Saturday, December 28, 2002

The traditional Christmas movie for most people, apparently, is It's A Wonderful Life. I've never much cared for that film, though -- I find it overlong and cloying. The whole "Capra-esque fantasy" thing was done much more effectively, for my money, in Field of Dreams. My traditional Christmas-season film has nothing, really, to do with Christmas, but it has everything to do with dreams and love and the majesty of the English language. The film is My Fair Lady.

I've always loved musicals, and among composer-and-lyricist teams, Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner are my favorites. This is their towering achievement, when music of consumate charm blends perfectly with lyrics of sparkling wit and life. Only Lerner and Loewe could make wonderful songs of such character qualities as elitism ("Why Can't the English"), sloth ("With a Little Bit o' Luck"), drink ("Get Me To the Church On Time"), and misogyny ("I'm an Ordinary Man", "A Hymn to Him"), all the while never depicting these qualities as desirable but not quite as faults, either. And what a film it is that does not treat the growing love between the two main characters, Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, into something they resist as strongly as they can as opposed to an elemental force to be cherished. A telling moment comes when Freddie Aynsford-Hill, hopelessly smitten with Eliza even though he has spoken to her but once, launches into a rapturous love song ("Speak, and the world is full of singing; my heart is winging higher than the birds....") only to have Eliza harshly interrupt him ("Show Me"), because she is so sick of "words, words, words". My Fair Lady is a film where Professor Higgins does not even admit that he has fallen in love with Eliza, but that she has become a part of his life in such a way that "her ups and downs are second-nature to me now, like breathing out and breathing in". Only Professor Higgins could admit his love in the words, "I've grown accustomed to her face".

My Fair Lady also succeeds on the visual level. Every scene, almost every shot, is carefully considered with wonderful attention to nuance and detail. From the opening credits, ablaze with color in a montage of flowers, to the streets outside Covent Garden, to the Professor's study (I want a writing-room like that), to the race at Ascotte, to the stunning glory of the Embassy Ball -- My Fair Lady is a gorgeous antidote to the darkness that seems prevalent in movies these days.

And I haven't even mentioned the glory that is Audrey Hepburn....

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