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Breakfast at Tiffany’s
March 30, 2019 @ 6:00 pm - 7:50 pm
Starring Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebson.
Directed by Blake Edwards. 1961, 114mins., Color. Screened in 35mm.
Some movies and their characters become part of our collective cultural consciousness. This is certainly the case with “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly.
Based on a novella by Truman Capote, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is the story of a stunning young woman living in the Manhattan of the early 1960s who seemingly enjoys a carefree independence because she’s perfected a charmingly detached way of going through life. She has a cat which she refuses to think of as her pet and which she calls simply “Cat” because giving him a real name would be too much of a commitment. Her apartment has sparse furnishings because such things would also be too much of a commitment—and commitment is something that Holly Golightly is seemingly immune too. But there’s nothing sparse about her closet, which is full of the latest designer clothes from B. Altman, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and other mid-century New York meccas of haute couture. You get the impression Holly could have been giving fashion pointers to Jackie Kennedy.
Holly sleeps late, shops or hangs around her apartment during the day, hosts wild parties or goes out on the town with well-heeled gentlemen at night, and sometimes comes home not long after dawn. It would seem her primary means of support are envelopes that are sometimes left for her on tables or counters by her gentlemen friends. Her long-range plans involve marrying a wealthy husband.
Into this oddly idyllic life of Holly’s comes her new neighbor, Paul – a young, handsome writer played by George Peppard – in the role of his career – whose “sponsor” is an older woman “friend” who also leaves envelopes; she’s played with cheerful cynicism to perfection by Patricia Neal—who in fact was only two years older than Peppard and just three years senior to Hepburn. (In a nice trick of costuming, to make her seem much older, Neal was dressed fashionably but conservatively in a style still rooted in the 1950s, while in comparison Hepburn was clothed in a way that made her virtually an avatar of the coming style of the new decade.) It’s not long before Paul becomes Holly’s friend, confidant and aspiring boyfriend.
Keep in mind that when “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was made, the tyrannical Production Code, which had effectively censored movie making since the 1930s, was dying—but was not entirely gone yet. So the proceedings in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” are infused with a heady, almost giddy sense of newfound freedom, that was nevertheless still just a little chaste, in touching on subjects that were once completely taboo, such as sex, being “kept”, and a social life that’s on the razor’s edge of being a professional escort. And a warm luster is supplied by the dazzling mid-century Manhattan location cinematography which makes the New York City of that moment in time seem like a Shangri La of brick, limestone, glass and steel.
For these reasons, the visceral impression most people have when thinking of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” summons words such as elegant, stylish, sheek, fun, romp, romantic, romcom, and even nostalgic
But “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is more than just a cheerful companion piece in time to “Mad Men”, or a kind of proto “Sex In the City” because underneath its frothy topping is a serious layer rooted in the source novella. Capote created Holly as a young woman who is a deliberate reinvention of herself: Her hip personality, caviler attitude and breezy self-confidence are all a carefully constructed, determinedly maintained facade. Coming to understand this, and then figuring out what it is she’s hiding or hiding from is just as important to drawing in the audience as are the fun, stylish and mildly saucy sides of the movie.
It would have been very easy for the character of Holly to come off as vacuous, flighty and annoying, and the whole proceeding seem shallow and uninteresting. That this is not the case is in vast measure due to Audrey Hepburn, whose unique blend of charm and buoyant sense of timing on screen was equaled by her subtlety and skill as an actress. She managed to make Holly a believable set of contradictions—a jaded innocent who is simultaneously resilient and fragile—and someone who it’s easy to care about. Hepburn once commented that because she was in real life shy and reserved, playing the outgoing Holly was a frightening challenge, which begs the question of whether being so aware of the need to create a persona so different from her own may have been an ironic benefit to Hepburn, since that Is exactly what Holly was doing.
While director Blake Edwards mostly had a remarkably restrained comedic hand in making this movie, it’s hard to understand why he inserted the way-over-the-top bit that is the reason the movie could not be made today: Mickey Rooney’s terrible caricature of a Japanese man is not only unneeded and out of sync with the otherwise restrained humor of the movie, but is genuinely insulting and demeaning by our standards today, and was even criticized by some at the time. It’s a testament to the quality of all the other parts of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” that most people are willing and able to get past this one, very sour note that would cause a lesser film to be avoided today.
Don’t miss the chance to see “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” the way it was meant to be seen: in 35mm and on the BIG screen, at Loew’s Jersey.
ADMISSION: $8 Adults / $6 Seniors & Kids for each film.
COMBO PRICING is available for seeing more than on film in a weekend series.