"Next week, on the 20th of May, I proclaim 'Liza Doolittle Day..."
~The King of England, imagined by Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady
(note from Miss Dashwood: The real king of England has not actually sanctioned a 'Liza Doolittle Day on May 20th.)
(note from John Watson: You do know we don't have a king, right?)
Today, in case you haven't noticed, is the 20th of May, and as a self-professed musical geek, I'm celebrating 'Liza Doolittle Day with a vengeance. My mode of celebrating-with-a-vengeance involves listening to the movie soundtrack, loudly singing the movie soundtrack with my sister in the car, and writing a review of My Fair Lady for all my lovely blog followers. (That's you.) So please read and pay attention, because this blog post may prove very interesting. If you refuse to do so, you will be the most ungrateful, wicked blog readers, and the AAAAAAAANGELS will WEEEEEEEEP for you. (shush, Whovians, that was not a reference.)
I first saw My Fair Lady when I was nine years old, and at the time the only other musicals I'd seen consisted of the ubiquitous Sound of Music plus various Disney films. Having always had a liking for dry humor and gorgeous, over-the-top costumes, I fell in love immediately. In fact, I wrote the movie letters expressing my feelings two or three times every day. Sheets and sheets. (What are you sniggering at?)
I've seen MFL probably about a dozen times... I'm not sure of the exact number, but suffice it to say that it ranks high among my favorite musicals and even among my favorite movies of all time. One of the proudest moments in my fan-ship includes the day I talked my best friend into watching it-- not that she really required that much coaxing-- and she became a steadfast admirer as well. We even watched it together and talked through... um... most of it. Okay, moving on... some of you may remember the glorious day two years ago when the BBC Proms broadcast a live performance of My Fair Lady at the Royal Albert Hall, starring our own beloved Anthony Andrews as Henry Higgins. You can read my extremely jumbled and fangirl-y review of that delightful event here.
On to the movie review-- I believe I've blathered on about nothing long enough. You must be sick of words by now. Or maybe you're just sickened by a few days of MY sunshine. Well, I'm dashed.
I should mention that this review is going to be even more higgledy-piggledy than my usual offerings here-- I'm working on the assumption that everyone reading this has either seen or is relatively familiar with MFL. Therefore I will feel free to jump around and talk about whatever I want in whatever order I want to talk about it, just like a motorbus-- all bounce and go and no consideration for anybody. Or for anybody's poor nerves, either.
I've listened to a live concert version of MFL, seen it performed onstage, listened to the original Broadway cast recording and seen the movie many times-- and for me, Audrey Hepburn is and always shall be the one and only Eliza. I know her singing was dubbed. (and for the record, I don't think that's a bad thing-- it wouldn't hurt to dub a few other movie-musical performers' voices now and then, cough cough, lookingatyouRussellCrowe, cough cough.) I know Julie Andrews' voice blows everyone else's out of the park and that a lot of people felt that she and not Audrey should have played the role. But you know what? To me, Audrey Hepburn embodies Eliza in a way that no other performer that I've seen has ever been able to do, and if you don't like my opinion you don't have to read this post. Please don't think I'm being rude-- although the real question here is really not whether I've treated you rudely, but if you've ever seen me treat anyone else better.
Seriously, though, Audrey Hepburn is one of the best actresses the 20th century ever produced and she's amazing as Eliza. Also hilarious. And she delivers snarky lines like nobody's business. "My name is no concern of yours whatsoever." (Fun fact: years ago, my sister and I used to watch this movie on the computer in thirty-minute segments after our younger siblings went to bed, and it took us an entire evening just to get through that scene where Eliza comes to Henry Higgins' house, because we kept backing it up and replaying that one line and nearly killing ourselves laughing.)
Since this review is going to hop, skip and jump all over the place, let's talk for a moment about Eliza's clothes. If I can stop drooling over the dress pictured above for long enough to write about it, that is. Because that is, hands down, my favorite of her dresses. You can't see the skirt in that spot, but it's got three tiers and they've all got this superb scalloped edge. I want to make a replica of this dress someday. (In, um, a size that is not 0. Heh.) Known colloquially (read: between Melody and myself) as the Just You Wait dress, it's probably the cutest outfit in the whole movie. I'm not such a fan of the hair bow, but now that I think about it, this hairstyle is probably one of Eliza's tamer ones, so whatever.
I also really like her outfits in the lessons sequence-- in fact, I just love the whole lessons sequence, period. The lamp flame, the strawberry tarts, the pline kike (er... plain cake), the xylophone (which was so kind to let me come) and of course the infamous marbles.
"I say, Higgins, are those pebbles really necessary?"
"If they were necessary for Demosthenes, they are necessary for Eliza Doolittle!"
(Bonus: Demosthenes and his pebble-curing stutter are mentioned in another drama set in the early Edwardian era... anyone care to venture a guess as to which one?)
Then of course there's the classic Rain in Spain moment-- the climax of all the stress and study and wails of frustration that we've experienced for the last half hour. Say what you will about Henry Higgins (we'll get to him in a moment) but his English Language Pep Talk remains one of my favorite quotes from this movie.
"I know your head aches; I know you're tired; I know your nerves are as raw as meat in a butcher's window. But think what you're trying to accomplish. Think what you're dealing with. The majesty and grandeur of the English language... it's the greatest possession we have. The noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary, imaginative, and musical mixtures of sounds. And that's what you've set yourself out to conquer, Eliza. And conquer it... you will."
When I was in eighth grade (why does that suddenly sound like a very long time ago) I competed in various levels of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and some of the studying that went into that rather grueling process reminded me at times of Eliza's struggle to master proper English. One day I was particularly Down and Out about the whole thing (because really, why does vichyssoise have two s's preceding one and not one preceding two as logic would dictate?) and in a random moment of inspiration, went to IMDb, found the exact wording of the Pep Talk quote, wrote it out in my best handwriting (in INK) on the inside cover of one of my spelling notebooks, and read it over to myself every time I sat down to study. I still get chills and goosebumps at that part in the movie. And then even more when Eliza finally says it right. (Been known to tear up once or twice too, not gonna lie.)
"The rain... in Spain... stays mainly... in the plain."
"By George, she's got it. By George! She's got it!"
While we're on a sappy note, let's talk a little about Freddy Eynsford-Hill. (Yes, I know we haven't gotten to Henry Higgins yet, and yes, I know he's a more important character. But he'll get his turn in time. You don't think I'm a heartless guttersnipe for making him wait so long, do you?) This guy is the most annoying dweeb ever to derp his way through a movie, and I have on occasion been guilty of fast-forwarding "On The Street Where You Live." *cough* However, he provides excellent comic fodder, and he's definitely quotable on occasion. "It's the new small talk. You do it so awfully well."
Small talk is a bore sometimes, but Eliza is totally not. "My aunt died of influenza, so they say. But it's my belief they done the old woman in." This comedy-gold scene has become more or less iconic in my family-- we all know it by heart and whenever something goes unexpectedly missing, it becomes a contest to see who can be the first to shout "Somebody PINCHED it!" I can't decide who's funnier at the Ascot races-- Eliza ("why should she die of influenza when she come through diphtheria right enough the year before?"), Henry Teacup-on-the-Hat Higgins, or Henry's mother. "Henry, what a disagreeable surprise." I love her. :D Eliza's dress... not so much. "Oh, she's being pinned. Some of the clothes we got her didn't quite fit. I TOLD Pickering we should have brought her with us." The dress, in my humble opinion, resembles a Picasso painting of salt and pepper shakers. Or maybe a zebra. (Though I wouldn't mind wearing her hat just for fun.)
The Embassy Ball is another highly entertaining spectacle... Eliza's dress, hair and jewelry, for starters, and then Zoltan Karpathy's entire existence, and Henry Higgins' complete disregard for good manners, and of course Queen Dracula herself. Er, the queen of Transylvania. (But seriously. The fact that she looks like a vampire cannot possibly be mere coincidence.) Oh, and all the guests talking smack about Eliza behind her back in what looks exactly like a super-sophisticated game of Whisper Down the Lane-- until it gets to Higgins, of course, at which point it turns into Obnoxious Guffawing in the Ballroom.
Now let's talk about Eliza's hair. Behold.
I mean, what is it supposed to be? A rhinoceros horn? If so, it's on backwards. Is it supposed to mimic some bizarre Edwardian style that somehow got erased from all fashion records? If so, George Cukor could have done better. Also, Eliza just does not have that much hair on her head. In fact, I'm willing to bet that all the principal members of the cast don't have that much hair between them (excluding Mrs. Higgins, who's probably wearing false hair too). The dress is kind of weird too but you don't notice it so much because you're so busy wondering how in the world she balances that thing and if it's hollow inside and how long it took to make it and how many cans of hairspray were used and whether the blue M&Ms are really and truly better than the red ones. (note: they are.)
So let's talk a little bit about Henry Higgins, the misogynistic jerk who can tell what street you live on simply by listening to you talk for a sentence or two. He's self-absorbed, annoying, way too proud of his own achievements, and he pouts when his mother doesn't pay attention to him. He's also hysterically funny, but that is no excuse and I'm not using it as one. In short, I do not like Henry Higgins, nor do I condone any of his actions, but the movie would not be the same without him and he really is a lonely person deep down inside. And he makes really great one-liners. "Pay the bills and say no to the invitations." "I don't want one of those dresses with weeds here and weeds there." "But if you are naughty and idle, you shall sleep in the cellar amongst the black beetles and be walloped by Mrs. Pierce with a broomstick."
Also, his singing is abominable. Rex Harrison's, that is. Anthony Andrews did a swell job of actually, y'know, using the music for the songs when he performed the part. And Henry Higgins really does have some good songs. "I'm An Ordinary Man" is moderately hilarious if done tongue-in-cheek, and though "A Hymn to Him" gets old rather fast, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" is very touching and almost romantic. (One must be quick with the remote control and hit the mute button at the psychological moment when the song begins, though, to avoid a four-part repetition of a four-letter word. Ahem.)
*random pretty picture of Eliza in Mrs. Higgins' house*
Mrs. Higgins, by the way, is amazing, as aforementioned. "Henry and the Bishop, together? I shall be excommunicated." I wish she had further appearances. I like to think she and Eliza got together for tea regularly after the story ended and made snarky remarks about Professor Higgins and made friendship bracelets and wouldn't give him one.
I should also mention Colonel Pickering and Mrs. Pierce-- they're both dryly hilarious and they put up with a lot of nonsense from Henry Higgins, which says a great deal for their characters. But this review is already beginning to run long and I want to get to bed so I won't say much more about them. Feel free to elaborate in the comments if you think I left important stuff out.
So let's talk about the ending, shall we? MFL is left famously open-ended when the credits begin to roll, and people have various theories about how things should have turned out. George Bernard Shaw (a man with a beard, who wrote a play called St. Joan, all about Joan of Arc-- SUPER MAJOR kudos to you if you caught that reference) claims that Eliza and Freddy got married, but he also believed that the story made its way along well enough without any songs in it, so what does he know. I think that Henry Higgins was in love with Eliza, and it took her absence to make him realize that, but that they really weren't suited to each other in a romantic fashion. Sure, he was special to her, and she couldn't just walk out of his life forever, but they weren't meant to get married. I like to imagine that she met someone else, someone younger and less pompous, who fell in love with her and she with him (and this someone was NOT Dweeby Eynsford-Wimp) and they got married and moved into 27B Wimpole Street, where she and Henry Higgins remained friends and next-door neighbors until the end of their days-- and Colonel Pickering stuck around at 27A and occasionally he and Professor Higgins would take jaunts to India together and come back with fantastically egotistical stories about the escapades they had, to which Eliza would listen politely and say interested things, and then tell Mrs. Higgins about them afterward and they'd have a good howl together. Oh, and Zoltan Karpathy married the Queen of Transylvania but when she died he retired from public life and went and got a job wearing a cape and teaching math on some kids' TV show with muppets in it. Everybody else lived happily ever after, especially Eliza, who wore lovely clothes all the rest of her days.
As for the slippers... she told him to get them himself.