Funny Face (1957)

funny_faceThere’s a moment of pure irony in connection with Funny Face. It wasn’t obvious (or even existent?) in 1957 but half a century later one cannot but laugh in regard of how it all went down. In 1957 Hollywood laughed both at Paris and Greenwich Village, dubbing all their residents as silly intellectuals or even sillier bohemians (as much as it’s laughing at hipsters nowadays), absolutely unaware that entire American cultural game will massively change in just a couple of years. Sixties were just around the corner and no one involved in the production of Funny Face saw them coming. It is interesting to note that Funny Face didn’t make such a big impact when it just came out. It required success of My Fair Lady to finally make it big (this was mid ‘60s) and it happened much because of Audrey Hepburn and her upcoming iconic role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s though when one tries to be sane about it one can easily spot that Kay Thompson actually stole the show, both from Hepburn and Fred Astaire alike. Still, going back to uptight jeering of industry’s professionals which basically makes an entire plot (together with rather nonsensical Cinderella transformation) one can’t but notice how quick it plummeted from high and mighty, sort of snobbish, attitude of an entertainment industry towards those pesky buggers from bookstores to somewhat sad example of a losing game big studios played (the fact that they reconciled after Star Wars is a story for some other time though a very interesting one because of the appropriation of bookstore-people and subsequent reconfiguration of them).

vlcsnap-2014-07-11-09h31m57s253Anyhow, this is all wildly interesting (at least it is to me) though it is so only if we assume somewhat radical position of caring about the plot in any given musical. This position isn’t that radical (mostly because it isn’t that new) and is reminiscent to many similar positions which both intellectuals and “intellectuals” took in relation with a concept of mass-entertainment (on the other hand, mass-culture was vindicated). While industry insisted (and still keeps on insisting) that movies-as-an-entertainment function within the innocent bubble governed by free market concepts of supply and demand (thus disregarding entire concept of plot outside its genre applications) opposing factions tried to show that every choice is a political choice and every political choice made by mass media is more or less connected to concepts of manipulation and cultural production. Still, what happens when we refuse to play this game of political interpretation?

vlcsnap-2014-07-11-09h31m43s128When dealing with contemporary, that refusal is somewhat luxurious. What happens now has an effect on now and one should learn to read ideological products. But, when dealing with historical artifacts like Funny Face that kind of reading can only lead to something like a cultural (or historiographical) archaeology. Are we allowed to enjoy ourselves half a century after the fact? Question is important because when we disregard the ideological from Funny Face what remains is a layer of iconic professionals doing their jobs in more than an agreeable manner. One can’t deny charisma of Kay Thompson (or Audrey Hepburn for that matter), one can’t deny fluidity of motion of almost 60yr old Fred Astaire, once can’t deny skillful use of language and sense for comicalities and so on. One can (and one should) ask himself towards what end all of these had been employed but once we answered that question (and we answered it many time since then) than our responsibility stops. Buddhists keep on insisting that entire world is nothing but a maya, illusion, yet what they fail to acknowledge is that one can be aware of the ontological status of the world and still find enjoyment in the pure quality of construction. One had to be a hell of an engineer to produce such a grand-sale illusion and it’s hard not to admire such grandiose skill. After all, credits were credits are due.

Directed by Stanley Donen
Produced by Roger Edens
Written by Leonard Gershe
Starring Audrey Hepburn
Fred Astaire
Kay Thompson
Michel Auclair
Robert Flemyng
Music by Adolph Deutsch (main score)
George Gershwin
Ira Gershwin
Cinematography Ray June
Paramount Pictures

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