Sunday: I had Breakfast at Tiffany’s…
For those who have been reading this blog from the beginning, you may remember I introduced the Oxford theatre’s 75th Anniversary classic film series in my post about going to see Casablanca on the big screen. On Sunday, I returned to the Oxford for a screening of the 1961 classic, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. This time I also remembered to take some pictures.
My friend H again accompanied me and, as is our usual pattern, we scoped out our prime seats in the middle of the balcony. Like Casablanca, Tiffany’s drew a large crowd – although the demographics were slightly different this time around – lots of groups of women and couples. It was neat to see audience members making a day of it. Some women were all dressed up and sporting distinctive accessories from the famous jewelry store. There was a sense of occasion for this one and it seemed to draw people out who don’t usually have the time and/or inclination to go to the movies, which was kind of fun to see.
Why do people love “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”?
Reason #1: Audrey Hepburn is luminous. She exudes flighty charm and is positively radiant in this movie (as per usual). I love the scene where Holly Golightly first meets Paul Varjak (George Peppard). He’s new to the building and wakes her up to buzz him in. As they are getting to know each other, she abruptly realizes that she’s late for her standing appointment at Sing Sing to visit Sally Tomato, a felon with mob connections (obviously, with a name like Sally Tomato). Holly goes from bedhead to beauty in about 2 minutes flat and Paul is just trying to keep up. When she’s ready, she strategically tilts her stylish wide-brimmed chapeau, bats her big brown eyes at him and purrs, “How do I look?” Is it even possible not to instantly adore her?
Reason #2: Henry Mancini’s music. Variations on the Academy Award winning theme song, Moon River, play throughout the movie from the opening credits onward to capture every mood – from the melancholic and nostalgic to the quirky and mischievous. It is a classic movie theme with the characteristic orchestral swells and “hummable” melody that entails.
Reason #3: The wardrobe. The clothes and accessories are a character in and of themselves. If you’ve never seen the film, Holly Golightly (Hepburn) is an unabashed gold-digger seeking a rich husband to maintain the glamorous carefree life she covets. She lives in a fairly dodgy apartment building, but manages to amass a collection of designer clothes and jewels (gifts from suitors we are led to assume) that convey timeless style and elegance:
Those reasons to love Tiffany’s still hold up. But seeing it now 50 years after it was made, the film itself seems a bit dated. The sense of disdain for the whole “high society” scene – people famous for being famous and living extravagant lifestyles with no accountability or visible means of income – is certainly still relevant, but is kind of old hat by now. Been there, seen that, living it now (“Keeping up with the Kardashians”, anyone?). At the time, that commentary might have had much more impact. Similarly, Holly’s status as an independent girl for “hire” would’ve been quite scandalous back in the day, but now barely raises an eyebrow. What does raise an eyebrow now that probably didn’t at the time is Mickey Rooney’s caricatured performance as Holly’s ambiguously Asian landlord. I can only suspect he was supposed to add a layer of comedic relief (and still drew some uncomfortable laughs from today’s audience), but the portrayal reeks of offensive racial stereotypes earning “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” the dubious distinction of being classified among the most racist movies ever made.
I have a soft spot for Breakfast at Tiffany’s because Holly Golighty clings so forcefully to the idea that “people don’t belong to people”, which personally I can really get behind. It’s about struggling to make the shift from one version of yourself to another and getting caught in the middle. Who can’t relate to that? I also like the added dimension that her new neighbour, the charming Paul Varjak, is in essence a “kept” man by a wealthy older woman who supports him in his sporadic writing career – a similarity that I think makes the story and budding romance between the two central characters much more interesting.
Despite my personal affection for this movie, parts of film do drag considerably, and the plot seems unnecessarily complicated. There are memorable moments and scenes, but the transition from one to the next can be a bit awkward and undefined. While “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is unquestionably a “classic” film, I wonder if it is in fact a “great” film – and does this distinction even matter? What are some other films that are considered “classics” that may not be “great”?