ISLAMABAD: In yet another welcome engagement, the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), in their weekly film screenings of classic movies and world cinema, entertained again, putting on the Oscar winning musical My Fair Lady. The film, often a by-word for senior citizens and a yardstick by which the judge nearly every other movie, is typical of classic Hollywood; costume dramas replete with song, dance, big star names and an almost endless supply of celluloid.
Winning 8 Academy awards including for best picture, director (George Cukor) and actor (Rex Harrison), the film is at times quaint, at times winsome (thanks to the ever-charming Audrey Hepburn) and if you think nearly 3 hours is too much, a tad tedious. An adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the film, without any denigration whatsoever, is like a cloying version of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, a rags to riches with romance and stage tunes thrown in. This story’s Becky Sharpe is the equally famous and folksy christened Eliza Doolittle played by Hepburn. With her comet soaring at the time, Hepburn was one of the most recognisable stars of her age and one of the most iconic actresses in history. To her lower class, spirited flower girl is positioned the haughty, Edwardian phonetics Professor Higgins played by Rex Harrison in his Oscar winning role. Conducting an experiment of sorts, the Professor , in his self-assured almost conceited way, believes that with the right coaching, from him no less, anyone especially someone from the helots can be made to speak like the upper classes and pass off as one of them as well. This social experiment finds its test subject in Doolittle, who treated dismissively and badgered into correction starts speaking like her betters, and that as they say is the beginning of this story. Of course along the way, ‘duchess’ Doolittle finds love in the form of Freddy (played by the equally iconic Jeremy Brett, legendary for his turn at Sherlock Holmes) but as is usual with these pictures , expect things to end differently and sing all the way there.
The film is lush in its production with Hepburn’s grand dresses, the impressive set pieces and the countless songs. One almost has childhood memories of the films reruns on TV, “I could have danced all night” playing ceaselessly but of course not when sung in Hepburn’s voice. As elegant as she was, she was no songstress, possessing neither tone nor timing. It was to the relief of the studio and audiences alike, when Julie Andrews, silver screens Mary Poppins and star of the films stage production sang for Hepburn, thankfully dubbing out her voice. Of course to modern sensibilities such films may indeed seem dated and possibly even boring (My Fair Lady did stretch it), these films are in a tradition very close to our own cinema, the musical being a staple in this part of the world.
Another appreciated effort by SAFMA. Here’s to more.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2010.
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