Archive for Audrey Hepburn

The Sound of Beau Belle

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2022 by dcairns

Rewatched MY FAIR LADY and loved it up until that ending.

(Beautifully designed, of course, by Cecil Beaton, and Rex Harrison on top form, and Audrey I think is GOOD but it’s a shame her singing is dubbed. Incredibly, they get away with having her sing a bit in her own voice, then go through a door and Marni Nixon is pouring out of her throat on the other side. And it sort of works.

Still, Audrey must have been looking at Sexy Rexy and thinking, How come he gets away with speak-singing his lines, and I have to be revoiced by a complete stranger?)

Looked back at Asquith’s PYGMALION and it’s the same, only different.

Asquith made his film while George Bernard Shaw was still alive. Shaw was adamant that Eliza Dolittle shouldn’t end up with Professor Higgins. He had his reasons worked out. Higgins, he wrote, had an impossibly strong and perfect mother, and no lover or wife could hope to live up to that. But, though the Higgins mother is indeed impressive when we meet her, I don’t think we necessarily draw that conclusion. Our objection to the romantic pairing is mainly that Higgins has treated Eliza abominably and there’s little reason to think he can change. And there’s no indication that Eliza LIKES being treated like a dog. It doesn’t have the shuddersome taboo quality of MARTHA or even THE SEVENTH VEIL.

On the other hand, the audience is strongly influenced by the fact that the two spend the whole film sparring, and in the romantic comedy genre that usually means they end up together. Both titles, that of the original play and that of the musical, imply that this is to be a love story. Eliza has another, arguably more suitable romantic interest, but he gets very little time to make an impression, so we are tempted to file him under S for schnook. Even when he’s played by the highly suitable Jeremy Brett and gets a glorious song, The Street Where You Live, it’s hard for him to acquire the necessary weight. He’s also somewhat ineffectual, but in Shaw’s mind, that was why he’d be a good match for the powerhouse that is Miss Dolittle. She could run him efficiently, which is what he needs. But the audience doesn’t necessarily make the leap to that conclusion.

So neither partner seems quite suitable. It’d certainly be difficult for a rewrite to make Higgins seem like a reformed character, and while GBS was on the scene, such a thing was unthinkable. In this light, Asquith’s solution was pretty clever.

He has Eliza (Wendy Hiller) return to Higgins (Leslie Howard). Higgins, taking her return entirely for granted, tells her to fetch his slippers, like a dog. Asquith shoots this from Eliza’s point of view, so the film ends on the back of HH’s head. We never see her reaction.

SOMEHOW Asquith got GBS, who had script approval on all films of his work, to sign off on this. I think he managed it b reusing the slippers line from earlier in the play, so there are no words here GBS hasn’t written, and by not showing Eliza’s reaction he could argue that it’s entirely possible that she storms off in a huff two seconds after The End fades out. It’s highly unlikely that most audience members would reach any conclusion other than that HH and ED were to be married, but a tinge of plausible deniability has been preserved.

George Cukor, filming MY FAIR LADY, doesn’t go in for ending on close-ups, and certainly not close-ups of the backs of people’s heads. One of his great qualities is his withholding of clpse-ups for the longest possible time, so that they really have an impact, but another of his great qualities is his theatricality. He ends the scene with a wide shot Audrey Hepburn standing in the doorway, Rex sitting smugly in his armchair, waiting for the curtain to fall. Audrey steps slowly towards him, accepting her fate. The fact that we’ve seen Rex’s self-satisfaction rather than the back of his hat, and his head tilting the other way, and Audrey’s look of docile adoration, changes this from a cunning bodge to a full-fledged betrayal of GBS’ intentions and an endorsement of male supremacy. Rex must have been happy about that, and I guess Audrey just went with the flow.

So I think that ending isn’t likely to be a popular one anymore, it certainly felt like a cold slap to us. A lot of really enjoyable old movies end with unacceptable pairings. We just watched BEAUTY AND THE BOSS, and rooted for the girl to wind up with David Manners, only for her to go for Warren William, on a double bill with CROONER, in which we rooted for the girl to wind up with Ken Murray, only for her to wind up with David Manners.

There’s a good modern dress Dutch film of PYGMALION, made the year before Asquith’s. At the end of this one, when HH gives Eliza (the excellent Lily Bouwmeester) an errand, she has a ready reply:

MY FAIR LADY stars Holly Golightly; Julius Caesar; Pendlebury; Crabbin; Mrs. Henry Vale; Sherlock Holmes; Rance Muhammitz / Dave; Matron – Staff; Angelica Muir; Ayesha; Garbitsch; Mrs. Cratchit; Alfred the butler; and Og Oggilby.

Our Secret

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2021 by dcairns

I promised to update you on Making a Film: The Story of Secret People by Lindsay Anderson. Reader, I finished it. It’s a really great behind-the-scenes book, and it doesn’t matter that the film it deals with is fairly obscure. Anderson is a genial host — which isn’t like him, I know — taking us through the development, pre-production and filming of Thorold Dickinson’s film, but isn’t able to cover all the postproduction. This means he misses Dickinson filming Audrey Hepburn’s audition for ROMAN HOLIDAY, the movie which turned her into a star. Dickinson, at RH director William Wyler’s suggestion, interviewed Audrey after she’d finished the acting part, and it was her natural charm when chatting to her former director that got her the big break.

But Anderson DOES cover her audition for SECRET PEOPLE, in which she has a much smaller role, playing Valentina Cortese’s sister, Nora…

February 23rd. Audrey Hepburn’s test. After the first run-through people start eyeing each other meaningfully: she has the quality all right. After another rehearsal it almost seems a waste of time to shoot the test.

February 26th. Audrey Hepburn is Nora.

Here’s the extant bit of the later ROMAN HOLIDAY test:

One thing I was hoping to find out was the story behind the film’s most striking moment, imho. It’s the main thing I wrote about here when I first watched the film. A key event in the film is skipped over in its chronology, and then covered in a flashback. Dickinson does something really extraordinary here: he starts behind Cortese, then pans with her as she crosses the small room she’s in, describing the incident we missed. But as she passes the camera, she steps INTO the events she’s describing. Her back is now to us again, and her voices continues as she moves into the flashback, now part of the scene, her dialogue now a voice-over.

This is so far outside the Overton window of what was stylistically acceptable in a fifties film, in conservative Britain of all places, that it’s amazing Dickinson could get away with such an avant-garde move at Ealing. Admittedly, there are earlier examples of filmmakers traveling into flashback without the aid of a cut or dissolve. In CARAVAN, Erik Charrell, a king of the long take, pans in and out of a short flashback scene. I imagine Max Ophuls may have noticed this, because much later he pulled similar stunts in THE EARRINGS OF MADAME D… and LA RONDE, which may be what gave Dickinson the idea. But then there IS a British example, though not as recent: Michael Powell cranes into the past, traveling forty years in a single, somewhat unsteady glide over a swimbath in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP.

Unfortunately, Anderson is silent on the development of Dickinson’s version of this idea — perhaps Dickinson protected his experiment by talking about it as little as possible. Once it turned up in the rushes, undoing it would be expensive.

However, there is a clue in Anderson’s book. Modestly budgeted, SECRET PEOPLE was forced to compromise several times on its use of locations. At the start of prep, shooting was planned for Paris and Dublin, and this got scaled back progressively for financial reasons until it no longer made sense to travel outside London at all. And the garden party that Cortese walks into was originally supposed to be a park location. This meant being weather-dependent and for various reasons pressure was brought to bear to shoot it in the studio. When Dickinson finally relented, he realised a short while later that a park was unlikely to look convincing and a garden party at some upscale residence would be much more containable, you could have walls on two sides, and you could save money AND get a result with more veracity.

I think Dickinson was probably, at first, disappointed at losing a location shoot, and then tried to find a way to make the studio set cinematically better and more exciting than the original plan, to get over his disappointment. Obviously, panning from a character’s flat into a geographically unconnected garden party in an unbroken take was the sort of trick that wouldn’t have been possible if filming in a park. What I’d love to know is what the joiners thought of the demand to create a composite set. I bet they were super into it, though.

The Haul

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2021 by dcairns

What I do is, I mostly go from charity shop to charity shop, these days. They’re all very stocked-up, can’t shift the stuff fast enough, and I’m finding lots of interest.

Mary Pat Kelly’s Martin Scorsese: A Journey is one of the finest books on this filmmaker. Part biography, part critical study, part oral history. Full of fascinating stuff. Readers of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls may be amused by how the drug stuff is elided. But just as a for instance, in the section on RAGING BULL, we learn that DeNiro thinks that Vickie LaMotta cheated on Jake with his brother Joey. Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty are dumbfounded by this. “Absolutely not.” And yet DeNiro had a hand in the script. They deduce that he sees the story entirely through Jake’s eyes.

The Genius of the System by Thomas Schatz doesn’t seem to argue its case but is full of research and stuff. I need to give it a chance, I guess. I don’t agree with the concept and a lot of the stories told in it tend, to my way of thinking, to confirm that the genius lay in certain individual practitioners of the system, though of course the system facilitated them and they all required brilliant collaborators…

Making a Film: The Story of Secret People by Lindsay Anderson, most of whose faded lettering has been washed out by my camera, was a real find, and I got it only five minutes from the Shadowplayhouse. Anderson follows the development, preproduction, shooting, and most of the post of Thorold Dickinson’s 1952 Ealing drama. It’s an odd little film — Ealing had just made THE LAVENDER HILL MOB and THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT so one could argue that poor Lindsay has picked the wrong movie to follow. But it doesn’t matter what film it is, since Dickinson is a smart director and Anderson has total access to his process, apart from the bits going on in the man’s mind. Audrey Hepburn, a bit player in LAVENDER HILL, is elevated to a major supporting role here, and Dickinson directed the screen test that got her the lead in ROMAN HOLIDAY, so the story of SECRET PEOPLE is hooked into history. I’m reading this now, properly, and loving it.

North Berwick is an idyllic seaside town with good ice cream, fish and chips, and charity shops. The weather’s been hot so we went, and I picked up Chaos as Usual: conversations about Rainer Werner Fassbinder by Juliane Lorenz. It isn’t as scandalous as I’d expected but it’s very enjoyable — feeling the need to dip into some more Fassbinder. I’ve seen very little of his massive output, really. Appetite whetted.

The Essential Wrapped in Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks by John Thorne. Lots of interviews in this one, which is what sold me. Only covers the first two series. It has many typos, like the Fassbinder book, but these ones are more amusing, as in the phrase, “ad-fib.” An improvised lie? Sounds like a useful term.

Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film by Adam Lowenstein seems like an ambitious critical work. I’m not at all sure Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE is inspired by the Holocaust but I’m interested to see Lowenstein argue it.

That’s just a fraction of the reading matter I’ve been acquiring. More soon!