Friday, January 16, 2015

On the Romantic Spirit in Breakfast at Tiffany's (And Why We Shouldn't Romanticize Hollywood)

After recently re-watching and re-reading one of my all-time favorite American stories- Breakfast at Tiffany’s- (no no no I'm not talking about the song Breakfast at Tiffany's) I’m left feeling like the romantic spirit of Audrey Hepburn, which is so beautifully epitomized in the movie, is something to highlight. Her happy personality and charismatic sweetness are just lovely. She's clever without being annoying; she's sassy and sweet. And her cheerful optimistic idealism? Let's talk about that.

{By the way, if you're interested, just a minor note on purchasing the novella: I checked Amazon, iBooks, and Google Books ( now called Google Play), and it's cheapest on the iBooks for iPad, at 2.99}.

1. Romanticism: Can We Trust It?

I must admit I’m a bit skeptical about romanticism, in general. Lots of things are easy to romanticize, like eating chocolate cake, or smoking, or drinking, or doing other things that kill you, without the full effect or the full impact of the consequences present in mind. It would be easy to romanticize lots of things... having lots of kids, living in the South,  my years as an attendee at Westmont college. Westmont was actually the place where I first read the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's.

But all of those things have nitty gritty negatives. And if you can pardon me a diverging, Westmont was everything a person would want to idealize, actually: a school by the beach, near Hollywood, in a well-to-do neighborhood… and yes, my roommate and I had some shining moments. We learned to surf, we attended The Price is Right, and we visited a famous photographer in his fancy home.

 Yes, easy to romanticize.  Easy to have unrealistic, idealistic notions about such a thing.

 But to be honest, the time I spent there were some of the darkest days of my life, because of my involvement in a ministry to the Juvenile Hall (see this movie profile, the movie based on the true story I'm discussing here).  When that level darkness and sin hits us, the ideals come crashing down like waves at the beach. Can you hear me now? Yes, Hollywood can be icky.  Romanticism.... can we trust it? No, not really.  I got burned by romanticizing Hollywood... very burned. And yeah, it takes a while to shake that kind of a feeling.

2. And yet, we can still be Romantics... in some ways.

 The movie, despite all of my bad experiences and post-traumatic stress, is a happy place for me. It starts with a scene of Holly having “breakfast”- a croissant and a cup of coffee- “at Tiffany’s”- she’s actually just peering in the window, gazing at the jewelry while she eats her breakfast.  It's lovely.  She’s dressed to the nine’s. Her hair and makeup look professionally done (and not just in the for-the-movies way- part of her character in the movie is that she likes to go to the salon). Later we find out why.

Although we think of a romantic as merely an emotional person, or someone who gets caught up in the passion, imagination, or personal introspection, I think it is something more than that. To romanticize a situation means to make sweeping claims, to gloss over the hum drum or the inconvenient, to override the negative with a delicious wave of oftentimes sentimental sweetness that can pervade fear.

In Holly Golightly, we see the negatives and the positives to this sort of mindset. The guy, "Fred," in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is an odd sort of guy. Maybe he got burned by romanticism like I did, but he seems hesitant toward Holly Golightly- at best- because he doesn’t seem to know  how to be romantic, or how to tell Holly that he loves her. He’s not the wooing, romantic type, although he is a writer in New York City… what could be more romantic than that? But he’s actually rather stiff.  Holly, in contrast, makes the romantic personality quite appealing.

3. Holly's romantic edge draws us in

Holly is romantic about money. There is a scene with an accountant, where they review all of her expenditures for the last month. The accountant finally makes the official proclamation: you could write a book about this.... and it would be a tragedy! This is certainly not the highlight of Holly Golightly’s character, but it keeps her cheerful nonetheless.

Additionally, she is romantic about men. She thinks "Fred" looks like her brother, and so that's the springboard once they meet, and they’re automatically friends. She lays her head on his chest, on their second meeting, mind you, and takes a nap, and assures him, “It’s ok, because we’re only friends.” It sounds racy, but there honestly couldn’t be a classier movie. She thinks she can just wave off her ex-husband with a few stories of letting animals go free in the wilderness. She thinks she can run away to Buenos Aires to get married. Even though she is impulsive, her freedom says "I don't care what you think about me, and I'm going to lose sight of the negatives." She'll fiercely cling to her ideals no matter what.

 4. She's a dreamer, which is ok.

 This conversation speaks for itself.

Holly Golightly:You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Fred: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?
Fred: Sure.
Holly Golightly: Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that'd make me feel like Tiffany's, then - then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name!

Holly draws us in. And despite her hairy flaws, and bad days, she's really quite appealing.

5. The nature of her romantic edge is sweeping.

 Holly Golightly isn't just romantic about money and men. She is romantic about life. An ardent idealism accompanies her love for Tiffany's. She wants the best of everything- she wants a diamond, though she thinks anyone younger than forty shouldn't wear diamonds because that would be tacky. She feels things deeply, and at times has almost wild emotions. She climbs into other people’s apartments through the window at all hours. She sobs in the cab ride scene, near the end of the movie with Fred. She copes with the pain of life by grieving, and even sometimes partying her blues away, and when she feels like it, she throws her cat out on the street, because she doesn’t want to belong to anyone anymore, not even her cat.

6. Being a Romantic is actually adorable (admirable?).

I won’t spoil the plot for you. I won’t tell you if she gets her cat back. However, I would argue that while the first two aspects of being a romantic are not so good, being a romantic about life is something that we can effectively all learn from. The first two are helpful in some regards, but also can be damaging or could have a deep negative impact. But being romantic about life, in general? In this movie, it’s classy; it’s inspiring. That's why we love romantic movies. And I think Audrey Hepburn's character in particular, and especially in Breakfast at Tiffany's, speaks to something inside of all of us.  Sometimes it is not only right but important to gloss over details of our past, because it helps us deal with painful memories, and honestly I think it helps the people around us to open up when we let go of the past. It helps others to soften in their rigid, fearful ways. Although she claims to be the one who doesn't want to belong to anyone, her fears and her vulnerable emotions teach Fred how to actually love her, and actually love life, and actually love other people.

7. Being a Romantic brings out good in others.
The redeeming part of the narrative of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is that Fred, our narrator, doesn’t know how to be romantic, but Holly brings it out in him. And via Truman Capote and the director Blake Edward's genius, and really good acting? Breakfast at Tiffany’s, like many really good movies and TV shows produced in Hollywood, brings the romantic spirit out in us all.

 I'm not saying Hollywood is without its underbelly of crime and other disturbances, but what I'm saying is, we can all agree- the world over- that movies like this keep our spark alive, and just like my love for this movie and novella, that's something we can keep coming back to again and again.

 Have you read the novella or seen the movie? What do you think? Any other Audrey Hepburn fans out there?;)

Linking up with Kelly and all the lovelies at This Ain't The Lyceum

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