Various thoughts I’m forced to process right now are teaching me about how while people do not belong to people, they still are crucial to each other’s happiness. That’s completely different from what the Hollywood classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s says: that happiness is only found when people claim ownership of one another. Sorry, but that’s wrong.
This is one of those oldies that hasn’t aged super well, even if some elements of it do hold up. The very first thing that’ll grind your gears is the one thing everyone points to as soon as they talk about anything negative about this movie: Mr. Yunioshi. Yeah, I get this was the early 1960s and all, but the way they got a White actor to put on all the disgusting stereotypes of Asians is absolutely repulsive to watch. Mickey Rooney just jumbles his speech in an indistinguishable accent, angry all the time, and I also should mention he’s absolutely stupid… always knocking his head into the door and the paper lantern over his bed on the floor. He’s the one with authority over Holly Golightly, yet he’s still the one treated like he’s always in the wrong just because he’s not White, young, and beautiful. Every time he’s on screen, it’s the most appalling thing you’ve ever seen, and demonstrates the absolute worst of acting in Hollywood’s Golden Age.
There are other elements that could get on your nerves, mostly due to the fact that this movie is so old. The camera sometimes goes out of focus a little as the standard hard studio lights available at the time illuminate the interior settings; while we’re at it, the tint of film sometimes changes from shot to shot within a single scene, and there’s a bad green screen effect in a car. These nitpicks are all just simple signs of the film’s aging that will likely turn several modern audiences off.
Though no audiences of today will be turned off by the stylish blue blindfold and earplugs that make Holly Golightly look artificial rather than human first thing in the morning. This isn’t the only time she covers her eyes though, as she wears sunglasses to hide her soul at many instances, such as in the opening credits when she looks at the Tiffany’s displays, as if that ideal life she wants is what’s causing her to lose any sympathy for others. She always looks like someone who wants to be her own type of person not owned or barked down at by anybody, which leads for some highly peculiar fashion choices and designs for her apartment.
For instance, Holly keeps ballet slippers in her fridge and wears makeup in bed, all fun details even if her makeup still looks stupidly perfect the next morning. She claims that she’s a very independent woman, so much so, that she can’t take care of anybody, not even herself. It’ll take quite some time for her to learn the error of her lifestyle, but in the meantime, a cloud of pillow feathers floats around her unlit room in an important scene, the single most powerful shot in the film. The scene that shot is in leaves enough of an impact to understand the real reason she wants to call Paul “Fred,” after her brother in war.
Blake Edwards is the type of director who basically defined 1960s comedic cinema. Between this and The Pink Panther, his vision just screams that era. He really knew how to stage a gag, the shoplifting scene is a fine example of Blake Edwards relying on the music and actors’ expressions to carry along the events. The sneaky tune plays to each little object the two eye upon to find something they could easily rob, and their body language tells you everything about the tension and excitement they each feel. Then once they finally settle on the cat and dog masks, it becomes not clever silent storytelling, but important symbolism. It connects back to the nameless cat that represents Holly’s only capacity to love anything and how she’s trying to run away from the man who wants ownership of her. But neither one of them can see the other for the way they are at that moment because of the masks they try to put on in their cat-and-dog chase. Once Holly accepts that predicament of belonging to Paul, the chase will be over, and she can stop treating the men in her life like rats. The feline metaphor connects even further to the book Paul wrote called, “Nine Lives,“ which he gives to Holly as an expression of the ownership he wants to claim over her.
To further complement the sentimental value of this career-defining piece for Audrey Hepburn, it’s of course the way the hit song “Moon River” is interspersed throughout the score. It’s the type of music that sounds like the very thing you listened to when you were a child, it reminds me of all the Disney sing-along VHS tapes I used to have as a toddler, and the songs it featured from Disney’s really old films. I can see now why this is still a classic film to many, because of its nostalgic value for that time.
That doesn’t mean this movie is all that good though, as it simply isn’t condensed enough. There was no reason for it to show Mr. Yunioshi being the stupidest human alive, or to show Holly’s very long two-foot cigarette holder igniting a woman’s hairpiece on fire. These pointless moments add nothing to the plot. To make the edit even more a product of its time, the transitions between scenes have the usual slow fades that interrupt an actor mid-action. It’s exactly how every movie of the time was edited, which in turn means most audiences of today could be really bored watching this.
There’re all sorts of movies you could be watching while you’re stuck in your homes, but even those praised over several decades aren’t exactly worth being on your watchlist. There’s a real not-so-innocent charm that goes on with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, this story and its content mock innocence in an approach that unintentionally makes you feel uncomfortable in your struggle to love someone by submitting ownership to them. True love is about humility, there’s so much more we can be doing with our time right now than gazing upon the displays of a jewelry store.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!