I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Fair Lady, 1964










Rated G

It is with great *shame* that I admit that this is the first time I have seen this movie… and in fact, I can't recall if I've ever even seen the stage version. I grew up performing in and watching musical theatre so I know this comes as a shock to many of my friends. I apologize; I know am not worthy. However, having said that, I was able to sing along to more than half of the songs during the film. It’s amazing how the musical score for that film has become so legendary and celebrated. As have the costumes!... but I’ll get to that later.

“My Fair Lady” won Best Picture in 1964 and was one of four Best Picture winners that were musicals in the 1960’s alone. It was even up against “Mary Poppins” that year, another musical. It was also the most expensive film made to date with almost a third of its budget just going to secure the rights of the story. (I would imagine another third HAD to go to the costuming department!)

The adorable Audrey Hepburn plays cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle who agrees to let misogynistic linguistics Professor Higgins teach her to “talk more genteel”. Rex Harrison reprises his Broadway role as the Professor for the film and accepts the challenge more as a game with eagerness, and albeit some frustration. And when he succeeds, he congratulates himself and his dialect partner with no regard for poor Eliza’s hard work. She runs away; a day later he chases after her; she berates him for his treatment of her; he goes back home to sulk and listen to her record (of vowel sound practice) and she returns. (That takes three hours, folks.) Just when I thought the writers wanted us to believe that people can change, Professor Higgins tips his hat over his face and yells, “Where the devil are my slippers?” 

Professor Higgins has some incredibly funny lines all the while maintaining that he is not a very redeeming character. I raised an eyebrow every once in awhile at the language used towards Eliza (i.e. hussy, wretch) and wondered if these two masochists were not meant for each other. I guess we’ll never know since the ending is left unclear (in my opinion). Does she return to Higgins’ house to be with him or does her presence there imply forgiveness and she ends up marrying Freddy (the gentleman who pines for her)? I applauded Eliza’s character for calling out Professor Higgins for his behavior, but you could see there was still some admiration in her eyes which leads her back. So you be the judge.

Even after Audrey went through intense vocal training for this film, being a non-singer, she was told her voice still wasn’t good enough for the soundtrack so she was dubbed with another singer and a mixture of their voices sang the songs. Rex, on the other hand, sings his songs without singing; something I remember him doing in another one of his films a few years later, “Dr. Doolittle”. [That title strikes me as very odd at the moment…]

There was a bit of an upset when Julie Andrews, who played Eliza Doolittle in the stage version but was not offered the part for the film version, won the award for Best Actress for her role in Mary Poppins, while Audrey Hepburn was not even nominated. (Supposedly her not singing completely had something to do with it.) When Rex won Best Actor for the film, he dedicated it to his “two fair ladies”, Julie and Audrey.

“My Fair Lady” was up against “Mary Poppins”, “Zorba the Greek”, “Becket”, and “Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb”. Um… seriously, what’s up with that last title? It should come as no surprise by now that I have only seen “Mary Poppins” from that list and I am even so bold as to say I think that should have won. If there is something I am, it is a musical theatre geek, but even more so, I am a Disney musical theatre geek. But honestly, I think the cutting-edge special effects, endearing storyline, superb acting, and time-honored score are awe-inspiring. “My Fair Lady” received seven other awards that night including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Musical Score, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and of course, Best Costume Design.


FAVORITE SCENES:

My favorite scenes were any that had Eliza walking about in some iconic costume. I would just stare open-mouthed at her graceful entrance into a room and how she commanded the attention of her surrounding public. (I’d like to know the secret to her not falling over backward from the size of her hairdo though!) Not only was she stunningly beautiful, the costumes were exquisite. Wouldn’t it be loverly to wear one of those sometime… 



LESSONS LEARNED:

“You will get further with the Lord if you learn not to offend His ears”. I learned this from Professor Higgins. Even though he’s referring to Eliza’s awful cockney dialect, I believe it can be true in other ways. Taking the Lord’s name in vain and speaking unkindly about others are just a couple of examples that are not pleasing to Him… and I know I’m guilty of it.

One should not judge on first impressions alone. Although Professor Higgins certainly judged Eliza on first impression, I think he realized what a true flower she blossomed into because of her innate personality. I often think about first impressions when people encounter different American accents. I have lived in areas that regard the southern drawl as less sophisticated or intelligent. And also having lived in and spent a good amount of time in the south, I can tell you that is not the case. An accent or dialect is just as much a part of the culture as food and dress may be and has little to do with one’s education.

There are areas that could use improvement in each of us. If we are motivated enough (and especially if we are able to take constructive criticism well… which I’m working on), we can find something about ourselves or our lives to better.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Certainly Eliza knows this one. Whether it’s the area that needs improvement or a new task, don’t get discouraged- try again and harder!

ADDENDUM (added 2/10/12):
I am currently reading Julie Andrews' memoir "Home" and she writes details of her stage performances in the Broadway and London versions of "My Fair Lady". She mentions how strict Rex and some producers were in keeping the script identical with the the original play, "Pygmalion" by Bernard Shaw. Even though a beautiful song was written for Julie in which Eliza expresses her feelings for Professor Higgins, it was cut in order to stay true to the original: the characters never once speak of love. Instead, they wrote "I Could've Danced all Night" which still conveys Eliza's emotions but without mentioning the word. I think this is very interesting because I, myself, didn't really see this film as a love story.

Another song was cut and used in the strikingly similar story, "Gigi": "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight".

Warner Bros. needed a big name for the marquee and called upon Audrey Hepburn for this role over Julie Andrews even though she was the woman who made it famous. Audrey and Julie became friends and one day, Audrey said to her, "Julie, you should have done the role... but I didn't have the guts to turn it down."

4 comments:

  1. Seriously, Aim? How have you never seen this movie?!

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  2. I know! As previously stated... *ashamed*.

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  3. I can't believe you have never seen it. It's one of my all time favorites. My sister sing along with me.

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  4. other lessons:

    1) There are "Fair Ladies" in everyone, seek the company of those that pull it out.

    2) Be "best friends" with your mother in law.

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