My Fair Lady (1964)

My Fair Lady (1964)

My Fair Lady is a film about class.  It touches on how our assumptions about people are predicated on factors with which we have limited control over, namely accent and the sound of one’s voice.  Eliza Doolittle, played by Audrey Hepburn, dreams of being a flower girl in a high-end store, but her accent knocks her back.  She pays a linguist to teach ‘er to speak as a lady.  Ultimately, she finds herself somewhat displaced, feeling neither of the elite nor the common.  At the end of the day though, we learn that you are who are no matter what you sound like.

Accross the board, vocal performances are certainly strong, and the songs are all light enough to be a good time, but as with so many soundtracks the music has slipped into the ether already.  There are some amazing uses of stillness and motion, a real choreographic triumph, and the set-dressing and costuming is simply superb.

I felt that Hepburn’s performance was excellent, though it seems that most disagree with me – her lack of a Best Actress nomination for the role is a pointer here.  I thought her vocal work was stunning, though we should presumably credit her ability to jump between easily between accents to a skilled vocal coach as despite having a strong vocal presence her voice was quite famously dubbed (not that it’s obvious).

Yet while I enjoyed her performance, Hepburn to me is the epitome of the packaged star, a product created through the combined efforts of countless coaches, make-up artists and management teams.  It’s in a case like Hepburn’s that we’re forced to take note of the aesthetic nature of Hollywood’s cultural products, and certainly no less so in My Fair Lady.  This film is about presentation, and how one is judged on their aesthetics; how fitting then that the film’s central figure is played by someone already enormously successful for their look and style.

I can see now why Minelli chose to re-cast Hepburn when he made Gigi; in retrospect it was a damn good manouvre.  This film is aurally and visually beautiful, but lacks awareness of it’s own irony.

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