Sunday, February 22, 2004

Breakfast In Translation

Picture two people, in a big, strange city. They live in the same building, and meet by chance. Both have committed themselves to relationships that give them...something...but not, apparently, what they hunger for. They talk, playfully for the most part, but they say things to each other they haven't said to anyone else. They explore the city. They party, and the colors around them suddenly shift from vivid to absurdly garish. Things get out of hand. People act and react unexpectedly. The Asian in charge of the place shouts something unintelligible and threatening. The couple is strangely amused. Anything could happen, but remarkably, the night ends innocently. The hangover is dealt with, the relationship continues, and reaches its inevitable crisis: they must either part, and return to their unsatisfactory relationships, or commit to each other. He does something crazy, stops the car, reaches for her and says something that could change it all for both of them...

As I watched Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, I couldn't shake the feeling I'd seen something like it once before. The next day it came to me: Breakfast At Tiffany's. Thank you, Deep Blue Something, for memories of 1995. Young Whisky, pulling on his finest pair of torn black jeans over his red cotton union suit and taking the Missus out to the Fox Theatre in Toronto’s Beaches to see a film that received yet another cycle of fame, due this time to a flash-in-the-pan favorite on “alternative” radio. The experience was one of those truly rare lovely Po-Mo moments: Deep Blue Something’s self-consciousness was but an echo of not just Breakfast’s protagonists, but director Blake Edwards as well. We were all in on the joke, it seemed: everyone in the theatre was wearing black (except for a few older folks, who apparently came to provide an audible cluck of the tongue as Mickey Rooney tried his hand at despicably racist caricature), and when we stepped back into the winter night, the air was heavy with Turkish tobacco. Interesting, then, that after yucking it up over Mancini’s “attention K-Mart shoppers” score, George “Hey, that’s Hannibal, from the A-Team!” Peppard’s performance within the trademark 60s primary-colors palette, we couldn’t help but reach for each other’s hand, and say, “I think I really liked it.”

Well. That’s something we’ve got.

People remember Audrey Hepburn’s turn as Holly Golightly, of course; her manic lack of attention, the black cocktail dresses, the meter-length cigarette holder. Holly’s party has become something of a kitsch fave, as well: the booze and diet-pill-induced euphoria, all saturated in the primary hues of the 60s. Watching these Cheeveresque revelers at play, it’s no surprise that their younger siblings became hippies. The party had just begun; it was the kid sister's birthright to turn it up a notch!

Still, amid the booze-and-speed-induced giddiness, there’s a tangible anxiety. The boundaries are shifting in ways that can’t be reclaimed. Marriage is a legal nicety that provides scant financial security. Passion is illusory. Distraction is all that remains.

New York City is a dominant, yet foreign entity as well. “Fred” (Peppard) and Golightly frequently appear as the only two people on any given street – the only two people in Tiffany’s, for that matter. No doubt NYC in 1961 was profoundly different from NYC post-9/11, but Gotham can’t have ever been that deserted.

The majority of the film seems to take place “on a Sunday in New York,” as Bobby Darin would paint it. Peppard and Hepburn’s impossibly thin physiques are of a piece with the sky-scrapers. Everything stands in opposition to the traditional. Isolation is assumed. Nothing is taken for granted.

In this chaotic landscape, love – or something like it – is discovered. The question is: does it do you any good? In BAT the question is answered with assertive will. "Fred" gets the final word, and turns the Casablanca standard on its head – love between two people is the only thing that matters in this topsy-turvy world. In LIT, the answer, in stark contrast to the lights that have set off the movie like a giant Roman Candle, is muted. The characters obviously feel better. Enough to compel the man to stop the cab, and pursue her.

He grips the girl, stops her in her tracks. He pulls her close, and he says something. But this time you will not hear it. It is not for you.

You’re on your own now. It is up to you to decide if another person’s love – or your own – amounts to a hill of beans in this crazy, mixed-up world.

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