DVD Reviews: “Funny Face” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

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Paramount Pictures has begun re-releasing many of their classic films as two-disc Centennial editions featuring remastered pictures enhanced for 16.9 TVs and Dolby digital sound. Two of the latest releases are couple of Audrey Hepburn’s most well-loved films: Funny Face, from 1957, and perhaps her most famous film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, from 1961. If you are a film lover and have seen neither before, you should consider taking a look at both of these. If you have seen them, these new editions present a wonderful opportunity to get reacquainted with them with the picture formatted to fit televisions of the 21st century.

funny-faceIn Funny Face, Hepburn portrays Jo, a bohemian bookstore clerk in Greenwich Village sucked into the world of high fashion by a photographer played by Fred Astaire (whose character was based on Richard Avedon). When Astaire’s Dick Avery storms into Jo’s bookstore for a spur-of-the-moment fashion shoot, he discovers that Jo has a unique and new look that would best represent the “woman who doesn’t have time for clothes.” Avery convinces Maggie Prescot, the president of a Vogue-like magazine called Quality, to hire Jo and take her to Paris to model a new collection. Jo wants nothing to do with the fashion world as it goes against her principles, but when she hears there is an opportunity to meet the professor of the philosophical movement she a part of, Jo goes along. Once in Paris, Jo discovers that Avery is not what she thought (and neither is that philosophy professor), and she has to search her heart for guidance when her principles and emotions are challenged.

Directed by the legendary Stanley Donen, Funny Face is a sendup of the fashion industry, much like Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain was a sendup of Hollywood. In the film, Donen does what he always did best, which is set up a scene for the musical numbers and film the choreography perfectly to showcase the dancers. Donen was also very stylistic in his editing, and utilized the widescreen format to use Paris locations for some of the big dance numbers. The songs are all Gershwin standards, so you can’t go wrong on that front. And Astaire, even though he was considerably older than Hepburn, still comes off as suave and debonair. Moreover, the man was so smooth in his dance steps that you understand why he inspired millions of kids to become hoofers back in the ’30s and ’40s. Kay Thompson, the renowned author of the Eloise books, is the third lead. She portrays Maggie with a cool mixture of confidence and bombast. The woman is a hoot. 

My one reservation about the story — and it’s a minor one — is that Avery and Maggie are dismissive of Jo’s attempt at expanding her mind. As far as they’re concerned, Jo’s beatnik way of life is a joke. That Avery and Maggie never come to appreciate Jo’s desire to expand her mind and that Jo so easily falls in line with their way of thinking leads me to believe that the filmmakers didn’t quite believe in Jo either. Still, it’s hard to complain too much about watching Hepburn and Astaire together and to see them dance. I’d previously failed to realize how nimble Hepburn was on her feet. She certainly holds her own against the brilliant Astaire.

Just four years later, Hepburn went on to star in what may be her most breakfastfamous role: Holly Gilightly in Blake Edward’s filmed adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Hepburn’s Holly is a lost, witty party girl on the loose in New York City. She latches on to men with big pockets (some even mob connected) so they’ll pay for her dinner, drinks, and keep her afloat. Holly is an actress, but her stage isn’t in the theater or on the silver screen — it’s real life, where she puts up a number of facades to shield others from her loneliness. Her life changes when a new neighbor moves in upstairs. He is Paul Varjek, a writer who has his apartment and clothes paid for by the older woman he beds when she’s bored with her husband. Holly calls him “Fred,” after the younger brother she adores and whom she plans to take care of after he returns from the war. George is played with a smooth, affable charm by George Peppard. He moves through the scenes of the film with the greatest of ease, making his pining and the love that grows before our eyes seem effortless. As Breakfast at Tiffany’s progresses, Holly’s world unravels and she nearly chooses the life of a rich man’s mistress before she realizes that true love will help her survive in the big city — and, hopefully, life.

Holly is the precursor to the tragic abusers we see so frequently in indie movies. Yet Hepburn plays her with so much charm that Holly never becomes grating. We root for her from the moment we see her get out of the taxi cab in the opening frames of the movie.

Blake Edwards handled the entire film with a light touch. He let his actors play out in long takes and captured the swinging atmosphere of the early ’60s perfectly (at least, how I imagine they were; I’m not that old). The only misfire in Breakfast at Tiffany’s — and it’s huge one — is the portrayal of Holly’s landlord, Mr. Yunioshi, played by Mickey Rooney in buck teeth, squinty eyes, and yellow face makeup. This racially insensitive performance was meant to be slapstick comic relief. Instead, it is a horrible reminder of how clueless filmmakers could be. Fortunately, Yunioshi’s scenes are brief and there are only a few of them. Don’t let this misstep keep you from watching Hepburn at her most luminous and Peppard as a class act.

In an attempt to address this controversy, Paramount has included an interesting documentary on the Asian experience in Hollywood, in particular how Asians have been portrayed onscreen through the different eras of Hollywood.

Both two-disc sets come with extras that have not been included in previous DVD versions of the movies, making them worth the purchase.

The Centennial Collection editions of Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany’s are both available through Amazon.