Friday, April 1, 2011

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., by Sam Wasson, is a little book with a lot to say.

The title tells you where and when shooting began on a silly-yet-pivital romantic comedy — the movie version of Breakfast at Tiffany's — and the book proceeds to put the whole production into the context of its time.

Think late-fifties, early sixties. The world was different then. I had forgotten how different.

What really interested me, though, was seeing how a story can be reimagined, and why this one had to be.

First of all, if you've never read Breakfast at Tiffany's, do it now. Go ahead. Go. The rest of this can wait and I don't want to spoil anything for you ...

It's stunning, don't you think, just how good Capote's comic tragedy really is. I just read it again and was astonished once more by how much feeling he was able to pack in so few pages.

But the novella — even though it provides most of the dialogue in the film and shows more than it tells — was not well suited for the screen. Not at the time.

In Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., we learn that screenwriter George Axelrod struggled with the adaptation and nearly despaired. This wasn't the typical Hollywood romance where Rock Hudson tries to bed Doris Day and she holds him off until they're married.

The central character, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn in the movie) is a Manhatten partygirl living off the largesse of rich old men. Virginity isn't an issue.

That was good because, we're told,  Axelrod had been itching to do a truly adult comedy. It was bad because he had the Motion Picture Production Code to worry about.

I watched the movie again last night and, while far from perfect, it is fascinating in its own right. Holly comes across as innocent compared to Paul, the male lead, who Axelrod reimagined as not just a struggling writer (as in the book) but one who prostitutes himself to a rich, older, married woman who leaves cash on the dresser when she leaves in the morning.

That was OK with Holly and with the censors and it all ends happily.

What I'd really like to see is a remake by the Coen Brothers.

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