Thursday, January 29, 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

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Paul Varjak: 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. ~Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
The opening scene of Breakfast At Tiffany's has got to be one of the most haunting in film history, with Audrey Hepburn strolling down a Manhattan street at five o'clock in the morning, glamorously attired, a paper cup of coffee in hand, nibbling a pastry, while pausing to gaze longingly into the window of Tiffany's jewelry store. Never has anyone looked so lost.

Made at the dawn of the sexual revolution, the film captures the angst of modern life, with the all the loneliness, the frantic striving for wealth at any price, seeking in material pleasures a happiness which remains elusive. The "Holly Golightly" character, nimbly portrayed by Miss Hepburn, embodies the lifestyle of so many contemporary young women, sans the Givenchy gowns, in whose lives there have often been many lovers but very little true love. The George Peppard character, "Paul" the writer-gigolo, was shocking at the time the film debuted. He, too, like so many modern people, knows a lot about sex but nothing of love. He longs for love, nevertheless. Paul, like Holly, is trapped in a lifestyle from which there seems to be no escape. Hope is presented in the awakening of love, and the desire for commitment, from which Holly flees like a bird.

The film would be nothing without the Henry Mancini song "Moon River," written for Audrey's limited vocal range. Although the words speak of a youthful desire to see the world, when Audrey sings it, she captures a deeper level of meaning, an intense yearning for home, for a family setting that is no more. It is essentially a mourning of lost innocence. Holly had lost her innocence by age fourteen, when she married a man old enough to be her father; instead of being a much-needed parent, he became a lover, and perhaps that is what set her on the path to promiscuity. Underneath her carefree exterior, she is tormented at the very core of her being, as is demonstrated when she smashes up her apartment upon receiving the news that her only brother has died.

When hearing the song "Moon River" as a child, I always thought of the Monocacy River, not far from our house. It was a yellow muddy river due to the cow manure and silt from the fields, but on a summer night, beneath the glimmering of the moon, it became beautifully surreal, connoting the magic and mystery of places far away. How often the youthful longing to see the world is replaced with the nostalgia for home, after the world has been seen and tasted. There is no going back home, only going forward, while creating structures of stability for the new generation. Paul and Holly standing in the rain at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany's, hugging a soggy cat, while a choir sings "Moon River" in the background, is almost like a gleam of promise. Amid the despair, depravity and chaos of modernity, a man and woman can still find each other, commit to each other, and build a life of meaning for themselves and for others. Share

13 comments:

mercifuljuliana said...

Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of my favorite movies of all time (in the top 5). Some people are surprised when I say how much I love this movie; I think it's because they don't see the messages the movie conveys. You have articulated, better than I ever could, the lessons we can learn from the film.

May I also just say how much I love Audrey Hepburn. She was a lovely lady!

God Bless,
Juliana

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Juliana. I love Audrey. In this film she was playing a character who had no resemblance at all to her real self. She was such a talented actress.

Adrienne said...

Elena - a wonderful post. I have linked to it at my blog...

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Adrienne!

Grace said...

Breakfast at Tiffany's is my favorite movie and if asked about my favorite book, I would say that it is Truman Capote's novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's. I read somewhere that Audrey said that Holly Golightly was the most difficult part she ever played because the character was so different from herself. I know that Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe as Holly, but she could never have portrayed the character as well as Audrey did. I was so excited to see that you wrote about this movie. I check your blog regularly for your posts about Marie Antoinette, and I wanted to let you know that this post was just lovely and portrayed the film so perfectly. Many people I know think that this movie is overrated and that Audrey was not as talented as she is said to be, so I was pleased to see that enjoyed this movie and saw the messages.
-Hilary
P.S. The original name that Truman Capote had for the leading character in Breakfast at Tiffany's was Connie Gustafson. How wonderful is it that he settled on Holiday Golightly instead?

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Grace. Yes, I think Audrey did a great job, too. With Marilyn, it would have lacked some of the depth. I did not know that about Capote's original name choice. I know that he based Holly's character partially on the model Dorian Leigh.

Ms. Lucy said...

What a movie! Thank you so much for this well written piece. You went right to the core and portrayed the depth of it all.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

I remember just sobbing when she leaves her cat in the alley and the poor thing is shivering and scared in the rain. Then, she realizes she needs her cat, he needs her and she needs love (Paul) all at once and they go back for the cat. Whew!

I also remember the scene where they tried on the masks...

Pentimento said...

It's a great movie! The only false note is Mickey Rooney's thoroughly racist portrayal of Holly's Japanese landlord.

Georgette said...

I know I am definitely in a minority, but I just HATED this movie. I suppose it's just me, and pardon my EXTREME frankness here, LOL, but...

I felt that the producer and director must have expected the viewer to be stupid when they made this. They actually expect you to BELIEVE that Hepburn's ultra-sophisticated british-accented blue-blood looking/acting/speaking "Holly Golightly" was once a hillbilly girl, living in a cabin in the mountains with a whole mess a' kids, married to a hillbilly doc-- who goes by the name of "Doc", no less!!-- and having a goofy hillbilly name like "Elly-Mae" or "Norma Jean" or some such thing. (Actually that would be the only thing that would explain how she came by the ludicrous name of "Holly Golightly"--she was an idiot hick when she made it up! Somehow I don't think that Truman Capote had Hepburn in mind when he wrote the story/play.) Doc, whom she had been once married to (and now he's come to the big city to fetch her back, the children are waiting for yer, don't ya know) is none other than Jed Clampett himself, Buddie Epson!! It was just TOO much to ask the viewer to accept all this--and not even be soothed with any knowledge that it might be a fantasy, or just a bad dream, at least! And the actor who played Audrey's romantic interest, George Peppard, was just too cardboard and boring and, well, unattractive. Yuck. No chemistry at all there. And a terrible actor, to boot. All in all, I just think it is a stupid movie, NO OFFENSE to those who love this movie! But I gotta admit she is stunning-looking in this, and the clothes are just gorgeous (I think it was Gucci who designed all her costumes).

I also have the feeling that it "gave permission" to explore the sexual revolution to its fullest, because everybody else is doing it, after all.

Georgette said...

(sorry for that long ramble...must be time for me to get my own blog again, huh? :-D )

elena maria vidal said...

I cry at that part, too, Cathy.

Yes, Pentimento, I don't think having Mickey Rooney in the film was a good idea.

Golly, Georgette, I thought Givenchy designed the clothes. Well, since the part of Holly was based on Dorian Leigh, who was from poor people in Texas but became an ultra-sophisticated model, then Audrey was perfect for the role. It was easier than being Eliza Dolittle, for which she was nominated for the Academy award ( which in those days meant something.) Buddy Ebsen was perfectly cast, too, IMO. I don't think his TV show had debuted when the film was made, but it doesn't bother me.

You don't like George Peppard?? He's not a good actor? Well, we'll have to agree to disagree......

Georgette said...

You are probably right, Givenchy is the designer...sorry, I often get the names confused.

And yeah, this is just the way this movie struck me. Maybe I was just expecting much more, as I had not really fully watched this movie until very recently. And the time delay may have something to do with it, certainly it did in reference to Pa Clampett!! :-D But from this side of the Beverly Hillbillies and the sexual revolution, I find the casting and acting just unbelievable--or, I was unable to sustain disbelief for the duration of the movie, let's say.

Yes, we'll have to agree to disagree about all that, and George Peppard too. As I said, I mean no offense, and I know I am in the minority with this movie!!