Saturday, March 18, 2017

Funny Face

Year 9, Day 77 - 3/18/17 - Movie #2,571

BEFORE: I've reached the end of my Fred Astaire chain (finally...) with a little assist (OK, a big one...) from TCM.  So that's two weeks of my life that I'll never get back - it's funny how people always say things like that, because nobody ever gets any time back, so why complain about it when you don't?  Like when people say, "Well, you're not getting any younger..." as an excuse for doing something, when nobody ever gets any younger.  But I digress.

Obviously, I didn't get to every Fred Astaire film, but this was never about being a completist, it was about familiarizing myself with his genre, and the whole Rogers-Astaire partnership, and I have accomplished that.  Turns out they made 10 movies together, or viewed another way, they made the same film together, 10 times in a row.  But I also saw Fred paired up with Cyd Charisse, and Paulette Goddard, and Vera-Ellen, and now tonight it's Audrey Hepburn.  Now, since I didn't get to "Flying Down to Rio", or "Holiday Inn", or "Royal Wedding", or "Silk Stockings", or "Daddy Long Legs", or "Easter Parade", there's always the possibility of doing a follow-up chain at a later date.  After tonight I've watched every Astaire film in my collection, which is basically every Astaire film that TCM has run in the last 6 months, so by that standard, I've done very well.  Maybe TCM will run "Easter Parade" in April and I can watch that next year, because Easter this year is already spoken for.

THE PLOT: An impromptu fashion shoot at a book store brings about a new fashion model discovery in the shop clerk.

AFTER: Music tonight is (mostly) provided by George and Ira Gershwin - though George had passed  on some 20 years previous.  In addition to the title track "Funny Face", there's "Let's Kiss and Make Up", "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and "'S Wonderful", which I thought was a Cole Porter song.  I think I was confusing it with "De-Lovely".

"Funny" here is meant to mean "different" or "unusual", not "hilarious" - Hepburn plays a young woman with a "funny" face, meaning that it's not the type that's usually seen in fashion magazines.  But yet, Astaire's fashion photographer Dick Avery (loosely based on Richard Avedon, supposedly) sees potential in this bookstore clerk, who's more interested in studying philosophy than being a model.

NITPICK POINT: The way that the magazine crew took over the bookstore - who does that?  It's fairly standard that any magazine shoot would ASK for permission to shoot at a location, probably have a contract for using the space, or at least a standard release form, and money would probably have changed hands, so there would be no lawsuit later.  Certainly some kind of permission from the owner of the bookstore would be needed, on the advice of the magazine's lawyers.

But this happens because Kay Thompson plays this pushy, demanding magazine editor (loosely based on Diana Vreeland of "Harper's Bazaar" and "Vogue" fame) who at first comes off much like Meryl Streep's character from "The Devil Wears Prada".  In real life she wrote the children's book "Eloise", and if that documentary I watched about the book's illustrator was accurate, she was a real Queen "B" in person, too.  But at least her character here eventually becomes more personable and helpful during the trip to Paris.

In the opening number, Thompson, as magazine diva Maggie Prescott, realizes the latest issue is quite drab, and suddenly hits on pink as the new fashion trend.  Almost immediately, everything must be pink, as decreed in the musical number, "Think Pink" - and that sound you hear is the feminist movement being set back 20 years.  And once she's made to see the potential of Audrey's bookstore clerk as the new face of her magazine, the girl is practically kidnapped and forced into slavery as a model.  Cut her hair, change her outfit, get some make-up on her.  It's not like she's got a choice in the matter, right?  After all, she can't possibly know what's best for herself.

Our heroine agrees to become a model only because that will get her to Paris, and give her a chance to meet her idols of philosophy - also, to sing a song where "Jean-Paul Sartre" is rhymed with "Montmartre" (nice!).  But after a few days as a model, she not only knows what to do, she's practically giving instructions to the photographer, instead of the other way around.  In that way, they sort of created a monster, albeit a very attractive, well-dressed one.  Although it was initially a means to and end for her, it turned out that the modeling lifestyle was perfect for her, and her philosophy idols were stone giants with feet of clay.  I'm not sure that sends out the right message to the young girls.

There was a 30-year age difference between Astaire and Hepburn, he was 58 when this film was released, while she was 28.  While a relationship like that may not have been common at the time, it certainly wasn't impossible.  I'm not generally one to judge, how you feel about two characters of those ages getting together is certainly up to you.  But it was 1957 - so if HE wanted to kiss her, well, then she was going to be kissed.  Note that whether she wanted to be kissed or not was largely irrelevant at this point in time.

There was a stage musical in 1927 called "Funny Face", which also starred Fred Astaire - but that show's plot was quite different, and only four of its Gershwin songs were preserved here.  This film's plot was instead adapted from another stage musical, "Wedding Bells", and no doubt updated to make references to late-50's things like beat poetry and Bohemian cafĂ© culture.  Astaire did one dance number with Kay Thompson and two with Audrey Hepburn, one of which was set in a photo darkroom, with predominantly red light.  I imagine that anyone who tunes in to this film during that number would think that something's gone wrong with their TV set.

Also starring Audrey Hepburn (last seen in "Charade"), Kay Thompson (last seen in "It's Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise"), Michel Auclair, Robert Flemyng (last seen in "Shadowlands"), Alex Gerry (last seen in "Three Little Words"), Dovima, Jean Del Val, Virginia Gibson, Sue England, Ruta Lee.

RATING: 6 out of 10 colorful balloons

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