• Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961)

    May 29, 2024
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    (Public Domain)

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    Paul Varjak: You call yourself a free spirit, a "wild thing," and you're terrified somebody's gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you're already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it's not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It's wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself. ~Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

    The opening scene of Breakfast At Tiffany's has got to be one of the most haunting in film history, with Audrey Hepburn strolling down a Manhattan street at five o'clock in the morning, glamorously attired, a paper cup of coffee in hand, nibbling a pastry, while pausing to gaze longingly into the window of Tiffany's jewelry store. Never has anyone looked so lost.

    Made at the dawn of the sexual revolution, the film captures the angst of modern life, with the all the loneliness, the frantic striving for wealth at any price, seeking in material pleasures a happiness which remains elusive. The "Holly Golightly" character, nimbly portrayed by Miss Hepburn, embodies the lifestyle of so many contemporary young women, sans the Givenchy gowns, in whose lives there have often been many lovers but very little true love. The George Peppard character, "Paul" the writer-gigolo, was shocking at the time the film debuted. He, too, like so many modern people, knows a lot about sex but nothing of love. He longs for love, nevertheless. Paul, like Holly, is trapped in a lifestyle from which there seems to be no escape. Hope is presented in the awakening of love, and the desire for commitment, from which Holly flees like a bird.

    The film would be nothing without the Henry Mancini song "Moon River," written for Audrey's limited vocal range. Although the words speak of a youthful desire to see the world, when Audrey sings it, she captures a deeper level of meaning, an intense yearning for home, for a family setting that is no more. It is essentially a mourning of lost innocence. Holly had lost her innocence by age fourteen, when she married a man old enough to be her father; instead of being a much-needed parent, he became a lover, and perhaps that is what set her on the path to promiscuity. Underneath her carefree exterior, she is tormented at the very core of her being, as is demonstrated when she smashes up her apartment upon receiving the news that her only brother has died. Holly, aka Lula Mae Barnes, was based upon Lillie Mae Faulk, Capote's mother. In real life "Cat" was a little boy named Truman, who was adopted by Mr. Capote, the Brazilian businessman whom Lillie Mae married. When he lost his money she killed herself, such was her dread of reverting to poverty. But, unlike reality, the film ends on a positive note.

    When hearing the song "Moon River" as a child, I always thought of the Monocacy River, not far from our house. It was a yellow muddy river due to the cow manure and silt from the fields, but on a summer night, beneath the glimmering of the moon, it became beautifully surreal, connoting the magic and mystery of places far away. How often the youthful longing to see the world is replaced with the nostalgia for home, after the world has been seen and tasted. There is no going back home, only going forward, while creating structures of stability for the new generation. Paul and Holly standing in the rain at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany's, hugging a soggy cat, while a choir sings "Moon River" in the background, is almost like a gleam of promise. Amid the despair, depravity and chaos of modernity, a man and woman can still find each other, commit to each other, and build a life of meaning for themselves and for others.

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