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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Fairy Dust Blown Off

The headline reads Emma Thompson: Hepburn Couldn't Act. Nothing so unusual in that. Re-makers often defame originals they're set upon improving. My Fair Lady is what Thompson intends to overhaul, pledging to give her script a feminist makeover. The actress makes no bones re Audrey Hepburn being overrated, referring to her as fantastically twee. I was saved Googling that by a Thompson supplied definition: Twee is whimsy without wit. It's mimsy-mumsy sweetness without any kind of bite. And that's not for me. She can't sing and she can't really act, I'm afraid. I'm sure she was a delightful woman -- and perhaps if I had known her I would have enjoyed her acting more, but I don't and I didn't, so that's all there is to it, really. Interviews like this are always fun for reaction they provoke online. Comments so far (hundreds) have been swift and barbed. Audrey Hepburn is a legend and Emma who?, one asked. Another swore off in advance any crappy remake of "My Fair Lady." I'd figure Thompson's daft on one hand for attacking such a revered icon, but maybe she's read a larger tea leaf the rest of us are yet to divine. Could it be the whole Audrey thing is done? I wrote before about college girls loving her, but those were vibes off shows we ran five and more years ago. Has the Hepburn tide gone out since, never to return? Based on what's happened lately, it's beginning to look that way ...

I think that she's a guy thing, says Emma Thompson of Audrey Hepburn's contested appeal, but there's where I'd submit Emma's twee, for Hepburn always came across as anything but a guy thing, that demographic seldom opting for waifish and gamin. Unlike a generation of critics who'd given her a pass, Hepburn's now roasted, and often, by modern scribes considerably less gallant. David Thomson used a book review to lower his boom, writing that Hepburn's appearing in Breakfast at Tiffany's ensured its dishonesty and its fabricated air. There's no coincidence I've yet to run Tiffany's for an audience, as there's too many cracks in veneer of a show whose idea was always more appealing than its reality (I'd hate watching sans Mancini's music). To put such before modern viewers courts disappointment and perhaps distrust of my future choices. Now that I think of it, there were never that many trustworthy Audrey Hepburns from which to choose. Would programmers among you serve The Unforgiven or The Children's Hour to nineteen-year old co-eds? Both these have points of interest, but there are expectations Audrey fans have of her, and they are rigid ones. My safe show options included Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, Charade, and My Fair Lady (even a good one like Two For The Road was too edgy, too 60's, too British ... just too too). I admit running these as sops to boost patronage, knowing they'd fill most seats. Reality of college exhib-ing will get you 138 bodies for a Charade and three (two of those instructors) for a Kiss Me Deadly. So much for autuerist appreciation on 2005 campuses, and I've no reason to think it's changed much since, except to extent of lower numbers should I attempt Charade again.

After scanning Emma Thompson's and other broadsides, I got out Green Mansions, late of Warners' Archive, and one I'd not seen till now. Words fail effort to describe torture those 104 minutes entailed. You know it's trouble when eyes focus more on a remote's Time Left option than action (precious little) on screen. I had steered clear these fifty years for Audrey's playing "Rima the Bird Girl" with Anthony Perkins in romantic pursuit. South American locations were captured by traveling units, then matched with Audrey/Tony on Denny Miller-ish backlot Metro jungles. Perkins seems absurd in retrospect as vengeance/gold seeker, thanks largely to a target the following year's Psycho would paint on his back. As of 1959 and months up to (moment of) Hitchcock's helping, there was hope in abundance of Perkins consolidating lead man status. His serenading The Song of Green Mansions to Audrey Hepburn plays peculiar to us, but was not so to then-followers of Hit Parading Perkins, who'd scored with Moonlight Swim and The Prettiest Girl In School (spinning yet on my satellite radio). Did any single role upend an actor so thoroughly as Psycho did for (or better put, to) Anthony Perkins?

But it's Audrey Hepburn's fall from Olympus we're about this day. I still like her OK whatever others think, and find these recent deconstructions puzzling ... yet there they are ... and who knows the real extent of a culture's defection? Is Hepburn a precious metal not so precious anymore? Poster dealer/collectors tell me her stuff plateaued awhile back and is plunging now. It appears some of us waited too long to unload Breakfast At Tiffany's one-sheets we'd been hoarding. Such turning on a vintage star often reveals deeper resentment. With Hepburn, it's as though her kind of femininity no longer suits prevailing definition of what modern women should be (cue Emma Thompson). Do they object to her being thin (minus purging lately required), or fact that she dressed so well (surely a lost art)? Could be Audrey's image suffers from an excess of perfection. There must have been hypocrisy there that needs to be unmasked. She set a high enough standard for young women to aspire to in her own day that now seems beyond unattainable. Is this what's getting our goat? I tried revealing the human (and likably imperfect) face behind a retoucher's mask with pre-tampered proofs in a February 2006 post that got some interesting comments in response (a few brought Stanley Kubrick into the conversation!). There has always been mixed reaction where Audrey Hepburn is concerned (my own Fair Lady Ann can't stand her and won't watch her), even as it seems we're tilting toward negatives as of late. Is there love left for this unique actress and personality?


Anonymous sjack said...

She may be less popular now than she was years ago but she, like elegance and class (which she personifies), will never go out of style. She represented a time when people looked in the mirror before they left the house and had much higher standards of personal appearance. Today many people are fat and they and even the thin ones often dress like slobs. Men don't even wear ties to work anymore, it's "business casual" and women ... well don't get me started. I mean what you do you expect from a public who's idea of acceptable daily shoe wear are flip flops?

As far as Emma Thompson and her opinion, AH will remain an icon when Emma (and her films) have been long forgotten. And Emma Thompson knows that. She must be a maochist to actually star in a remake of My Fail Lady. The comparisons won't be flattering.

If I were you, I'd hold on to my Breakfast at Tiffany's one sheets because I'm certain that Audrey Hepburn will become popular again.

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Ed Watz said...

Back in the early 90's I happened to be with a date near Lincoln Center when Audrey Hepburn was honored by their Film Society. We walked over to the limo drop-off point, where all attention was on the other side of the cars and the celebrities were getting out. Saw the backs of a lot of famous people walk down the red carpet - Gregory Peck, Billy Wilder, etc. Then a limo pulled up that seemed to stand motionless for an extra long moment. The driver finally got out and opened the door on our side of the curb. Audrey Hepburn stepped out, standing less than ten feet away from us. There were just a handful of fans standing on our side; no glitz, paparrazzi, or red carpet. We cheered and applauded her. She looked into everyone's eyes and said, "Thank you all, you're such sweet people!" She waved, then walked over to the other side where the red carpet was laid out. I said to my girlfriend afterwards, "nobody better ever say a bad word about Audrey Hepburn to my face!"

1:49 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

To me, Audrey was like Greer Garson, in that there was a finite style of movies these ladies could make that the public really accepted. Take them out of their element, and they could be in serious trouble.

The world loved Greer as Mrs. Miniver, but could she have pulled off playing Norma Desmond? I doubt it.

Like-wise, Audrey was superb in films such as ROMAN HOLIDAY, SABRINA and CHARADE (one of my Top Ten favorites). I do have to say that a big portion of those films was the great chemistry she had with her leading men (Peck, Holden, Bogart and Grant).

But put Audrey with guys like Albert Finney, Peter Finch, Anthony Perkins or Peter O'Toole, and I'd rather watch paint dry on Tom Sawyer's fence.

Miss Hepburn, like Paul Newman in his prime, made three or four bad movies for every good one. That didn't help.

A shame she didn't live long enough to move to good character roles on a regular basis as Paul did.

4:10 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Great comments here, folks.

Donald Benson includes some astute observations via e-mail:

Ironically, a really feminist version of My Fair Lady would go back to
Shaw's original Pygmalion, which ends with the transformed Eliza walking out
on Higgins after he's all but thrown a tantrum in front of her. And,
according to Shaw's postscript to the published script, she goes on to marry
the ever-worshipful Freddie and make a prosperous greengrocer out of him.

There's a set of BBC Shaw productions which includes Lynn Redgrave in
Pygmalion. While the production itself is a bit wobbly, Redgrave makes an
eye-opening Eliza with a genuinely impressive transformation -- from a truly
grubby Cockney harpy to a formidable Edwardian lady. Quite a contrast from
Hepburn, who was very clearly just a costume change away from being a
beautiful princess. Likewise Wendy Hiller in the first movie and Julie
Andrews on Broadway. While the performances were there, so was the obvious
fact these were lovely young ladies playing Cinderella. Redgrave convinced
you it was a challenge to make Eliza remotely presentable.

Of course, My Fair Lady was conceived as a glamorous old-school musical,
albeit more civilized and witty than most. Making it realistic or even more
Shavian could turn out like stripping Guys and Dolls of the loud suits and
mock-Runyon dialect (which was actually the voice of Runyon's narrators,
comically trying to prettify and clean up what was implied to be much
rougher talk) and dropping it onto genuinely mean streets.

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

You don't mention two of my own favorite Audrey Hepburns, so I will: The Nun's Story and Wait Until Dark. Honestly, I think a remake of My Fair Lady is fair game; it's one of the great shows of all time, and thank God they got Rex Harrison's performance on film, but the movie as a whole I've never thought was very good, and a lot of the reason is Audrey: she's fine once the "lady" part kicks in, but her early Eliza I find amateurish (and Marni Nixon's singing poorly matched); I don't think she should get full credit just by showing up for Act Two.

That said, what on earth could Emma Thompson be thinking? Doesn't she know mouthing off like that can only backfire? I'm reminded of producer Martin Rackin, when John Ford called to wish him well with his 1966 remake of Stagecoach: "If you'd done it right the first time, we wouldn't have to remake it." Even if he was joking, how's that going to look in print?

And Emma's going to give MFL "a feminist makeover"? Translation: she'll make Higgins just as loathsome as possible; after half an hour we'll be screaming to escape the theater. Thompson should learn a little humility. It's one thing to beat up on poor Audrey, or even George Cukor. But Alan Jay Lerner himself had sense enough not to monkey with George Bernard Shaw (the ending of MFL is the ending Shaw himself wrote for the movie of Pygmalion; if Thompson rushes in where Lerner feared to tread, she may stumble out again in bloody ribbons.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Oh, and PS: The IMDB says the remake's Eliza will be Carey Mulligan (of An Education), not Emma Thompson, who's only writing the script (Cameron Mackintosh will direct).

5:18 PM  
Blogger JavaBeanRush said...

Kudos to you for tackling this issue. I have to settle down a bit before addressing Thompson vs. Hepburn on my blog.

Hepburn has always been a lovely diversion (enjoy her style, love the accent, her composure - none of which I have), but I cannot call myself a devoted fan.

AH is miscast as Eliza, still, perhaps it's the waifishness, etc. that makes me want to defend her reputation.

It is a mistake to construe Thompson's peevishness and marketing for the remake as consensus against the icon; Emma Thompson is just one person with one opinion(or two).

From what I've gathered, AH's style is simply not Thompson's cup of tea. Fine. But to stoop so low as to repeatedly say that because AH is miscast the woman cannot act makes no sense. And attributing Hepburn's popularity to a "guy thing" ruins any real discussion anyone can have with Thompson.

And what's all this about making MY FAIR LADY a feminist movie? It is already in no small part about a liberated female (long before the need to hear a lady roar because "I am woman"), otherwise Lerner and Lowe wouldn't have written the song "Without You" to underscore Pygmalion's statue, if you please, becoming emotionally independent from the sculptor, while Higgins looks on wordlessly.

Thompson doesn't seem to know the original musical well; the same can be said of her knowledge of Audrey Hepburn.

If Thompson makes this an ode to Gloria Steinem her movie will not age well; it won't be one for the ages.

I love the strong females in movies before the feminist movement became mainstream(Roz Russell, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn), because the ladies seem naturally frank and strong-willed, they enjoyed their individuality and did not seem constantly beholden to some token agenda, unlike Ms. Thompson.

Anyway, I don't mind remakes; I don't mind people being utterly opposed to the popularity of a cultural icon; I do mind when they belittle a cultural figure for no real reason except to sell a new movie.

By the way, I look forward to discovering the ending of the remake. I've always been distressed at the thought of Eliza returning to the abusive Higgins (perhaps it's the protector in me and the gamin quality of Hepburn).

Julie Andrews has enough spit and fire that I'd probably not find the ending of the stage production so tragic.

5:27 PM  
Blogger JavaBeanRush said...

By the way, I can't find the article now, but I think the young Carey Mulligan's name has been bandied about as Eliza. I hadn't heard that Emma Thompson was to star in it; I thought she was only writing and producing.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous John Seal said...

I've been a HUGE movie fan ever since I could first turn on the TV for myself in the early 70s, and I have NEVER been a Hepburn admirer. Too willowy, too 'feminine' (even by the standards of the day) for my liking.

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Joe said...

The 51 year-old Thompson is not going to be playing Eliza, she is only writing the screenplay.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Is there love left for this unique actress and personality?

Of course there is plenty but I will never understand why unless it's because she rode, to some extent, on the connection between her last name and earlier Hollywood royalty.

Audrey Hepburn was was never in a movie worth watching, as far as I'm concerned. She might have worked for me on TV, as some sort of goofy housewife. In fact, I'd rather have seen Elizabeth Montgomery in some of Audrey's roles. Hell, I'd rather have seen Barbara Billingsly in some of Audrey's roles. Now that's a woman with class!

As for Emma Thompson, I'm not a big fan (I prefer Winslet) but my esteem for her just went up several notches. Kudos to her for expressing her opinion in a public forum.

To the extent Audrey's star fades, I can only hope that some of my personal fave starlets are appreciated more. Can we hear a shout out for Constance Towers?

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Sir Henry Rawlinson said...

I'm surprised no-one has mentioned Robin and Marian, where Hepburn does a fine performancein a beautiful elagaic film.
There's no need to bring feminism into My Fsir Lsdy; it was there in shaw's original. One interesting aspect not mentioned is that Shaw implies, via higgins's relations with his mother, that he is homosexual.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Emma's right, besides being enormously talented. Audrey was a light-weight.

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Emma Thompson may have shot herself in the foot with those comments, but at least she spoke her mind, rather than simply 'nodding and smiling.'
Focusing on the main point of Thompson's words--Audrey's acting--I'm not sure she's so wrong. Hepburn was beautiful, charming, classy, and, by all I've heard and read, a truly wonderful, warm, caring person. But her acting was never more than surface-sweet. She made some wonderful movies, and I love watching her in them, but, again on that one point, she simply was not a particularly talented actress.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I'm not an Actress!.I'm a Movie Star!
I imagine Thompson's My Fair Lady could be quite good(Keira Knightley was courted for the Eliza role by the "Love Actually" team,which sounded better..wonder what happened to that?)Her feminist angle IS in keeping with the Suffragette movement at the time Pygmalion was written..Just wish She hadn't said what she did about La Hepburn as much for her as for Audrey and her many fans..of which there are more now than ever I think.

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry--why is no one pointing out the obvious: that Emma Thompson is 51 and the role calls for someone about 19 years old? Julie Andrews was just about right; one of the reasons (among many) that the movie doesn't work is that Audrey is just too old for the part. The tension in the story comes as much from the age difference (largely unspoken) as from the class difference.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Dugan said...

Thanks for bringing up "Green Mansions," haven't thought of that in a long time, talk about miscasting. King Vidor filmed "Bird of Paradise" which I like and he even thought it was a silly film. There is something about those "innocence in jungle paradise films" that would take a pretty skilled filmmaker to pull off. Mel Ferrer wasn't the guy. "My Fair Lady" is OK considering all the money they sank into it, I can understand why Hepburn was used as a box office guarantee, still think it would have been interesting to see Cary Grant as Prof Higgins.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Malcolm Blackmoor said...

(the ending of MFL is the ending Shaw himself wrote for the movie of Pygmalion;)

No - the ending was written by David Lean who was the film editor on the picture.

(Cameron Mackintosh will direct).

No - he's a theatre production company, not a director of any kind, and although he's wanted involvement in a new film for some while he certainly won't direct it.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Poptique said...

Sad to say, but when you've got a movie to promote these days no-one is going to print a story like "Emma Thompson Says Hooray for Audrey Hepburn".

Hepburn may not have been a great, great actress, but she certainly was (and is) a great icon - and if Thompson thinks knocking her down a few pegs will help her movie stand alone I guess she'd better start chipping away sooner rather than later. I doubt that record will be taken off the player once they really start rolling out the promotion for the new film.

At least I'm pretty sure this particular icon could never be accused over over acting, unlike - ahem - some other parties...

Also, I notice Thompson failed to mention the great Wendy Hiller's Eliza Doolittle - certainly not one to tangle with in the acting stakes!

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Bill Luton said...

As a poster dealer, I can concur with the plunge in Hepburn values. It wasn't too many years ago when we were shipping a large amount of material on her to Japan. The Japanese seemed unable to get enought. Now they have.

12:44 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Bill, I appreciate that confirmation about Hepburn poster values and how they've declined. No one knows this market better than you.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Bill Luton said...

Though I should add that as far as Breakfast at Tiffany's one-sheets go, prices remain good. One sold at auction within the last few months for $3,883!

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Malcolm B.: My mistake re Cameron Mackintosh; I misread the IMDBPro listing. He's listed among the producers, and no director is identified. As for David Lean writing the ending of Pygmalion, I read that the change was decreed by producer Gabriel Pascal, and just assumed Shaw (however grudgingly) went along. But Kevin Brownlow's biography of Lean bears you out: other (uncredited) writers on the film devised the situation and Lean came up with the line, "Where the devil are my slippers, Eliza?" All behind Shaw's back; when he saw the scene, he waved it off as "of no consequence."

6:37 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

"And, according to Shaw's postscript to the published script, she goes on to marry the ever-worshipful Freddie and make a prosperous greengrocer out of him."

I've always suspected that that postscript revealed Shaw's true colors-- that he couldn't quite bring himself to approve of marriage across class lines, in the end.

9:59 PM  
Blogger rockfish said...

Sjack's observation is bang on: what Hepburn had was rare. She was honest-to-goodness class, the epitome of style.
Back in those days, average people looked like average people. Someone who was beautiful and elegant really stood out. Now, through modern science and economics, people can have their noses and cheekbones sculpted to be like AH or Angelina if they so choose; they can get the 'magic' cosmetics to put that hollywood glow on. In my eyes, unvarnished beauty remains elusive and rare -- to paraphrase a line in the Incredibles; we've made it so that beauty can be bought, so that now everyone can be beautiful - and in the end, when everyone's got it, no one is.
I enjoy Emma T in a number of her roles, and she has proven herself to be quite talented. That she's taken on an icon and began with a quick punch maybe to boost up interest in her project. Me thinks that perhaps Kevin Branaugh was a big Audrey fan...

3:36 AM  
Anonymous harlowish said...

I was a college-aged girl when you wrote that article about college girls loving Hepburn. I never particularly loved her, but I have no problem with her either. She can be enjoyable, but I'd agree that she wasn't a great actress. A great personality, a great face, the ability to wear clothes like no one else, in essence, the perfect movie star. But I think college girls love (loved?) her more for her iconic qualities than her acting abilities.

3:53 AM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

My mom took me and my cub scout troop to Radio City Music Hall for the annual Christmas show, December 1963. The Rockettes, Santa, a stage show and... "Charade." We scouts were all eight years old, had never seen Grant or Hepburn before, and boy, did that movie deliver! George Kennedy's death, James Coburn's creepiness, Walter Matthau's duplicity. But Hepburn carried it. She was best in light comedic roles. "Charade" was a mystery comedy, and one of the best of the genre.

I like Emma Thompson...she's smart and funny and sassy.

She should make her own stuff without ripping on others.

4:00 AM  
Blogger Chellis610 said...

Emma Thompson is showing very bad form in insulting someone who is still beloved by many including myself. Miss Hepburn has not fallen out of fashion nearly twenty years after her death, and new generations are discovering her magic. This is one time Greenbriar has gone wrong.

There HAVE been cases of actresses who have gone completely out of fashion only to be rediscovered. Until recent years, people only thought of Norma Shearer from "The Women" and "Escape" the most popular of her later films, and no one under 50 had even heard of Kay Francis! Now, thanks to Turner Classic Movies, film retrospectives and DVD releases of their films, they are once again celebrated by film fans, especially for their pre-Code movies.

On the other hand, Norma Talmadge is still somewhat forgotten: a star who was once an equal with Swanson, Gish and Pickford during the silent era. With the coming of sound she was considered a casualty of the change and was left in the past. Can you actually name a silent film of Miss Talmadge (or her sister Constance) as opposed to a silent film of Gish, Swanson, Garbo, Pickford? Exactly. I think that perhaps some film historians may have looked at Miss Talmadge's work and found it wanting as opposed to her contemporaries.

That fate has yet to happen to Audrey Hepburn, in spite of Emma Thompson!

6:55 PM  
Blogger Robin@DecoratingTennisGirl said...

I loved Audrey. She was a class act. Did anyone ever look more chic than Audrey in Charade???

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Jim Cobb said...

I have just been reading the new book about the making of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, FIFTH AVENUE, 5 A.M.
It has some interesting stories about Hepburn and how hard she worked on her performance as Holly. I still love her work and think she was especially brilliant in TWO FOR THE ROAD. Thompson's comments I think were entirely unnecessary.

10:27 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon e-mails with observations on the Hepburns Audrey and Katharine ...

(conclusion of his remarks to follow)

Hi John,

My subject whimsically asks the question, "Which do you prefer, Audrey...or Katharine?" I.e., sour grapes, or sweet? Ha! I asked an acquaintance who used to work with Nick Nolte all the time (as his makeup artist) what he thought of Hepburn, K., on a film called "[Something] Grace Quigley"----I'm not taking the time to look it up! And he replied, "She was a mean, old lady"----period. Not with an outburst of emotion, just flat. Like, that's the story. Another, older colleague said exactly the same thing, from his experience of observing her on the set of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" In fact, he swore he saw her hide a pair of gloves and then yell for the costume girl, demanding to know where she'd put them. If that's true, it's scary.

Then, you have Hepburn, Audrey, who as far as I can tell was almost a saint with crews and with people, generally. Well-liked, even loved. Bob Willoughby, the famous still photographer, adored her and filled at least one or two book collections with nothing but photos of her. Ernest Borgnine said of William Holden that he believed Holden drank himself to death over his desperate and hopeless love for....someone he couldn't have. Borgnine refrained from naming the lady. I'm somehow almost certain it was Hepburn, who Holden was known to be mad about. So, point is, she certainly had her impact. Incidentally, what you said about "Breakfast at Tiffany's"? I certainly concur, and I have no liking for it, after the main titles!----though I think the depiction of the 'Japanese' servant in the person of Mickey Rooney is so obviously burlesque it's less offensive than ridiculous (it always draws heavy flak)----but that's not the only thing tedious about it. I never could 'get with' George Peppard, for one thing. But let that go. I seem to recall reading that the studio execs, who can seemingly always be relied upon for expressing obtuse opinions, wanted to junk either Mancini's score or "at least" the song. Hepburn, appalled, went to bat for it. (One should remember that Henry Mancini in 1960 was NOT yet the big deal and household name he soon became---in part because of the terrific success of this film and its score, and particularly "Moon River"!)

I haven't time right now to read the voluminous comments your post has already gathered, but I can tell you that when I first read Thompson's snotty remarks online I went ballistic and wrote something I'm sure I forwarded to you, too. I think in her best parts Hepburn is a fine actress, and more than that, she's someone you want to look at and listen to. "A guy thing?" O.K., I'm a guy. I can tell you I don't particularly want to look at Emma Thompson! Is that "a guy thing"? As a kid, when I saw "Charade" at age 10 or 11, I will admit I thought she was arch and fake and too plummy. But over time I got used to her and then I got to where I admired her. She seems to be someone who, if the chemistry is not there for you, she just doesn't register on any important level. But for me, she does register. One reader cited the same damn movies I did in my first jeremiad against Thompson: "The Nun's Story", and "Wait Until Dark"! Interesting. She's damned good in both of them, I think. And throw in "Funny Face", of course.

10:35 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon ...

I actually took a date to see Bogdanovich's tedious "They All Laughed", which if not as much of an accident as "At Long Last Love", was pretty flat champagne, too. However, I seem to recall that an older Hepburn was still an appealing presence. (I remember Dorothy Stratten in it with the almost always somewhat fulsome John Ritter playing her swain; I hasten to add that later on I worked with John and felt he was a great guy! But my point is that Stratten, in all her youthful glow and jiggle, did NOT eclipse Hepburn, in my opinion. Although she practically eclipsed the SUN for Bogdanovich, apparently.) I also remember seeing Hepburn in "Robin and Marian", which I disliked---but I liked her.

Anyone who ever read "Pygmalion" can tell----sort of----what Thompson's getting at. The original play is not the same as "My Fair Lady", and Eliza is wilder and less winsome than Hepburn, or for that matter her original impersonator on the musical stage, Julie Andrews, begad! However, as I recall, Shaw had Doolittle marrying 'Freddie' and it seemed to me a kind of disappointment on the part of Higgins/Shaw, that he'd turned this "guttersnipe" into a real lady, and she winds up throwing it all away on a conventional marriage to a conventional 'eligible bachelor'----i.e., unless I'm forgetting something, nothing LIKE a 'feminist' tract. Shaw WANTS her to be a proto-feminist, and then has her fail. That may have been his bachelor's cynicism. By the time the movie was made with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, however, it seems to have acquired that sentimental (and I'm sentimental, so I love it) ending that is replicated in the stage musical and the movie of the stage musical. Also, Thompson lays into Hepburn's singing. It's not all that bad. You can hear it in the WB DVD set, as I'm sure you're well aware. It's sure as hell better---or no worse---- than slightly later essays by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Clint Eastwood, and Lee Marvin! And I like it better than Richard Harris, too, although some people seemed to think he could sing, back in the '60s. He actually had a 'hit' with Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park", whereas just the recollection of Harris bellowing, "Someone left the cake out in the rain...", and I'll never get that feeling back again, or whatever the hell it said, just seemed ersatz and cringe-worthy. Compared to that, Hepburn's sincere, light singing voice, tolerably on-key and with the same little 'breaks' and idiosyncracies that were always there in her speaking voice, is rather charming, I think. Surely Marni Nixon's overlays are 'perfect' as always, but that may not have been the perfect solution, in this case. I remember seeing a personal appearance of the composer Bronislau Kaper, who was quite witty, and there were film clips of shows he'd scored, and one of them.....either from my all-time favorite "Lili", or perhaps "The Glass Slipper", I forget-----showed a very good dancer filling in for the female lead. Couldn't have been Caron, of course, who was a ballet dancer! But, someone in the audience asked, after the clip, if Kaper knew who the dancer was who'd subbed for the non-dancing lead actress. He replied, "I dunno...maybe it was Marni Nixon! She was always doing everything else!"


Thanks Craig. This is great stuff, as are all your comments.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Count me as a fan! I love AH -- a true original. I wish there were more like her today.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

All this debate has just now made me aware that Emma Thompson is involved in a potential remake of My Fair Lady and I guess that is OK as far as it goes (it may yet stall and vanish) and Hollywood has been doing remakes since forever; think of Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments.

As for Ms Thompson's comments on Audrey Hepburn I think they are misguided at best. As a movie professional Emma should know that, while the leads do carry a good deal of responsibility for the success of a movie, they are not generally responsible for the whole thing. Audrey didn't write My Fair Lady, she didn't direct it, she didn't produce it. She certainly didn't cast it and didn't actually want to do it as she felt it would offend Julie Andrews. In my opinion, however, she was extremely well cast in the role as, being so slim she was very convincing as a poor and underfed flower girl, and the transformation to an utterly beautiful young lady required someone utterly beautiful, which Hepburn was. Far more so than Julie Andrews, again in my opinion.

Could Audrey act? Yes she could and there is no doubt of it if, as others have mentioned, you look at Robin and Marian and Wait Until Dark. The portrayal of blindness is especially convincing in WUD. In other movies she was required, by the producers and directors, to keep on repeating the same role that she created in Roman Holiday, because it was so successful. Again, as a movie professional Ms Thompson knows that Hollywood will keep on coming back for more of the same for as long as they think the ticket buying public will stand it (is she not drawing on that herself with this remake idea?). In Audrey Hepburn's case the public could stand it for a very long time as she was absolutely captivating to watch. Check out her scenes in Sabrina or Funny Face where she is cast opposite established screen icons of the male variety and note who it is you are watching while the scene plays; chances are it will be Audrey. In fact the only film I can think of where this is not the case is Charade, as she and Grant were so well matched.

So, she can act, she is beautiful, and she is watchable. Of course she became a screen icon. She didn't want to; she preferred to stay at home a look after her children and her garden, probably not feministic enough for Emma, but that's what she wanted and that is why there are so few movies with her in them.

Let's look at Green Mansions, well let's not; it's a bad film. The fact remains, however, that it is a bad film not because Audrey Hepburn is in it but because it was conceived and directed by her then husband, Mel Ferrer. Audrey, then, was in the invidious position of being asked to perform in her husband's movie; she is in a no-win situation and I sympathise with her. If she turns him down life will be hell at home (it may have been pretty awful already), if she doesn't and the movie is bad she gets the blame. Well she shouldn't; Mel Ferrer should as it was just an excuse to get his kicks from having Audrey run around with very little on.

Has Emma Thompson made a good case for her remake of My Fair Lady by slagging off the actress in the previous version? In a nutshell, no. Has she ensured that vast numbers of the ticket buying public will stay away from her remake of My Fair Lady because she slagged off the actress in the previous version? Yes.

PS: My Fair Lady is just a remake of Sabrina and Funny Face, anyway; dowdy, not very attractive ugly duckling goes through remarkable transformation into a beautiful swan. Hollywood and the public just couldn't get enough of it. My Fair Lady grossed $72 million on a budget of $17 million, according to IMDB. I wonder how much Emma Thompson's remake will earn!

PPS: Audrey Hepburn died in 1993, so it is hardly surprising that sales of memorabilia are falling off. The older fans have already got the stuff they want and, as she isn't making movies any more (duh) there aren't many new fans.

12:36 PM  

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