VIDEO: Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

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This week, Ursa delves into the pretty-but-bleak world of Holly Golightly. Featuring Audrey Hepburn, little black dresses, pearls, and an unsettling parallel with Anastasia Steele (can you spot it?), this review covers books, movies, and iconic images.

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  • danbreunig

    Bonus points for semi-obscure reference to America (“cat with no name”).

    This was quite the book report, Sursam. For all the fan-love I’ve heard through the years for this movie, this is the first time I’ve seen anyone actually pick it apart–and I’m so glad you did. I watched this just once back in 1999 and, like you said, just remember the visuals amidst a barely-emphasized plotline. “You know Breakfast at Tiffany’s? The one with Audrey Hepburn, a black dress, 60s romantic New York, and ‘Moon River’? Yeah, that’s all I remember it for, too…”

    If it weren’t for your thesis here, I’m sure I’d go the rest of my life still wondering what was so significant about this film, even for its day. Maybe I was just too uninformed about the characters because I didn’t read the book first, or because that was a bizarre year for me and I was too precoccupied to really focus on the film as I watched it. But the only time I really *felt* for the characters was when Holly’s brother was killed, and I started to care… and soon stopped again.

    I sure got more understanding from your analysis though, more than the film itself, and that alone gives it a whole new light for me. I’m not particularly moved by BatT’s, and I think it’s because these characters aren’t really relatable to me. Instead I found more meaning in You’re A Big Boy Now (also in the 60s romantic New York field), because the characters were a little more pathetic, which actually made me sympathize for and with them, and it was more lighter in tone, so that may have helped.

    I think I’m going off track now, but–I really enjoyed this review because of the insight you had for it that I wasn’t moved to notice before. You made me care much more than before, and that sure means sumthin’.

    • Jill Bearup

      Thanks! It was meant to be an easy episode…it turned out anything but that! 🙂

  • $36060516

    As problematic as the gender and racial messages of the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” are, people like my mom felt Holly Golightly represented a romantic single woman life in a romantic city (despite all of the unpleasant aspects of the story) and were imprinted for life with the music of that film. Mom played that music on her piano for decades afterwards. Speaking of which, surprised you didn’t mention the Mancini score as one of the aspects of the film that remain powerful. I don’t see how geek-favorite films like “The Avengers” can measure up to it as something that touched people in that way.

    • Jill Bearup

      “I don’t see how geek-favorite films like “The Avengers” can measure up to it as something that touched people in that way.”

      Well, I don’t know about The Avengers inspiring people to play its music on piano for decades afterwards (I think its effects on culture and on people individually will be rather different), but the only other film I’ve ever seen have the ‘play the music over and over’ effect was…

      …wait for it…


      Yup. My Heart Will Go On is a beautiful piano piece. But it got such overplay that I know a lot of people who still can’t listen to the original. 🙂

      So Breakfast at Tiffany’s was like the Ur example of Sex and the City for people like your mother? Would that be a sensible parallel?

      • $36060516

        A very thoughtful and perceptive reply! And yes, a sensible parallel, though I can’t say for sure not having been there. Frankly I was probably just having one of my middle-aged crankypants moments when I wrote my original post, and so had to negatively contrast a popular cultural touchstone of the present with one of the past, simply to be all “kids get off my lawn” and stuff. Minor side note, you put together a great personal interpretation of Golightly’s outfit for this review, one that expresses your own personality while subtly and effectively referencing hers.

  • Muthsarah

    You inspired me to watch this movie again, and I’m happy you did.

    I watched this review the day you posted it, and I didn’t have anything to say immediately, because the first time I saw the movie, I had very, very mixed feelings towards it, and I had no idea what to say, even though I always try to comment on your reviews if I have anything remotely meaningful to babble in response to it. I had thought Holly to be annoying, at least through the first 2/3 of the movie, and I had a rather unfavorable attitude towards Audrey Hepburn’s character, given how much I love Roman Holiday and liked (with some reservations) Sabrina. I was this close (I’m holding two of my fingers very close together) to posting a big, long rantish post about how I didn’t like the movie, but didn’t know why exactly, and how I suspected it may have been about how I didn’t accept Audrey in this role, and what that says about me, and typecasting, and blahdy blah. I eventually decided to just nut up (as they say) and watch the damn thing again.

    And I actually liked it this time. Third time’s the charm, as, again, they say. First time, I found Holly irritating and fake (it was a long, long time ago, this), second time, I found her pitiable, but still aggravating, especially when she loosed poor Cat in the middle of nowhere in the rain like a….bad person. This time, however, I actually liked her, despite that last bit. She was a very strong character; not the boring type that has it all figured out and thus has nowhere to go as a dramatic character, nor as a passive nothing, nor as an annoying whelp who needs another character to fix everything for her, but as someone who has made her own choices and has lived by them for better (the end) or worse (the beginning); in other words, a recognizable person. Paul helped her overcome the stickier obstacles in her jaded/doomed view on life, but, this time, finally, she seemed to be already a nearly-complete character, a real living, breathing woman running away, as always for early Audrey, from the old world she didn’t want into the new world she didn’t fit into. I’m a lil’ surprised that it took until the third view to feel like I actually understood Holly’s character (and this having read the book before even my first Audrey film), especially given how iconic this movie has been for her, and how much this icon…icity has informed my view on Audrey and her characters long before I saw one of her movies for the first time. Maybe it was my mistake for buying too much into the traditional fairy tales of her early films and not fully appreciating the more modern fairy tale of this movie.. But it all worked out, for Holly and for me as a viewer.

    And given that I had already given the movie two watches and been left unsatisfied, I suspect I would have been unlikely to have given it a third try anytime soon. But you did, indirectlyish, inspire me to give it a rare third try. And it took. Finally. There’s one cinematic monkey off my back. Thank you, Jill. Now I feel like I can not only talk, but think, about this movie freely. You’ve liberated me. :p