Friday, 9 March 2007

New Column - "Think Pink!!!!" - a look at "Funny Face"

As I watched The Devil Wears Prada, for a second time, and Meryl Streep made her first entrance as Miranda Priestley, I half expected her to unroll a swathe of magenta fabric and cry ….

"To the women
of America..."-no, make it to the women everywhere: "banish the black, burn
the blue, and bury the beige! From now on
Think pink! think pink! when you shop for summer clothes.
Think pink! think pink! if you want that quel-que chose

How strange! you may say, or how camp! . Well I can’t deny the latter as it would be very camp indeed, but not really as strange as you may think. You see, I suddenly found myself taken back in time fifty years to that other movie focussing on the fashion industry – Funny Face. Like The Devil Wears Prada one of the protagonists of the movie is a magazine editor, Maggie Prescott, played by Kay Thompson. Much as Meryl Streep makes her first assertive entrance in Prada, Thompson strides into the offices of Quality Woman magazine with Think Pink the campest of Movie musical songs – specially written for the movie by Roger Edens. Directed by long time Gene Kelly collaborator Stanley Donen, and featuring a score of ravishing George and Ira Gershwin songs, Funny Face is a delightful film musical that looks at the world of fashion in a much gentler age. The film was originally set to be made by MGM’s “Freed Unit” but due to a number of difficulties it ended up being produced by Paramount. Alongside Thompson stars the legendary Fred Astaire as Dick Avery, a fashion photographer - said to be inspired by Richard Avedon, who also advised on the film. Rounding out a trio of lead characters is Audrey Hepburn as philosophy fan and book shop employee Jo Stockton, a role initially rejected by Cyd Charisse.

Red is dead, blue is through,
Green's obscene, brown's taboo.
And there is not the slightest excuse for plum or puce
-or chartreuse.

Dowdy Greenwich Village book store clerk Jo is shaken to her bones when the Quality Woman team arrive at her shop for a fashion shoot. With total disregard to the store they leave the whole place in great disarray, and the only saving grace is the fact that Prescott has placed a large order for books. When Jo takes the books to the magazines offices, she finds herself prodded and pummelled as Avery believes she has potential to be a model. She has no interest in the world of fashion at all, but lured by the chance of going to Paris, the philosophy capital of the world (and the possibilty of meeting Professor Emile Flostre the founder of empathicalism), she acquiesces and goes along with the scheme! So the day finally arrives and Jo is in Paris for the first time. All goes well to begin with until, after a misunderstanding, Jo runs away to try and meet Flostre. Avery and Prescott are determined to save the day so manage to gate crash a soiree held by the philosopher , posing as hillbilly folk singers where they perform the energetic Clap Yo’ Hands. Flostre is exposed as only being interested in Jo for her looks rather than her mind, and Jo returns to her modelling assignment Naturally throughout the story there is an attraction developing between Astaire and Hepburn’s characters and it’s inevitable that they should end up together, so when the denouement finds them falling in love it’s no great surprise.

Think pink! forget that Dior says black and rust.
Think pink! who cares if the new look has no bust.

As is often the case, despite Leonard Gershe’s screenplay being Oscar nominated, the plot is slender and fluffy – but what better for a film set in the world of 1950’s fashion? The film was of course largely shot in Hollywood, but some location filming in Paris, as well as the scenes set in New York, gives the movie a very cosmopolitan feeling. The film is beautifully shot and designed so it’s no surprise that it also received Oscar nominations for Art Direction-Set Design, Cinematography and, appropriately, costume design. The costumes were designed by legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head and also Paris couturier Givenchy who was Hepburns favourite designer and dressed her in most of her movies.

Now, I wouldn't presume to tell a woman
what a woman oughtta think,
But tell her if she's gotta think: think pink-!

1927 had seen a Broadway production of Funny Face starring Fred and Adele Astaire, yet the screen version shared only the shows title, a handful of the songs and of course it’s leading man. Astaire is, of course, at his most urbane and sophisticated, in his role as the photographer who nurtures Hepburn in an almost Pygmalion like way. Not noted as a great singer I have always preferred the vocal stylings of Astaire (and Gene Kelly) to the more noted vocals of Crosby, Keel and Sinatra. It’s not surprising that he was a dancer that composer’s loved to write for, as his lightness of touch lends itself perfectly to the tunes of Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern and, in this case, George and Ira Gershwin. From “Funny Face” over the opening credits, to highlights such as Clap Yo’ Hands with Thompson, Fred gets ample opportunity to display his vocal chops and terpsichorean skills, particularly in Let’s Kiss And Make Up where he dons a cape and cane. As Galatea to Astaire’s Pygmalion, this is a rare musical role for her but, charmingly, Hepburn is not dubbed as she was in My Fair Lady and does her own singing. Her voice is by no means great , but has the same warmth and husky quality that her speaking voice does. Her rendition of How Long Has This Been Going On, while alone in the book shop, is touchingly effective despite her vocal limitations. It’s nice to have an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of Hepburns dance training too, particularly in the Basal Metabolism number. It goes without saying that Miss Hepburn more than had the charm to carry the role off – I suspect she may have been size zero too! Now, last but not least of our lead trio, Kay Thompson was one of the greatest performers of her day, cabaret artist, musical and vocal arranger extraordinaire and even the author of the popular Eloise childrens books, but she rarely ventured into film and Funny Face remains her biggest film role.

-for bags! pink for shoes!
Razzle, dazzle and spread the news!
And pink's for the lady with joie de vive!
Pinks for all the family.

Despite seeming a perfect setting for a musical, the world of fashion has only occasionally appeared in the world of musicals. Fred Astaire’s only rival for the title of best screen hoofer, Gene Kelly, co starred in Cover Girl with Rita Hayworth. Cover Girl is very dated and not really quite as good at all as Funny Face but it did provide us with that most beautiful of standards Long Ago And Faraway from the pens of Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin. On stage it was that other stellar Hepburn, Katharine, who appeared in the most famous Broadway fashion show – Coco. With a score by Alan Jay Lerner and Andre Previn, Coco told the story of Coco Chanel and her fashion house, and garnered a Tony nomination for Hepburn and her presence undoubtedly helped to make the show a success.

Try pink shampoo.
Pink toothpaste too.
Play in pink, all day in pink,
Pretty gayin pink.
Drive in pink, come alive in pink,
Have a dive in pink.
Go out dancing but just remember one thing:
You can get a little wink
If you got a little pink
In your swing.

I am not sure if the original soundtrack of Funny Face is currently available, but I am sure it will appear soon in a re-mastered version as everything seems to get it’s moment. Of course it is best enjoyed as a film, and the DVD is widely available.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love the suite,,,I want to use this song for a commercial, our company has idea for it,