Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

(On Cable TV, July 2013) The problem with not having seen some classic movies is that after finally watching them, you wonder what took you so long.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s is essential viewing for at least two reasons: First up would be Audrey Hepburn, as beautiful and lively in this film as she has been in 1961.  Photos of her in her “little black dress” may be iconic, but you have to see the film to understand what made her a star.  The second reason to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s would be her character, Holly Golightly: As the incarnation of a newly-created character in American culture (the single young girl, enjoying life in the city), Holly would end up being the template for decades of similar characters all the way to Sex and the City’s lead characters.  The impact of the film is considerable even today, and that’s partly why it can’t be missed even today.  (The showcase party sequence still feels surprisingly modern.) Ironically, the film also deserves to be seen for the ways in which it undermines its own cultural legacy: Golightly may have been made an object of admiration and imitation by latter generations of single women, but the film fairly clearly underlines the desperation of her life, meddling with the mob and borderline-prostitution in order to make ends meet, her bubbly facade barely concealing a child-like mind barely able to cope with her current situation.  A read of Truman Capote original bittersweet novella only serves to highlight the very thin veneer of fun that the film puts over a rather sad situation: it’s hard to watch the film’s happy ending and feel that it won’t last very long.  (It’s also hard to watch the film and not cringe at Mickey Rooney’s crudely stereotypical portrayal of a Japanese character: While that kind of thing may have been acceptable half a century ago, it’s the one single thing that most damages and dates the film.)  For all of these reasons, and probably a few more than I’m forgetting, Breakfast at Tiffany’s remains essential viewing well into the twenty-first century.

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