14, 2009

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S--one of my favorite films of all times. And continuing my obsession with courtesans...

One of my favorite authors is Truman Capote. One of my favorite stories of Capote's is Breakfast at Tiffany's. And one of my favorite movies of all times, ever, is Breakfast at Tiffany's starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard.

Before we talk about the movie, let's talk about Capote's novella. This is a beautiful wistful story that takes place in 1940 and tells the story of the narrator and his neighbor Holly Gollightly. Capote's Gollightly is probably one of the most brilliantly drawn characters in the history of literature. Norman Mailer, that nasty curmudgeon, said that he "would not have changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffany's." I seldom agreed with much that man said but in this case we're singing in the same choir.

This is another example where a book and the movie are equally brilliant. But in this case, they are brilliant in completely different ways. Capote once said in a review: ''The transposition of one art form into another seems to me a corrupt, somewhat vulgar enterprise.'' In reality, Capote didn't approve of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Gollightly which makes sense because the character in the film ended up having only a few qualities in common with the character in Capote's novella. The author actually wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part of Gollightly which would have been good casting if the film depicted Gollightly the way the author "wrote" her in his book (or as Jessica Rabbit said: "I'm not bad....I'm just drawn that way.")

The film Breakfast At Tiffany's was brilliant in its own unique and genius way, thanks to Blake Edwards' direction. The film takes place in the late 50's/early 60's, contemporary times when the film was made. And Hepburn's portrayal of Gollightly in the film is as brilliantly drawn a characterization as Capote's was in the book--in a different way.

So you should check out both of these equal but different masterpieces.

I've watched this movie probably 50 times and I never get tired of it. I always see something new every single time. This movie has some of my favorite scenes/lines from any films of all times which I want to share.

But before we do that I'd like to talk about the movie and my study of courtesans. This film is interesting because its two main characters, Holly Gollightly and Paul Varjack (Hepburn and Peppard), both make their primary living by prostituting themselves. In fact, Varjack is essentially a courtesan to his chief patron, Mrs. Failensen (played brilliantly by Patricia Neal). Gollightly earns her money by collecting pocket money from her dates when she goes to the powder room. We're never quite certain if she prostitutes herself for sexual favors. But it seems to me that Gollightly was a modern day courtesan and most definitely a "fortune hunter" [see my posting on June 13 about Dangerous Beauty and courtesans].

Which brings us to an interesting illustration of the male as courtesan in history. If you read (see the post on June 13 about courtesans, DANGEROUS BEAUTY) the book by Susan Griffin, The Book of the Courtesans, we see Vaslav Nijinsky, as a courtesan to his male patron, Serge Diaghilev. The wikipedia article for courtesans includes the following paragraph: "A male figure comparable to the courtesan was the Italian cicisbeo, the French chevalier servant, the Spanish cortejo or estrecho. It actually seems that the figure of the chevalier servant (French, lit. serving cavalier, lady's escort) of a married lady was quite common in Europe up to the 18th century."

Occasionally you'll see the term cicisbeo in 18th century literature, Jane Austen, even. Cicisbeo is defined by Merriam Webster as:

(noun) si-sis-bee-oh, an escort or lover of a married woman (esp. in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries).

Interesting to think about the male as a courtesan but certainly not as compelling as female as courtesan since men had power to begin with. Female courtesans used the only power they had available, sex, to attain wealth and personal power and complete autonomy.

Back to Paul Varjak, the cisisbeo, in Breakfast at Tiffany's. One of the things about the movie is how breathtakingly beautiful George Peppard was. In the first scene in the clip below when he and Holly fall asleep together in his bed, every time I watch it I weep at how beautiful he was. I'm not sure you can see it well in this clip, but you'll see what I mean when you watch the movie.

Also, if you watch the clips below or the film, think about this: "Is she or isn't she?" Which is one of my favorite lines in the film. It is in one of my favorite scenes from the movie. In fact, the party scene at Holly Gollightly's apartment is the best party scene ever filmed in the cinema (see in clips below). So, is she (Holly) or isn't she a courtesan?

Here are my favorite lines/scenes from the film:
  • When Mag Wildwood tells the billionaire she's going to take him to the zoo and "feed you to the yak as soon I finish this drink." Followed by Mag Wildwood falling dead to the floor: "Timber".
  • "Your the top banana in the shock department."
  • "Is she or isn't she?".....This question which O. J. Berman poses to Paul Varjak about Holly. Delivered just after Berman makes a pass at a beautiful blonde transvestite. So, is she or isn't she? A brilliant and inspired scene!
  • "She's a real phony," O.J. Berman says to Varjak about Holly.
  • The scene where the lady is drunk and laughing at herself in the mirror followed a few frames later with the same lady sobbing, mascara running, into the mirror. Absolutely brilliant.
  • "Mean Reds" as Holly calls a state of depression worse than the blues.
  • "I'm a stylish girl" says Mrs. Failensen, Varjak's patron. She then offers to let him have a little paid time off and suggests he and the "other boys" form a union to demand benefits. Love this scene and love Neal in it. "I'm a stylish girl."
Okay so watch these to see what I'm talking about:

Let me hear from you!

No comments:

Post a Comment