Sunday, May 23, 2010
Funny Face..."let's give 'em the old pizzazz!"
Pizzazz! The very word only came into being with Funny Face in 1957.
Vividly colorful and stylish, Funny Face is a full-blown extravaganza, a collaboration extraordinaire of some of the greatest talents of the era. Producer Roger Edens and director Stanley Donen worked with writer Leonard Gershe, cinematographer Ray June, costumer Edith Head, couture designer Hubert de Givenchy, photographer Richard Avedon and the film's incomparable stars Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson. Abetted by several great Gershwin tunes, this is a movie with considerable pizzazz...
Funny Face had been a work in progress for years, but the vital element that finally brought the project together was Audrey Hepburn. Then under contract with Paramount, Hepburn was the hottest star in the business and any picture with her name attached had a great shot at getting made. She loved both the script and the chance to dance with Fred Astaire and signed on.
Astaire, then pushing 60, was coming to the end of his career in musical films. Funny Face and Silk Stockings were released within months of each other in 1957 and were his last great musical successes on film.
Though its title was taken from a '20s Gershwin musical in which Astaire had starred, that and a few tunes were all the film had in common with the Broadway show. The film's story came from "Wedding Day," Leonard Gershe's musical about the fashion world based on 'the aura' (rather than the life) of legend-to-be photographer Richard Avedon and his wife. Doe Avedon, a great beauty of the time, was a reluctant muse; it was her husband who turned her into a model and guided her career.
Kay Thompson, ace vocal coach, arranger and cabaret star, had worked with Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Lena Horne and many others while working for MGM's music department. Gershe had her in mind from the start for the role of Maggie Prescott, a character closely modeled on powerhouse fashion editor and style doyenne Diana Vreeland. According to Leonard Gershe, it was Vreeland who coined the word 'bizzazz' that morphed into 'pizzazz.' Thompson as Prescott is an invigorating presence and she steals just about every scene she's in; early on, her "Think Pink!" number kicks Funny Face into high gear.
Funny Face is a Cinderella tale, the kind of story that was Audrey Hepburn's specialty. The film begins in the offices of "Quality" magazine, where editor Maggie Prescott decrees that the world of fashion shall think and wear pink! Soon after, she and photographer Dick Avery (Astaire) venture into bohemian Greenwich Village on a shoot...where bookstore clerk Jo Stockton (Hepburn), an ugly duckling with swan potential, is unearthed. The plot takes off from there. Cut to Paris where newly made-over model Jo wears exquisite Givenchy haute couture and is gorgeously photographed by Dick everywhere in the City of Light. Songs are sung. Dances are danced. Love blooms. A fairytale ending eventually comes.
The plot is nothing new, but watching Hepburn, Astaire and Thompson cavort through this high fashion romp is so easy on the eyes and ears that in so many ways...'s wonderful.
Then there's the 'beatnik' interlude, most noteworthy for Audrey's dance routine in a subterranean Parisian club dressed in black clothes and white socks. Though Hepburn battled Donen over the color of her socks, he won and the result was memorable.
Director Stanley Donen, who was never nominated for an Academy Award, made some of the best and most popular musicals in movie history - including Singin' in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He also made several successful non-musicals, films like Charade and Two for the Road. In 1998, the Academy honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In his acceptance speech, he both sang and danced to Cole Porter's "Cheek to Cheek"...he knew how to "give 'em the old pizzazz!"
(YouTube has a clip of Donen receiving and accepting his award from Martin Scorsese)