There's nothing like a good old movie. My wife and I were reminded of that Saturday night when we kept warm together and watched the local PBS station in New York present “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which came out in 1961.
The movie is still wonderful – at least for those of us who came of age in that city, in that time.
Then again, there is nothing like a good old actress, or actor. We reaffirmed that Sunday night as we watched eternal favorites Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey (delivering a righteous sermon on fairness for women in the arts; if America ever elected a television celebrity as President, at least it could choose one with brains and conscience), Shirley Maclaine, Barbra Streisand, Carol Burnett and many others warming up the night at the Golden Globes. (Some older guys, and younger people, were there, too.)
Audrey Hepburn was not there, sadly, because she passed in 1993, way too young at 63, but lit up the night on Saturday, in the role of her life, lovely in her little black outfit.
The second star of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is New York itself – the city that existed one way in Truman Capote’s book and another way in the movie-makers’ minds.
That New York remains implanted in the memories of people who dared to dream that a one-bedroom walkup near midtown could be affordable for somebody who has not necessarily scored a gigantic deal.
My wife and I, a couple of kids, had a one-night honeymoon at the Plaza – Castro and Khrushchev were also in town -- before getting back to work on Monday. There was magic in Rockefeller Center and Fifth Avenue and Central Park and the side streets with their surprises and secrets.
In that apparently genteel playground, out-of-towners like Holly Golightly, a party girl, and Paul Varjak, a writer of fading potential, could meet on a fire escape -- kindred souls, both living in that playground courtesy of wealthier patrons.
New York seemed to offer glamour, stability, hope. When “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was issued in 1961:
--Penn Station had not yet been demolished, replaced by that contemptuous dungeon of a terminal, and soon afterward the neighborhood-strangling “new” Madison Square Garden.
--The Pan-Am Building (now called the MetLife Building) had not yet been plopped down, ruining the esthetic of Park Ave.
--John F. Kennedy was the new President.
--Rupert Murdoch was making stuff up, but in Australia.
--George Steinbrenner was still bullying his lackeys in Cleveland.
--And Donald Trump was still living out in Queens and fidgeting his way through classes in college.
In other words, the good old days.
The movie endures despite blind spots and gaffes:
--Mickey Rooney, as a put-upon Japanese photographer upstairs, is a total embarrassment with stereotypical accent and offensive false teeth. They should have known better, even then.
-- There is no trace of social issues, of Vietnam, of race. The only glimpse of African-Americans is on visitors’ day at Sing Sing, and some extras at the library and a five-and-dime store. The four other boroughs do not exist.
--A sub-plot involving a planned caper in Brazil contains many confusions of language and custom. I bet my friend Altenir Jose Silva of Rio, who has written movies himself, notices his middle name mispronounced the Spanish way rather than the soft, throaty Portuguese-Brazilian way.
Still, the movie crackles when Holly Golightly sings "Moon River" to herself on the fire escape or lowers her sunglasses to inspect Patricia Neal, a domineering designer who is supporting the younger writer, played by George Peppard.
Martin Balsam is fine as a Hollywood agent, and a familiar New York character actor of the time, Jim McGiver, is superb in a cameo as an officious salesman at Tiffany’s, who bends to Hepburn’s smile.
I have been under the impression that Buddy Ebsen is cornball as a rustic face from the past but the re-viewing convinced me that Ebsen is dignified and touching.
By the way, Capote’s book is much darker than the movie, including a graphic hint that Holly did indeed have adventures in deepest Brazil.
That’s all I’m saying, in case somehow you have not seen the movie about a beautiful and tormented drifter, “off to see the world.”
* * *
(Unfortunately, on some Saturday evenings, Channel 13 switches to stale oldie pop concerts; go figure. I cannot fathom why a high-level public station cannot find a landmark movie every freaking Saturday night, for those of us who have not figured out what “streaming” or “Netflix” are. I’m sure the hardy band of regulars on this site – including screen writer Silva – could suggest 52 classic films a year to help Channel 13 present a consistent series.)
1/8/2018 10:41:18 am
1/8/2018 12:48:40 pm
Muito obrigado, meu amigo.
1/11/2018 08:13:03 pm
1/8/2018 04:48:35 pm
My dear friend, George,
1/9/2018 07:36:26 pm
Although I am too far from 13 to have a direct involvement, 13in Tampa is PBS, as well. And we, too, despaired of the loss of every Sunday night, Masterpiece, and top old movies. Sigh! For about $10 bucks a month we watch Netflix. Among our favorites are mystery, police, etc. from Europe. Movies are not uniformly good, you have to search and research ratings, etc. but we recommend it. Just finished La Casa de Papel, Spanish, 13 episodes in first season. Really imaginative story line. You can search alphabetically for movies, etc. but they keep rotating films off and on, so nothing is guaranteed still we see it as a step forward from cable tv, and nets. Ciao.
1/11/2018 09:28:53 pm
Ed, you are way ahead of me in the home entertainment dept.
1/9/2018 07:55:30 pm
It was in the fall of 1974 when I first saw Breakfast at Tiffany*s with my parents when it was on Channel 2's The Late Show, After watching it for a few minutes, I told them I knew a girl just like the one Ms Hepburn. played, I met her at college in the wilds of Central Jersey She was a unique soul that either bewitched bothered or bewildered you at any one time. Unlike her film counterpart, she did not get that happy ending and was last heard of getting professional help off campus I think of her with affection all these years later, To change the subject, here are my nominations for the 52 movies that your local PBS station can show, The first is about a police officer slowly falling in love with a portrait of the woman whose murder he was investigating. Her name was Laura, The second is a cult classic that would ignite several generations to appreciate it's tale of passion, suspense and redemption. You must remember Casablanca. My final selection is of a man trying to determine how his friend met his end in postwar Vienna or did he? Who was the Third Man?
1/11/2018 07:03:03 pm
Jeff, thanks for the note. I guess all of us remember somebody (or more than one person) who came across our periscope and vanished:
1/11/2018 07:52:33 pm
1/9/2018 07:57:51 pm
It's JOHN McGiver, George. Fordham man. New Yorker. Brilliant character actor. Trump spent two years at Fordham not too much later. I know some of his classmates. All good folks.
1/11/2018 07:05:37 pm
Brian, thanks, I must have copied it wrong. I knew the voice but not the name.
1/10/2018 07:38:22 pm
Great comments on the movies. I would like to add a few must watch recent ones.
1/11/2018 07:08:58 pm
Alan thanks for the suggestions.
1/11/2018 04:52:31 pm
1/11/2018 07:12:07 pm
Bruce, thanks. It is good to live along the border. My wife once spent an Olympics while I was away at our daughter's house, then in Seattle. She said the CBC was far superior to the US channel with overview and live events. US network was on overload with icky features. I wouldn't know. Never watched an Olympics on TV. But loved covering them. Be well, GV
1/11/2018 07:49:01 pm
1/11/2018 07:59:17 pm
1/11/2018 08:04:02 pm
altenir.....i'd forgotten that quote or where i'd read/heard it.
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.