If there is one thing I know about women, it is that they are both beautiful and complicated. One such perfect example of this, in both literature and film, is Holly Golightly, the central character in Truman Capote’s novella and Blake Edwards’ film of the same name, Breakfast at Tiffany’s . To simply glance at her, she comes across as frivolous and flighty, without a trace of any substantial personality. She is just another party girl, dolling herself up with hopes of snagging one of the richest men in the world for a mate. People like this are easily forgotten but after meeting Holly, it doesn’t take long to see she is truly unforgettable.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s was the closing selection in this year’s inaugural Books on Film Club series at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For the final time this year, CBC radio host, Eleanor Wachtel, welcomed a theatre full of literary and film admirers alike. Over the last six months, Wachtel has guided us through films as groundbreaking as Double Indemnity and books as dense as The English Patient . It was clear that the tone of the evening was bittersweet. There was excitement for the night but sadness for its end. Fortunately, the mood was lightened when it was announced that the Books of Film Club series will continue again next year. Details on screenings and tickets are to follow in the fall.
With that great news fresh in my mind, it was time to sit back and enjoy one of my favorite films. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is far from perfect but what does work about it works so well that its faults are easily forgiven, or at the very least easily blocked out of your mind (I’m talking to you, Andy Rooney). Everything that it has going for itself starts with its star, Audrey Hepburn. When Hepburn made the film, she had just become a mother for the first time three months earlier. Holly Golightly, although never confirmed specifically in the film, is a prostitute ““ a high-class one but a prostitute all the same. This is not exactly the kind of role a mother would choose but it’s a good thing she did as she went on to score both Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for the performance.
There is one Hepburn detractor that is perhaps more famous and relevant than any other in this particular case, the author. Capote felt Hepburn was completely miscast and essentially didn’t care for the film at all. (He wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part but she passed because of the lewd nature of the character.) That being said, I’m not sure why Capote would like it; it isn’t anything like what he wrote. Holly is explicitly a call-girl in the novella. She has a miscarriage, smokes dope and swears incessantly on the page but none of that makes it to the screen. The reason for this is mostly attributed to the Hays Code (the Hollywood production code of yesteryear that dictated the moral fiber of cinematic expression) but Edwards did what he could to keep her true nature in tact.
Another reason Holly Golightly stands the test of time cinematically is because a character like hers was new for the period, unlike the women in film that most were accustomed to seeing. As described by the screening’s special guest, Sam Wasson, author of Fifth Avenue , 5 AM: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Dawn of the Modern Woman , was on hand to explain this theory. In the 1950’s, women in film, more or less, fell into two categories, oversexed (like a Monroe type) or undersexed (more like Doris Day, let’s say). So when Holly Golightly comes along in 1961, strong, independent and yet still scared, she falls somewhere in between the two archetypes and offers a new alternative for women to emulate. Dressed in Givenchy, a style icon is also born from this.
Wasson, something of an expert on Hepburn, also shared that she considered the scene in which she chucks her poor, defenseless cat out of a cab and into a rain soaked alleyway to be one of the most tasteless and disgraceful things she has ever had to do on screen. This particular tidbit of information only serves to endear Hepburn and Holly more to me and I wouldn’t know it were it not for the Books on Film Club series. My thanks go out to everyone involved for getting me to crack those books again.
One final note ““ you could win a free subscription to the 2012 season of Books on Film Club simply by completing a survey about this past season online at tiff.net/bof2011survey. TIFF members and Books on Film Club subscribers from this year will get first dibs when tickets eventually go on sale.