Last night New York welcomed the newly restored print of the 1961 iconic film Breakfast at Tiffany's at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. The line wound around the block as ardent fans (some dressed in Hubert de Givenchy inspired creations) awaited the big screen viewing of Blake Edwards tale of three lost souls (gotta include 'Cat' of course) in Manhattan. The event was scheduled to begin at 7p but crowds weren't fully seated until almost 7:30p. Amid flickering camera flashes, elegant Julie Andrews took the stage to discuss her late husband's film that, although wasn't exactly a hit when released, became a pivotal career move for Mr. Edwards at the time. Ms. Andrews described some of her favorite moments of the film which include, Audrey Hepburn's famous line accompanying a breathtaking close-up, "How do I look?" as well as what's often considered one of the greatest party scenes in cinema history, and of course Ms. Hepburn's opening scene where she enjoys her croissant and coffee in front of Tiffany's as dawn breaks on what was then a quiet New York City morning on 5th Avenue. The subject of casting came up as well and Ms. Andrews mentioned Truman Capote's wish for Marilyn Monroe to play the character Holly Golightly, which would have resulted in a different film indeed.
The movie, which has become better known than Truman Capote's novella of the same title, is definitely lighter fare than Capote's version and would fall under the category of "loosely based on the book...". Screenwriter George Axelrod danced around the subject of prostitution, which was probably his only option in 1961. The film never gets too dark. This is definitely a stylized romantic comedy that only Blake Edwards could do. Capote's Paul Varjack is an unnamed narrator in the book and there are implications that his narrator is gay. Part of why the book works is that the Varjack character doesn't want Ms. Golightly for romantic reasons, unlike her other male relationships, and this is what forms the bond of trust between them. In the film, the characters are bonded by their understanding of what one another does to get by (i.e. they are vetted by wealthy suitors). Both work, but in my opinion Capote's book is better in that respect. I wouldn't want to stand in the way of a nice romantic Hollywood ending, however. Also, Capote had described his Holly Golightly as more of an American Geisha than a prostitute. Ms. Golightly was an escort for dinners with well-to-do men with the expectation that they would give her gifts of funds or jewelry in exchange for her company. There wasn't necessarily an expectation of anything more. In that sense, Mr. Axelrod portrayed Ms. Golightly true to Capote's story. Mr. Capote claimed Ms. Golightly's character was based on many New York women he befriended over the years.
The film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's is a delight however, and despite the fact that it doesn't address certain themes directly it's still beautifully human and very funny. Not only that, but it's talent roster is immense. The fusion of Axelrod's writing (chalked with fantastic, funny colloquialisms), Edwards directing, Henry Mancini's score, Edith Head's supervision and a Givenchy wardrobe along with Ms. Hepburn and George Peppard all contribute to it's magic. A terrific supporting cast of Patricia Neal, Martin Balsam and Buddie Epson should not be ignored either. Then of course there's editor, Howard A. Smith. The party sequence alone is worth pointing out. Although many say there aren't any cuts in that scene, there definitely are. It helps that along with this talent pool, it was made during a period that American's often identify as the height of our country's culture. After all, 1961 brought us John and Jackie Kennedy. To say the least, it was an optimistic time.
The only cringeworthy bits are by the character Mr. Yunioshi played by the legendary actor, Mickey Rooney. His Yunioshi (complete with awful prosthetic mouth piece) is a Japanese-American character that was portrayed in an awkward racist caricature style that speaks volumes about American perception of other cultures and ethnicity at the time and in a less than dignified light. Many times over, both Edwards and producer Richard Shepherd have expressed regret over this. Sans the brief, yet rather uncomfortable scenes, this movie makes its audience feel great.
All of it, the glamorous and the less than glamorous aspects of Breakfast at Tiffany's creates an interesting experience upon viewing it today. Seeing New York back then as well as thinking about the same city today, combined with knowing all those wonderful actors and creatives are mostly gone now gave me the feeling of innocence lost in sense. I found myself a bit melancholy following the screening. It was a perfect evening though and there's nothing quite like seeing a favorite film on the big screen. Alice Tully Hall is gorgeous and Breakfast at Tiffany's was shown, as it should be, on an enormous screen in all it's glory. It was great to see such a vast age span enjoying this film. There were seniors, adults and kids alike. Many of us, including myself, weren't around for it's original release and hadn't seen it anywhere but on our televisions. It's a whole other experience seeing it as it was originally shown and in it's newly restored version.
A screening like this only highlights the importance of film preservation and restoration because films are such an incredible document of society and culture and Breakfast at Tiffany's is certainly no exception. Last night's event kicks off the upcoming Paramount 50th Anniversary Blu-ray of the newly restored film. Check at Amazon.com to pre-order your copy. I did!