Funny Face in VistaVision is a vision indeed. This classic movie hit the screen in 1957. It received four Academy Award nominations, and the dynamic cast gave their all.
Audrey Hepburn did a remarkable number of well-received, enchanting movies, including Roman Holiday, Sabrina and My Fair Lady. Throughout it all, this Hollywood star brought gamine panache to all her roles and, like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Grace Kelly, had profound influence on American style and the clothing industry.
Nonetheless, she does not carry this film alone. The original and creative Fred Astaire was on board to help define the magic, along with the under-appreciated Kay Thompson. This re-issue of the film, with its rich bright colors and Gershwin music, brings a new appreciation and interest in the golden years of Hollywood, and the fashion world of the Fifties and Sixties. However shallow and trite the plotline may seem fifty years later, the enchantment is indisputable.
The highly talented Richard Avedon, fashion designer par excellence, provided the inspiration and the impetus for accuracy to Fred Astaire's "Dick Avery," the pushy fashion photographer. In addition, Thompson brought sparkle to the role of the woman's magazine maven "Maggie Prescott," with magazine legend Diana Vreeland as the probable muse.
Even for the '50s, the plot was a bit trite, being a replay of the timeworn Cinderella story - albeit with a twist. "Jo Stockton," Audrey Hepburn's persona in the film, is a fusty-looking bookstore clerk in the Village. Dick Avery tramples her sensibilities when he takes over the bookshop for a photo shoot, crushing every complaint and barrier Jo tries to impose. Like ice before a Zamboni, Jo's "look" is smoothed over and refined by the dynamic duo of Avery and Prescott as they mold her into the classic model on the Parisian (and American) fashion scenes. Jo's naïve sweetness never seems cloying, though, and her attraction to the much older Avery comes slowly, on the wings of great songs, to craft a memorable movie masterpiece.
The vibrant pink of the "Think Pink" musical number sets the tone and pace for the piece, and the upbeat enthusiasm carries all the actors on its wave to Paris. The scenes shot there use the scenery as part of the cast, displaying the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Élysées and the stunning Notre Dame cathedral gloriously, both through the eyes of the cast as their plane circles Paris and from the ground as Hepburn and Astaire dance their way through the landmarks.
The reissue of this movie is so timely and charming, bringing back memories and appreciation for the Hollywood studios in their heyday. Just as a war-weary world took this Hollywood gem to heart in 1957, so can we indulge in some escapism while watching this newly released 2009 edition.
Just as director Stanley Donen satirized the movie-making industry with 1952's Singin' in the Rain, he treats fashion as fodder for his satirical approach in Funny Face. Despite the focus on fashion, it is most enjoyable to see Audrey/Jo in her small rebellions and attempts to use her stay in Paris for her own ends. Her bookstore clerk styles and appearance may have been changed outwardly, but inside Jo remains the same questioning reader, wanting to sit at the knees of great French philosophers and argue about "Empathicalism." This whole satire of the philosophical early hippie movement is hysterical, and the café scenes are great fun, with the beatnik/Apache style clothing, poetry readings and jazz/early rock music. These cats really swing!
Then, of course, there is the disk of special features. Although some of the segments on this disk are obvious paean of praise to the great studio of Paramount and its innovative widescreen VistaVision camera work, the chapter on VistaVision is recommended viewing whether you are a student of film or just enjoy the history of a fascinating industry.
The terrific Kay Thompson tribute is a must-see piece, for it highlights all her many talents, including her authorship of the well-known children's books about Eloise, the child who lives at the Plaza Hotel and creates bounteous mischief. The special features about fashion (Fashion Photographers Exposed and The Fashion Designer and his Muse) may be more for fashionistas rather than movie buffs, and the segment on Paramount studios comes across as self-serving and narrowly focused. But, since these are extra features you can watch or not, they don't affect the beauty of this reissued film, nor its delightful music, talented stars and remarkable scenery.
I don't believe this is one of Audrey Hepburn's best movies, but I was stunned anew at the range of her skills and the simple classic beauty of her face. Many of the still photos attributed to "Dick Avery" (Fred Astaire) were actually pictures of Miss Hepburn taken by Richard Avedon, who had a solid place behind the scenes of the movie as an advisor. Such beauty and presence is timeless and a feast for the eyes. Even if you have seen this film many times before, make a point to check out this release. Its re-mastered exquisiteness is worth adding to every movie collection.
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