I just had a neat experience. Cinemark movie theaters have a Cinemark Classics series where about 3 times a month they show on the big screen a classic movie. I recently enjoyed It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve and today I saw arguably my favorite movie (definitely in top 3) Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
It might surprise you that a good little Mormon girl from Utah loves a movie about a call girl and a male slut who get drunk and make terrible life choices. That’s the thing. I don’t need my characters in books and movies to make the same choices I would, or even be admirable. They just need to teach me something and Holly Golightly does that in spades.
I will put it out there that I think Holly Golightly is one of the most complex characters in movies. She’s a puzzle and every time I see the movie I learn something new about her.
I love characters that are contradictions and Holly is full of them from the moment we meet her. Of course her first scenes are in the iconic black dress and costume jewelry looking in the windows at Tiffany’s and eating a croissant. She looks like she could be off to the Oscars tiara and all.
Then the next scene is her letting Paul into her dumpy apartment with no furniture in an oversized shirt. Too top it off we learn she is going to visit a man in prison and gets $50 to go to the powder room from men.
She has strange philosophies on life like not naming her cat and fighting what she calls the mean reds:
“The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?”
And what does she do when she has the mean reds? Why go to Tiffany’s of course!
“Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name!”
Isn’t that interesting? The woman who throws crazy parties and plans to marry for money twice in the movie likes Tiffany’s not for the diamonds because it is quiet and calming. See what I mean about a complex woman?
Holly is also the woman who can look like a star in minutes to go to a prison.
But is probably the most honest in a scene where she is simply strumming a guitar looking like she is ready to clean the house. Actually she is honest in both scenes. That’s what makes her so interesting. As OJ Berman says “she’s a phony but she’s a real phony” or in other words she’s like all of us.
“You musn’t give your heart to a wild thing. The more you do, the stronger they get, until they’re strong enough to run into the woods or fly into a tree. And then to a higher tree and then to the sky”
If we think about the end when Paul tells her about being a wild thing it is so perfect. To use Holly’s lingo she’s ‘just a scared little mouse” . In a way she has become used to fear, proud of it even if it gives her the mean reds from time to time.
“I’ll never get used to anything. Anybody that does, they might as well be dead”
Of course Audrey Hepburn is the star of the picture but George Peppard is lovely too as a man who has given up. He’s settled for a convenient love, living and life. It is such a contrast to Holly but both are equally lost. I think that is why she gives him a new name. It is the only way she who wears so many faces can relate to this person.
In a way it is an extremely hopeful picture as all love stories really should be. That no matter how screwed up we are (and aren’t we all) there is someone out there who will love us for it. That is why I love the ending so much.
Holly tells Paul “I’m not going to let anyone put me in a cage.
Paul: I don’t want to put you in a cage. I want to love you.
Holly: It’s the same thing.
Paul: No it’s not.
Then she throws out the cat and he gets up to leave. And this is my favorite speech in all of movies.
“You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, “Okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.”
You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”
Both of these characters have been lost but in different ways and he is absolutely right ‘no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself”. That’s why it is so important we find people who love us and who will help us get out of those cages. Help us deal with the mean reds and the often strange choices we make. People who will love us no matter what.
That’s the hope of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That all humans can be redeemed from our various transgressions through love. It’s kind of like in Les Mis when they say ‘to love another person is to see the face of God”.
Anyway, I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I love Holly. She’s so much fun and yet fascinating at the same time. The only part of the movie I don’t like is the embarrassing racist performance of Mickey Rooney as a Japanese photographer who lives upstairs from Holly. I so wish that character didn’t exist. It’s just awful for a white man to be playing a person of another race and the makeup, voice, and teeth make it even worse if that is possible.
But I try to ignore that part because the rest in my eyes is perfect. It is also one of the few adaptations that actually improves upon the original source material which despite being written by Truman Capote isn’t nearly as nuanced and tough to pin down as the script by George Axelrod.
The great Blake Edwards deserves a lot of credit for his direction which is so appealing and then garish when it has to be.
Finally the music by Henry Mancini is perfect. I love they didn’t dub Audrey. It helps add a vulnerability a more polished singing performance wouldn’t have had. I could listen to Moon River all day and sang it for voice lesson recital a while back.
It’s such a beautiful song because it captures the contradictions in the movie. It’s a dream maker and heart breaker at the same time. And then it ends just as the movie ends with hope for our heroes.
“Two drifters off to see the world. There’s such a lot of world to see. We’re after that same rainbow’s end, waiting, round the bend”