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Centennial Collection: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
January 17, 2009

As part of the Paramount Centennial Collection, two beloved Audrey Hepburn films have new two-disc special edition DVD sets out. (The previous films in the series were two earlier Hepburn movies, Roman Holiday and Sabrina, plus Sunset Boulevard.) I’ll be talking about Funny Face in another post.

Breakfast at Tiffanys cover
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
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Watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s again now, I’d forgotten how dated some of it is. (It was released in 1961.) Mickey Rooney’s racist portrayal of the upstairs Japanese photographer, with fake buck teeth and kamikaze headband, is horrendous, of course, but more subtly, there’s Hepburn’s streaked beehives, adding at least four inches to her height. (This is particularly noticeable when she’s spying in upstairs neighbor George Peppard’s window and has to duck out of sight.) The jeweled tiaras don’t help.

But those clothes! Gorgeous little black dresses. A bathrobe that Hepburn wears like a gown. Seriously huge costume jewelry. Even more ridiculous hats. The overstuffed cafe society apartment party. Calling everyone “darling”. The idea that it’s tacky to wear impressive diamonds before you’re 40. How polite the Tiffany’s salesman is, even though what they ask him is ridiculous. The etiquette of smoking. The stylized acting showcases outsized behavior that’s much more engrossing to watch than realism.

It’s amazing how much of the subtext I didn’t notice when I was younger. For instance, Holly Golightly buzzes the upstairs neighbor (Rooney) early in the morning to get into their building because she never has her key. He yells, but she calms him down with, “If you promise not to be angry, I might let you take those pictures we mentioned.” Just what kind of snaps would those be, hmmm? And why does she have a man’s tuxedo shirt lying around to use as pajamas? Then there’s all the “money for the powder room” mentions … she goes out with men for cash, while Peppard plays a writer/kept man. (Many people don’t realize that her profession is “call girl” because of Hepburn’s elegance and class.) Both are running away from either who they were or what they’ve become, hampered by others’ expectations of them.

Although on one level this is the most stylish, impressive, influential movie ever made about a hooker, it’s really about disappointed people learning not to lie to themselves. You can’t love someone else until you learn to love, or at least accept, yourself. I also found it astounding how many different things you can get out of this movie at different times in your life.

The special edition packaging is deluxe, as expected. There’s a slipcase with an iconic image from the film on the front, and an eight-page booklet with photos and a short essay. The first disc contains the movie and a producer’s commentary. The second is all special features:

  • A reminiscence about the cocktail party that reunites many of the extras and actors from the scene.
  • A featurette on Henry Mancini’s music, including “Moon River”, of course, featuring his family.
  • A discussion of the “yellowface” Rooney character from an Asian perspective, which expands into a history of Asian portrayals in film. (KC wandered through when they were discussing George Takei’s Star Trek role as a breakthrough, and he said, “I don’t remember the starship scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”) This is the most interesting piece because it distinctly adds to an understanding of the movie and its time. The one thing lacking is that they don’t talk to Rooney about his opinion or why he took the role. Then again, I don’t know if he’d want to participate.
  • A quick tour of the Paramount studio lot.
  • A making-of that includes comments from director Blake Edwards.
  • A short piece about fashion and Audrey’s appearance.
  • Coverage of Tiffany’s history, plus a copy of a letter Hepburn wrote about the store.
  • The original trailer.

These are not fluffy five-minute bits included just to put something on the back of the DVD case. In some cases, I thought they could have used some editing — the new features go on quite a while covering their subjects in copious detail.

From the making-of down in that list, those extras were brought over from the Anniversary Collector’s Edition (2006). The commentary dates from that edition as well. That’s to be applauded, that the producers didn’t pick and choose to make the question of whether to upgrade difficult. This has become the definitive edition. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)

5 Responses  
Rivkah writes:  

I saw this for the first time on my birthday last year (it was a special b-day treat) and I was horrified by the incredibly racist Japanese stereotype. My whole face literally dropped into one giant, expressive “O” of shock, and I think I may have even turned bright red with humiliation. More blatant than a Warner Brothers war bonds cartoon.

But other than all the cringe-worthy moments with the landlord (I’m embarrassed for my country!), the movie is superbly written with Audrey Hepburn’s acting stealing the rest of the show. I’d never realized how much her acting style influenced modern acting until seeing her up against the rest of the cast who utilize more traditional methods of acting. And the ending with her looking for the cat . . . *sniffle* . . . it made the rest of the movie come together perfectly.

And Audrey Hepburn is still one of the most beautiful and vibrant women in film. :)

 
Johanna writes:  

There’s a scene in the movie bio of Bruce Lee where he and his (American) date go to see a movie — and it turns out to be this one. I think it’s an incredible portrayal of that kind of embarrassment. It’s unfortunate that such a good movie will forever have an asterisk of this kind.

 
Vid writes:  

Definitely one of my favorite Audrey Hepburn movies. I just ignore the landlord bits. Thankfully they are few and far between…the movie probably wouldn’t suffer at all if you just edited them out completely.

I read the original short story by Truman Capote which is also very good. Actually some of the best dialogue in the movie is lifted word for word from the short story.

 
Rivkah writes:  

Vid, I’d forgotten it was a Capote story. I’d read “In Cold Blood” in high school which pretty much turned me off any of his other stories, but like as you said, if the dialogue in the movie is so well lifted from the story, I may actually check it out and give him another chance!

 
Centennial Collection: Funny Face » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] re-released in a two-disc special DVD set as part of the Paramount Centennial Collection along with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Funny Face [...]

 
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