I must have been about 14 the first time I ever watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It was playing one Sunday afternoon and can remember my Mam settling down with me on the sofa to watch it. She had already assured me that I was going to love it. Before I knew it, the film credits were rolling and my love affair with Audrey Hepburn films and classic cinema had began.. From her classic black, Givenchy dress, huge sunglasses to her nonchalant attitude, I had never encountered a character like Holly Golightly. Almost ten years later, and after watching the film countless times, Breakfast at Tiffany’s still remains one of my favourite films. And Holly Golightly remains a raw and powerful characters that works her way under your skin.
A couple of weeks ago Aurum Press sent me a copy of Sam Wasson’s Fifth Avenue, 5am: Audrey Hepburn and the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a New York Times bestseller that offers a behind-the-scenes account of the making of this iconic film. Being already a huge Audrey Hepburn fan, and having read a couple of biographies which touched upon her time on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I wasn’t sure how much more this book deeper this booked would delve, but I was looking forward to being whisked into 1960s New York and the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age.
What I hadn’t expected when I first received the book was a fresh perspective on the making of the film, from the troubles encountered by Paramount with Capote’s already notorious novella, an insight into the writer himself and his creation of Holly Golightly, to observations on the themes George Axelrod introduced throughout the screenplay, and of course the shooting itself. I literally could not put the book down. It’s filled with fascinating anecdotes from the famous names associated with the film’s production, and offering a rare glimpse into what life was like on set.
It recounts all kinds of colourful remembrances about some of Hollywood’s greats and their creative processes throughout the production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. From Blake Edwards’ methods of directing to how Mancini constructed Moon River as a piece of music perfectly tailored to Audrey’s not so spectacular vocal range, and Johnny Mercer dreamed up the perfect lyrics to make it a haunting lullaby from Holly’s southern roots. From how Givenchy transformed the character of Holly Golightly into a style icon with that little black dress.
‘The little black dress was easy to emulate: any young woman in 1961 could make one or even afford to buy one (and did they ever). Of course, they didn’t all get Givenchy’s LBD but that didn’t matter; because of its simplicity, any little black dress would do the trick – as millions would soon see, that was the beauty of it. What’s more, its simplicity wasn’t just pragmatic, it was an assertion of self. Pure understatement radiates confidence – individual personality as opposed to a prefab femininity. “I don’t need to embellish to be commanding,” it says, “I don’t need a fashion megaphone to make myself heard. I just need to be me.” It’s what Audrey Hepburn had been doing since Roman Holiday, but here she added a touch of girl-on-the-go. This was New York City.’
Whether you’re a fan of Capote’s novella or the not so closely adapted film, Fifth Avenue, 5am, captures a moment in cinematic history; tracing the development of one of the era’s most fascinating female character from print to moving picture. Demonstrating how some clever minds at Paramount introduced a character notoriously associated with sexual liberty and made her a household name. Not such a small feat in a time before second-wave feminism, where Hollywood compartmentalised women as saints or seductresses, who were to be married or inevitably punished for their promiscuity.
Moving, funny, heartbreaking and inspiring, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of those haunting films that ends with a Hollywood kiss, but doesn’t quite allow the audience the satisfaction of knowing these two characters will stay together. But maybe that’s because despite the changes to the script, and the carefully considered character manipulations to ensure the screenplay would be approved, Capote’s Holly Golightly is still there in essence. And she’s too much of a multi-faceted and complex character for a generic ‘happily ever after’ ending. She’s a nonconformist, an independent woman living alone in a time where sexual freedom was frowned upon and a life a domesticity wasn’t optional. Just like she claims, she’s a wild thing. And I think what empowers her at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and overcomes George Peppard’s horrific acting) is that you don’t really believe that she is ready to settle. Or at least I know I don’t.