Tuesday, May 05, 2009

May Flowers, My Fair Lady

May Flowers, weeknights @ 11:00

The very first images we see in the classic musical and Best Picture winner My Fair Lady, before during and immediately after the opening credits are shots of flowers. Why the extensive florals? Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) is your main character is why. She's a flower girl. Not the kind what walks the aisle, mind you, but the kind what sells them on the street. Just so long as she stays off the curb. Almost as soon as we've seen her, dishevelled in the rain, she collides into dreamboat Freddy (it's still a mystery to me why she doesn't fall for him) and her wares go flying.

Look where you're going dear. Look where you're going. Two bunches of violets trod in the mud. A full day's wages.
When Freddy apologizes and walks away she tries some recompense from his controlling mum
Oh, he's your son is he? Well if you'd done your duty by him as a mother, you wouldn't let him spoil a poor girl's flowers and run away without payin'
Er... is she talking about what I think she's talking about? These old movies are so jammed with subtext.

Soon Eliza Dolittle is whisked off to live with Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison) as a socioeconomic / linguistic experiment but also as an elaborate three hour plot meant to transform her into Audrey Hepburn who the audience already knows she is. These old movies are as meta as modern ones.

But in every stage of her progression from Eliza to Audrey she's surrounded in florals. When she first enters Professor Higgins worlds she's surrounding by floral wallpaper and framed by clocks with floral decors. All the while she's dreaming of obtaining work in a florist shop. But first she needs to speak more genteel like.

Then when we first see her bedroom during her romantic awakening ("I Could Have Danced All Night") every inch of it is covered with delicate wallpaper of tiny flowers. By the time she hits the races they've gone to her head... the top and sides of her head and inside, too. She's a florid handful
Somebody pinched it and what I say is, them has pinched it done her in!
She only leaves the bloom and petals behind during her exquisite silver and shimmering coming out ball -- "I can tell that she was born Hungarian! ...a movie star -- but that night turns deeply unhappy.

So she leaves Higgins in anger. Now, she's no longer Eliza (flower girl) nor Audrey (screen royalty) but the cinematic fusion that the movie is waiting for her to be: The elegant movie star who is still wistfully connected to the humbler origins of her character.


I sometimes wish the movie ended right there with Eliza on her own, ready to explore her new identity. Wrap it up before the Freddy romance and that dread dutiful wife business with Professor Higgins slippers. But then, I'm a sucker for melancholy and complicated endings. And I really hate those damn slippers. I've half a mind to shy them at Higgins myself.
Take your slippers and may you never have a day's luck with them!


Kelsy said...

I keep thinking I should give this movie another chance, but it's painful dull in the way a lot of 60s musicals seem to be. And I hate those slippers too.

Fernando Moss said...

Oh, the greatnes of the "Underratey" Hepburn... I know they are not related but for me she was way better than "Overraterine" Hepburn.

Catherine said...

I can never jive with Audrey Hepburn, for some reason. My sister's mad about her and I can appreciate her as a beauty and as a person and as a humanitarian and all that, but as a star, or as an actress: nah.

adelutza said...

It's weird but I watched the movie just last night - it played on TCM the other day and I recorded it.


Fernando -- i prefer Audrey as well.

Catherine -- i actually prefer Audrey as a star than as an actress but maybe that's splitting hairs

Erica said...

I like this idea, but the way Eliza and Higgins do come back together is done so wonderfully. No big kiss in the rain like Tiffany's but the way she's standing behind him, watching him, and that look on his face of surprise and relief and happiness when he realizes she's there... oh, it's so touching!

Liz said...

Has anyone ever seen the 1938 version of "Pygmalion" with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller? I vastly prefer to to "My Fair Lady". It's on Criterion DVD, and I highly recommend it.

Pablete said...

Thank you immensely for these pictures, Nathaniel! Audrey Hepburn is LOVEly! She is the princess of my dreams!

adri said...

It's the choreography of My Fair Lady that hits me as so awful. It goes on forever in that awful, fake every-day movement faux-folk style. You could easily take 20 minutes out of the movie by chopping the third and fourth choreographic repetitions in each music sequence.

I love Audrey. The play, Pygmalian, had a different ending, where Eliza doesn't knuckle under and become Higgin's wife/lover, but remains his equal and challenger. (Apparently, many thought that had more intellectual than emotional appeal).

As for the Freddy romance, I love watching that now, trying to discern the wonderful later PBS Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) as a youthful song and dance man.