I went to an all girl’s school for my high school years, and for most of that time I was harbouring an interest in film although I had no one to talk to. I was always dismayed when people would talk about Scary Movie 3, White Chicks or the newest Blockbuster release as their favourite film, which usually was the case. There was one exception though, Audrey Hepburn films. It always puzzled me, why Audrey Hepburn? Even as a more seasoned cinema fan, I hadn’t had a chance to see any of her films. It became a puzzle for me that I’m still trying to work out. The puzzle only became more difficult, when I saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which was the most popular Hepburn film among my school mates. I finished, and I just didn’t get it. I still don’t. Why Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
I’ve since seen a few more Hepburns, The Children’s Hour (1961), Charade (1964), Roman Holiday (1953), Wait Until Dark (1967) and Sabrina (1954). They’re all better and more interesting films than Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and at the very least Sabrina and Roman Holiday seem to speak to teenage girls on a much deeper and wishful manner than Breakfast. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the story of a young, and beautiful socialite who’s trying to move ahead in life, while escaping her past and ignoring her lack of funds. The film sugar coats her profession, which is something of a high class escort, and it plays out like a better than usual soap opera with a great score and a tremendous actress… although, I may be underestimating the story. Maybe I should ask myself, what works instead of what doesn’t to really arrive at a feaseble answer.
First, what makes Holly an appealing character? She’s attainably beautiful, feminine, and fun loving on the surface. On first impressions, she seems utterly carefree and almost shallow. Throughout the film we have small revelations about her though, she isn’t quite as she appears. For one thing, she’s far from carefree. She’s escaping a past that confined, trapped and limited her, and now she’s barely making enough money to survive. Second, she isn’t shallow and is genuinly a kind and caring person. The story doesn’t unfold as if a “mean girl” actually has a golden heart, but reveals our own stereotypes and impressions to be wrong. It makes me think that perhaps I might have been too quick to judge my class mates, and perhaps they strived to be something different and better, but never could get past the guilt. In many ways, they behaved much like she does in the film. Striving for popularity and acceptance, even money seemed important. In this film they might have seen a parallel journey that I personally couldn’t connect with, not feeling the need to strive for the same kind of social and financial acceptance as they did.
I think this also is matched with their parents expectations that they would be successful in school, as well as a definite indication that a good marriage to someone successful was important. It’s a similar journey that Holly must take, minus the school… she’s looking for a rich man to set her for life, even if he won’t make her happy. Somehow along the way though, she finds real happiness and real love with a man who she didn’t intend but in the end she’s truly happy for the first time. Does Breakfast at Tiffany’s represent an escape from the status quo? Or is it just an escape, a romantic fantasy of living in the big city with beautiful clothes, and big parties? It might be a little bit of both, but I think in giving credit to people, it’s the first. I may not like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but for whatever reason it speaks to young women today as it did 40 years ago, and that perhaps is a true sign of timelessness in art.
For me though, Roman Holiday is a far more beautiful and attainable fantasy and story of escape from responsibility and societal expectations. Like Tiffany’s it’s about a young woman who wants to escape her birthright. There perhaps requires more imagination in latching on to the story of a princess who escapes from her life for a day, and maybe her high placement in life makes her more difficult to latch onto then the more down to earth Holly. Roman Holiday though, is closer (at least in my experience) to the beauty and discovery of youth. That first time finding love and discovering the magic of the world around you. Even as I’m ending my teenage years, I still don’t think I’ve had the same chance Ann; one day free from responsibility, and worry. Her Roman Holiday represents all the dreams of a young girl, and yet doesn’t veer far enough to escape duty entirely, as in the end she decides to return to where she belongs, however reluctantly. Maybe though, my attachment to this romantic fantasy reflects on the lack of pressure in my own life, or perhaps more correctly, an urge to escape some of the pain of the real world, instead of being reminded of it.
The common bond between them though, truly is Hepburn. Her appeal is timeless, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next generation, or two generations after that continue to latch onto her films. Hepburn represents the ideal of young women everywhere, and many men, I’m sure, feel the same way. She is one of the few icons that have stood the test of time.