Thursday, April 19, 2012

'My Fair Lady' Open Thread

What did you think?


  1. I dearly loved "My Fair Lady". The dialogue was superb, the costume design gorgeous, the score lovely, and Rex Harrison brought Henry Higgins to life heart and soul. In addition, Audrey Hepburn delievers what I believe to be her best role. Charming, tough, a fighter, tender hearted. She was wonderful. My sister-in-law Patty used to say she couldn't watch this show because Henry Higgins seemed so mean to her, but then, that was a part of the story, part of the fun of it! You have to enjoy how thoroughly self-absorbed and selfish he is, knowing that it will be shown for what it is in the end. By the time we reach the Ascott Govotte it was becoming clear that the professor himself was an outsider, a misfit. He clearly was not fit for civil society and could not get away with his self absorbed boorishness. But he gets his comeuppance, does he not? Oh, yes he learns a great deal. He learns that he cares for the people around him, and not only know that he cares for them, but he comes to see the caring is a good thing. He learns of love and loss, and that the friendships are something he is fortunate in, that he can allow himself to be comfortable in their companionship. It's a great show.

    What did you think?

  2. What a delicious treat My Fair Lady is, the terrific songs, the gorgeous costumes and sets. I actually like Harrison's spoken songs; they seem to fit his character's temperament better than conventional singing would. Something about the openness, the vulnerability, in singing, the giving up control in the emotion of the moment, was well reserved for a few phrases here and there. My favorite are the the lines of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" that he sings, softly, when Higgins confronts the loss he is facing.

    I wish they could have tailored Eliza's songs to Hepburn's sweet voice -- so wonderful in Breakfast at Tiffany's "Moon River." (And the few bits she was allowed here.) Although Marni Nixon's voice was beautiful, and I did enjoy her most of performance. (Of course, now I'm dying to hear Julie Andrews' version.)

    And of course Audrey Hepburn is just absurdly lovely, in every way. I have to admit I was taken aback by her initial over-the-top screeching and gasping and crying out at every turn -- until I thought about the character in question: a young woman, unprotected, from the poorest, most powerless, segment of society. What else did she have but her ability to "make a scene," either to summon assistance or to gain an advantage? And very effective, too -- I'd do whatever she wanted to make her to stop.

    The "I Could Have Danced All Night" sequence was so perfect, so blissfully exuberant. Whether it is the excitement of a romantic awakening, or the sheer delight of knowing herself to be, for the first time, approved and valued, the uncontainable happiness Hepburn expresses in that scene -- mixed into the comically choreographed maids' efforts to get her to bed -- makes it my favorite.

    How exquisite she was towards the end of the film, both in the Ball scene, where she moved cautiously, but confidently, always charming, and in the scene with Higgins at his mother's house, where she is, by turns, angry, softened, sorrowful, defiant, and finally, simply, strong. So much happens in that scene! There is a moment that Higgins seems honest about her having changed him, but she deflects his grateful words. He speaks tenderly of how he will miss her, and she is almost caught before standing up to his attempt to manipulate her. He's not even clear himself what he is fighting for at this point, but keeps at it, decrying her ingratitude, sneering at her idea of marrying Freddy, accusing of her of an insatiable need for admiration.

    And it is in this scene that it is completely clear that the dreadful manners his mother deplores, the incivility he shows everyone, "the same manner to all human souls," is a point of honor he won't yield -- even to give the bit of kindness Eliza knows she is due.



    I haven't watched My Fair Lady since I saw it in the theater as a kid, at which point very little of it made sense except for the painful training sessions. (Like the first scene, where me meet the screeching Eliza -- I had no inkling that she was screeching because she was terrified of being arrested for prostitution.) I've always remembered the incredible costumes and posturings of the Ascot scene (not that I appreciated them properly!) but actually didn't remember how the movie ended.

    Coincidentally or not, the ending of My Fair Lady is the subject of tremendous discussions, given the change from Shaw's original Pygmalion ending, his much-later added Epilogue notwithstanding, made for the 1938 film adaptation. I haven't seen that film, so I don't know whether the final reunion is overtly romantic, but I like the ambiguity of the My Fair Lady ending. Higgins has recognized how much he values Eliza when he believes he has lost her; Eliza is strong enough to leave him, and, happily, strong enough to come back to him.

    And I love, love, love the last moments of the movie, when he is so sorrowfully listening to the first recording of Eliza's words, and she steps quietly in, turns off the player, and alerts him to her presence with the words he expected to hear from the machine. Joy slowly overcomes Higgins as he realizes she's come back, and, for a moment, Eliza is able to see plainly how dear she is to him, before he hides his emotion beneath his hat and demands the infamous slippers.

  4. That is so beautifully written, Cathy, that I wouldn't think
    of adding another thought. It would be my magic marker to your Van Gogh. Thank you for giving us that.

  5. I know. Isn't she something? I feel like JFK:

    "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it."

  6. Oh, stop!

    (Well, only if you want to...)