Film Diary: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961)

Monday, 11 August 2008

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Once there was a well-known model, a star of the roadside hoardings and the nocturnal fantasies of young men, who lived two floors up from us in Notting Hill. One warm evening as I sat out front having a cigarette, she came down to dump a pizza box in the bin, dressed casually and without makeup. In her natural state she was pretty enough, though more so than many others, but what struck me at that moment was just how brittle she seemed; so lonely and vulnerable underneath the glitz.

And so it is with Holly Golightly, the central character of Truman Capote’s novel, and the somewhat toned down (for understandable reasons) film of it. In the novel Holly is a prostitute. There’s no direct suggestion of that in the film but then a tart is a tart even when dressed up as a high-class escort, and we know that tarts have hearts by convention. Holly flits through her Warholian demi-monde with insouciance whether partying or carrying messages to a mobster in Sing Sing, in little black dress with iconic cigarette holder or draped in a bedsheet. But scratch the surface and there’s a different Holly. Behind the psychotic gold-digger there’s the country girl yearning for a rural Texan home, lost and lonely in the big bad city. This is the Holly that finds her counterpart in Paul, gigolo and washed-up writer, and if only she could see there’s more of a future for her there than in any number of ageing billionaires, well that’s the play.

I think we all see a bit of Holly Golightly in ourselves if we’re honest. If only we could look as good with it as Audrey Hepburn does. She not only looks gorgeous, she conveys that little girl lost feeling so well, alongside the quiet perceptiveness that only others can see. I can’t imagine this with Marilyn Monroe in the lead, as originally planned. Oh, and Audrey sings Moon River like a dream. Many better singers have taken on the song and failed to rise to the origional.

As an affectionate and often bitterly funny portrait of Manhattan it prefigures Woody Allen, and particularly Annie Hall, to a very satisfying degree (Diane Keaton, I think, would be a pretty good Holly). But if I could award a special all-time Oscar for Breakfast at Tiffany’s it would surely be to the ‘unnamed’ ginger cat, Cat (which is a name isn’t it? As in Cat Ballou?), for best ever supporting role by a cat. Narrowly pipping the cat in The Third Man I think.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the select band of films that can be guaranteed to wrench a tear or two from my eyes at the end.

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One Response to “Film Diary: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961)”

  1. Diane/tvor Says:

    I think Diane Keaton’s Holly would be more brittle, like the Holly in the book. She’s always done brittle quite well, bordering on neurotic in her later roles. It’s a marvellous film though. I must watch it again, too.


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