Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sins of Cinema #2: The Musical

My Fair Lady (1964)
Perhaps one of the greatest ironies in movie lore is that Jack Warner got Julie Andrews her Oscar by NOT hiring her to repeat her Broadway triumph in My Fair Lady. If the head of Warner Bros had not deemed Fräulein Maria “unphotogenic” then Walt Disney would never have been able to use her in Mary Poppins. Julie was all too aware of this fact and even thanked Warner when she won her Golden Globe (love that stuff!).
Director George Cukor brought Lerner and Lowe’s 1957 musical adaptation of Pygmalion to the screen in 1964 not with Julie but with Audrey Hepburn. I believe this casting is one of the two reasons why the movie is a colossal blunder. Audrey communicates unfriendliness and does not have the musicality to carry the role. Her singing is clearly dubbed, which is fine if handled correctly, but the larger problem is her comfort in a musical. More at home as a socialite or a nun or a blind lady, she brings stoicism to Eliza Doolittle completely contradictory to the character.
The other major problem with the movie is mise-en-scene, a snotty film term meaning everything we see onscreen: sets, costumes, decorations, actors, etc. The set design has too much of an indoor look and is lit like a stage show. The costumes look uncomfortable and artificial. And don’t get me started on the scene as the Ascot race track (basically looks like the set designer from the Lawrence Welk Show had a weekend off and needed pick up a few extra bucks).
Rex Harrison seems to be going through the motions and his speak-singing soliloquies seem interminable (yet he won an Oscar). Cukor (one of my favourite directors- The Women, A Star is Born, Adam’s Rib) also took home gold on Oscar night but it is a truth universally acknowledged that this was a career-win since little of delicious style is present onscreen.
The splendid score survives virtually intact, something not commonly done in stage-to-screen transitions but is done in by poor pacing and deadly still camera work. Musicals should be alive and moving to conjure excitement in the viewer and this film remains an overrated stinkeroo.