"I'm like cat here, a no-name slob. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us. We don't even belong to each other."
For the last two blog posts, my focus is going to be on actors and actresses and their performances. While researching some of the best actors and actresses of all time, I encountered a few people I've already watched in some of the movies from this project, like James Stewart (Vertigo), Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca), and Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca).
When you act, you're essentially pretending to be someone else. And in that sense, actors and actresses are able to let go of inhibitions and play someone that might be completely different from them. They're able to take risks and experience things through another person's eyes. However, actors/actresses also say that acting is completely revolved around one's own life as well. The more vulnerable and exposed you are, the more genuine your acting becomes. Meaning, you should use your own insecurities, personality traits, and experiences to help portray a character.
I wanted to watch a movie with a prominent actress first, so I was deciding between watching a Meryl Streep movie or an Audrey Hepburn movie. I was in the mood for a bit of a happier film so Sophie's Choice wasn't really going to cut it. I decided to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's, which is another one of those movies that has affected our culture so much that you "have to watch it."
Click HERE for Breakfast at Tiffany's Summary
Yup, I had my reservations before watching this one as well. I had heard about the yellow face issue (which we'll get into a bit later), and the sheer exposure I've had to references to this movie throughout my life made me a little skeptical. I was afraid the movie wouldn't live up to it's name and that it would be pretty shallow.
And while there are some things I could complain about in the movie, I'm still a sucker for a romantic comedy.
So yeah, I liked it. The opening sequence where Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) gets out of a yellow taxi, and eats a pastry with a coffee while staring at the window of the Tiffany & Co. Jewelry Store was so charming to me. Maybe it was the tune of "Moon River" playing in the background, or the elegant and timeless style of Golightly's little black dress, but I was already interested. When Paul Varjak (George Peppard) introduces himself to Holly, she invites him into her home and treats him like someone she's known forever. She describes her visits to a man in Sing Sing prison, named Sally Tomato. The whole conversation and scene already shows you what kind of a person Holly is, and Paul seems just as confused and captivated as the audience is. The audience then learns about Paul through Holly, when Holly sees "2E" (Patricia Neal) leaving a sleeping Paul money, then kissing him on the head. Paul is a struggling writer who has written one published book called Nine Lives. Paul needs the money. Holly nicknames Paul "Fred", after her brother who's in the army. The character of Fred Golightly is used as a way to make Holly seem more human. Amongst all of her ambition, she still cares the most about her brother. I was conflicted about whether I liked Holly Golightly or not. A basic description of her would be an ambitious and seemingly shallow "socialite". That description doesn't sound promising at all, but when you're introduced to her character, something about Holly makes her likable. Through all the times she exhibits her shallow attempts for money/power, I still rooted for her. Paul seems to believe in her as well, and always tries to make things right with her.
Before I go any further, I wanted to talk about the questionable and problematic parts of the movie. The first thing is obviously Mickey Rooney's yellowface portryal of the character Mr. Yunioshi. I cringed whenever Mr. Yunioshi had a scene. Not only is it bad that they hired a White man to play the role of an Asian man, but it's even worse that the character Mr. Yunioshi is filled to the brim with Asian stereotypes, and is reduced to the laughing stock of the movie. Comic relief is one thing, but Mr. Yunioshi is another. I didn't laugh at any of the scenes with Mr. Yunioshi in it. And while many Asian-Americans have boycotted this movie specifically for the yellow face aspect of it, I didn't let it stop me from watching it. It made me see how even in the context of a decent movie, yellowface/blackface/brownface/redface or any type of offensive racial stereotyping like that is distasteful and horrible. Another thing I want to get out of the way is Holly a.k.a Lula Mae's weird marriage to the much older Doc Golightly. She was married to him at age 13/14, and fled from their home when she was 15. Paul seems a little disturbed, but Holly/Lula Mae seems to be completely fine with Doc when he comes to New York to bring her back. Her reasoning for not going back with him is that she wants to follow her dreams. But in my mind, I was thinking "Oh, it's not because he's a creepy dude DECADES OLDER THAN YOU?!?". The whole thing with Doc didn't last long, and seemed to be there just to set an origin story for Holly. But it still weirded me out. Now, let's talk about Holly's character itself. She is widely labeled a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (remember that tired trope?). And yeah, quite honestly, she has all the elements of one. You could argue that she has her own purpose in life because of her dreams for her and her brother Fred, but those are thrown to the side when they kill off Fred in the movie. Holly dresses eccentrically, but not too eccentrically, she's kind of a drunkard (but of course still has to look cute when she's absolutely hammered), she can be painfully honest, she sings to herself and plays an instrument, and she's the object of a kind of bland male character's affections. Oh, and that male character literally said "You belong to me" to her. Welp.
And yet, despite all of this, I still enjoyed this movie. I think it's interesting how I was so painfully aware of all the outdated ideals in it, but I was able to really be invested in the characters and their story. Maybe it's a weird society thing. Maybe it's the whole concept of a developing romance, complicated by conflicting feelings on either side. Maybe it's just the genre of romantic comedies. Whatever makes this movie so darn likable, it's something that's still in movies today.
"The script is not altogether neat. No justification or explanation is ever made of why Peppard is being kept by a wealthy lady, except that he is a writer and writers, presumably, get involved in things like that. Miss Hepburn is responsible to a great degree for the credibility of her complex character and gives a winning portrayal. Peppard virtually overcomes the script deficiencies in his character, because he is an exceptionally virile young leading man who achieves the aura of manliness without sweat."- The Hollywood Reporter
The opening scene of the movie.
One of the standout roles in the movie wasn't even played by a human: "cat" was Holly's nameless companion.
A drunk Holly describes her intentions to Paul.
I really liked this scene, where Paul and Holly are attempting to steal something cheap from the store. It's silly and sweet.
Yikes. Let's just say you mean this in the most romantic and least offensive way possible, okay Paul?
Considering all the things I've complained about, I can't lie that I smiled like an idiot at this ending scene.
Moon River, performed by Audrey Hepburn.
"Here’s looking at you, kid."
Technically, I've already watched 3 movies for this quarter, so my pacing isn't terrible. But my goal was to watch 6 movies this quarter. However, with vacationing during winter break and all that, I've been kind of busy. While I don't think 6 movies will happen, I'm shooting for 4 movies, and so hopefully I'll be able to watch another movie after this.
I really focus on characters in movies, and the development of the character throughout the movie. A couple of these movies also tend to have an indifferent protagonist with a bit of a rough edge. This shows that people gravitate towards an imperfect main character.
Casablanca is one of those movies you always hear about, but no one seems to have actually watched it. But it was pretty high up on the list of best screen written movies, and best movies in general. Some have even called it a perfect movie. But an interesting thing about the script (written by Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein, Howard Koch) is that it was only half finished when they started filming. So the script was written in a short time, and some dialogue in the scene was being written immediately before a scene. Nevertheless, the movie turned out to be a classic. The script is here.
Click HERE for Casablanca Summary
This 1942 movie is so widely known and quoted, it was intimidating for me to watch at first. I'll admit, that at the very very beginning of the movie, I was a bit out of it, and I was already having negative thoughts. "Oh man, who am I kidding, I'm not going to like this" and "I can barely understand what they're saying!". While it was hard for me to completely comprehend their old timey speech patterns, as soon as I got invested in the story, it became way easier to understand. And it didn't take very long at all for me to start getting into the story. I just had to understand the backstory, which was kind of glossed over in the movie. However, this was understandable because the movie was meant to be a type of propaganda for more support for the war in Europe at the time (this was on the heels of the Pearl Harbor bombing that led the United States into WWII). But as soon as I realized that, I was able to focus on actual plot. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), an American expat, owns a cafe in Casablanca, and he deals with quite a few suspicious people. One day, a man named Ugarte (Peter Lorre) entrusts Rick with 2 letters of transit which he obtained from German couriers he killed. But Ugarte is arrested and it's assumed he is killed by the local police. Now, Rick is left with two letters of transit that everybody wants, because it'll grant the holder free travel around German controlled Europe and to neutral Portugal. Ricks situation is made even more confusing when his former flame Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks into his cafe with her husband and Czech resistance leader, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Basically, Rick needs to decide if he'll give the letters of transit to Victor and Ilsa, or if he should leave Casablanca with Ilsa instead.
I think that although this has a lot of historical background, this is pretty much a romance movie. At the heart of all the corruption and political conflicts, there is a troubled love story between Rick and Ilsa. And tell you what, I really rooted for them. Even though Rick is still a tough guy, he has his sentimental side, which is constantly brought up by frenemy Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains). We learn about Rick and Ilsa's short lived fling in Paris, and we see how in love they were. After several toasts and "here's looking at you, kid"s, Ilsa ends up abandoning Rick, who moves on to Casablanca. In every scene between Ilsa and Rick, there's an obvious tension between them, which prompts an exasperated "just kiss already!!!" from the audience. Well, from me at least. As cheesy as this movie was, I'll admit it was pretty dang good. I found myself talking at the screen a lot (even more than usual) and being genuinely torn between Ilsa leaving with Laszlo or Rick. The thing is, Laszlo is actually a likable guy. Which somehow makes the whole romance between Rick and Ilsa even more unfortunate. From Rick's angry drunken rant about Ilsa leaving him to the impassioned speech he gave her at the end of the movie, Bogart puts real intense emotion into the role. And he plays Rick perfectly, a balance of not caring enough and caring too much. The other actors are great as well, the pacing in this movie is just right. I would say this movie is pretty perfect, but it's not my absolute favorite. I don't like it any less though! It was extremely satisfying to watch. I could see how other people fell in complete love with this film, and I also understand why it's so quotable. It really is something special.
"But we will tell you that the urbane detail and the crackling dialogue which has been packed into this film by the scriptwriters, the Epstein brothers and Howard Koch, is of the best. We will tell you that Michael Curtiz has directed for slow suspense and that his camera is always conveying grim tension and uncertainty. Some of the significant incidents, too, are affecting—such as that in which the passionate Czech patriot rouses the customers in Rick's cafe to drown out a chorus of Nazis by singing the Marseillaise, or any moment in which Dooley Wilson is remembering past popular songs in a hushed room. We will tell you also that the performances of the actors are all of the first order, but especially those of Mr. Bogart and Miss Bergman in the leading roles." -Bosley Crowther
This was the scene I was talking about right after Rick sees Ilsa again. He gets drunk and angry, reminiscing on their time together. Rick's resentment and sadness in this scene is so raw. Bogart did such a good job.
Although the movie is in black and white, the use of light and shadows in it was still beautiful. The film used dark film noir and expressionist lighting.
Casablanca, like all of the other movies on this list, is quoted a lot. And I think a huge reason of why this movie is quoted so much is that it's so cheesy. But it's cheesy and romantic in the best way.
The song "As Time Goes By", performed by Sam (Dooley Wilson) is the song that Rick and Ilsa loved. It's played multiple times, and I honestly think it's a really pretty song.
The ending scene to Casablanca.
This should go without saying.
Kelby Custodio, Junior at Pacifica High School.