Tuesday, September 20, 2011

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S: Blu-ray (Paramount 1961) Paramount Home Video

Blake Edward’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) is usually referred to as a vintage classic. True enough, the film is packaged as slick and stylish - an Audrey Hepburn movie with gowns by Givenchy and padded out with a sublime Henry Mancini score. But its subject matter is strictly progressive for the new Hollywood. Truman Capote's 1958 novella tells the story of a devil-may-care mid-western teenager arriving in New York and living hand to mouth on daydream fantasies of landing a rich man to look after her.

Remarkably, the film retains this narrative of the emotionally scarred prostitute with no permanence or lasting attachment to the world she inhabits – a plot point rarely included in any summaries of the film. As such ‘Breakfast’ is very much a transitional piece in American cinema rather than a classically mounted super production. It straddles both the glamour of old Hollywood and grit of the new.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a superlative masterwork – for it manages to capture much of the embittered and tragic darkness of the Capote novella even as its forte is largely played as light comedy. There is much to be said for Hepburn’s characterization of Holly Golightly as a gadabout Manhattan call girl infused with a playful free spirit.
The first act of George Axelrod's clever screenplay and Hepburn's built in persona with audiences takes us down that very traditional path we've come to expect from an Audrey Hepburn movie. But gradually both she and it peels away the very thin veneer that masks Holly's much deeper psychological wounds.

It's six o'clock in the morning and a taxi cab pulls up to Manhattan's Tiffany's jewelers. From the backseat emerges a willowy creature of sumptuous female perfection, elegantly attired in a slinky black dress and faux diamonds, a coffee in one hand, a Danish in the other. This is Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn); a winsome daydreamer. As she peers through the various display cases we sense her longing to partake in that world of riches just out of reach.

Returning home to her brownstone Holly is introduced to handsome writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard) after Varjak’s ‘decorator friend’, Mrs. Failenson (Patricia Neal) installs her ‘kept’ man in the same apartment complex run by Japanese photographer, Mr. Yunioshi (Mickey Rooney). Although Holly frequently infuriates her landlord by forgetting her key or disrupting Yunioshi's sleep with wild parties, her renewed promises of eventually allowing him to photograph her in the raw set his mind and patience at ease.

A flawed romance between Paul and Holly is interrupted several times. First, by Paul’s slow realization that the woman he is growing to love is, in fact, a hooker; then by the sudden arrival of Holly’s husband, Doc (Buddy Ebsen); and finally, by Holly’s near miss incarceration, after having been exposed as a go-between for imprisoned Mafia kingpin, Sally Tomato (Alan Reed).
On the surface Holly is everything a man could possibly want and so right for the jet set whom she caters to, what with her vapid and uncompromisingly shallow views of love and life. She latches on to Rusty Trawler (Stanley Adams); an amiable fool with lots of money, before settling on Jose (Jose Luis de Vilallonga); an aspiring politico. Jose briefly toys with the idea of making Holly his wife. Only Paul sees through their relationship. Jose has no investment in Holly's welfare.

The one man who never used Holly was her brother Fred, who is currently in the army and fighting overseas. Unhappy chance that Fred is killed. When the war telegram arrives it sends Holly's idyllic world into a tailspin. Jose abandons her but Paul remains behind to pick up the pieces. He informs Holly that she is a key witness against Sally Tomato. But Holly has decided to revert to type. Unable to face her problems she will run away from all of them once again. Only this time true love prevails.
In a rain soaked taxi cab Paul confesses his love to Holly. He is admonished by her but forced to realize that she has indeed met her match. They are cut from the same cloth and ultimately made for each other. Holly chases after Paul in the rain and the two embrace, their days as 'two drifters off to see the world' finally and fittingly at an end.

Ultimately, director Edwards was forced to make alterations to Capote’s text – particularly in reference to Holly’s bisexuality, and the more adventurous aspects of her sexual romps. Nevertheless, Edward manages a coup in breaking down the barriers of censorship, particularly with the delightfully over the top party sequence in Holly’s apartment, where all manner of reprobates convene for a drunken evening of obtuse carousing.

Composer Henry Mancini’s melodic score sets a new standard in underscoring elegance, capped off by his lyrical and emblematic Moon River. Nearly cut from the film, Audrey’s recording – solemnly performed with a guitar solo absolutely typifies her character’s lost innocence. Fifty years later Breakfast At Tiffany's remains enchanted film making at its finest. This is a peerless movie - one never to be equalled and certain never to be forgotten.

Paramount Home Video’s Blu-ray advances in all departments from their previously issued and reissued DVD incarnations. The refurbished picture element positively glow. Colors are bold and rich. Flesh tones that appeared a tad too pink on the DVD are completely natural on the Blu-ray. Contrast levels are bang on. Blacks are deep and textured, allowing for Hubert Givenchy’s immaculate monochromatic designs to really sparkle and shine. The 5.1 audio is equally impressive, with Mancini's score the real benefactor.

Extras are all holdovers from the Centennial DVD release. These include a ‘making of’ featurette, ‘Brilliance in A Blue Box’ and ‘It’s So Audrey’, ‘A Golightly Gathering’ – a cocktail party reuniting some of the extras from Breakfast’s riotous party at Holly’s apartment.

There’s also ‘Henry Mancini: More Than Music’ – a brief, but nevertheless loving tribute to the late composer. Finally, we get the superfluous ‘Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective’ in which Mickey Rooney's performance in the film is dismantled and admonished as racist.
This reviewer takes a different perspective on the matter. Movies are a cultural artefact of their own time. Times have thankfully changed. But movie art reminds us how far we have come and occasionally how far there is left to go. Mr. Yunioshi is a figure of fun. Played by Rooney or a true Asian actor there is little to suggest he would have been anything but.

Bottom line: Breakfast at Tiffany's is movie art of the highest order. This Blu-ray belongs on everyone's top shelf for the holidays. Must have. Must own. Enjoy.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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