Friday, January 27, 2012

She is Hungarian! (Not)

When I first read the play Pygmalion I was in high school, and had already memorized My Fair Lady. It was then that I first came across the endnote that Eliza marries Freddy and the two live a happy life of shabby gentility. 

At first I was horrified - married to that idiot?  

It was years later that I finally realized: Professor Higgins is a meanie. 

I am never able to tolerate fictional or real relationships where one side is constantly mocked and mistreated. If two men court a woman, one all respectful adoration, the other snarky and making jabs at her expense, seriously, who truly cares for her? 

Pygmalion was based on a Ovid's artist of the same name who carves a statue of a beautiful woman. He "falls in love" with his own lifeless creation, finding real women unpalatable. After bringing a sacrifice to Venus (the goddess of love), she fulfills his wish to animate his beloved. 

And the two live happily ever after. 

Shaw's Pygmalion is built on that premise, but with a twist; Higgins takes this "squashed cabbage leaf" and by reforming her dialect, grants her a new identity in class-conscious England. He also treats her unkindly as his property, being his "creation."

In that last, stupendous showdown, Eliza proves her independence from him (even though he takes credit for that as well) and marches off, seemingly, to realize her own destiny separate from her Pygmalion. 

Shaw had it that she marries Freddy, who, while not the brightest bulb, worships her outspokenness and vitality. 

In the fabulous 1938 movie adaptation of Pygmalion, the ending is changed; the producers insisted upon a "happy" ending, where Eliza returns to Higgins, who realizes that he mourns her departure. Here's the full film; I highly recommend it. Thankfully it is closed-captioned. The great tell-off scene begins at 1:25:20 or so.  
This new ending takes the reworking to another hurtful level by having Higgins covering up his joy by callously demanding his slippers. 

As a child, of course I expected Higgins and Eliza to marry. When I watch it now, it is clear that if a bully like Higgins proposed to me, I would sock him in the nose first. 

Despite my disillusionment, My Fair Lady is a gorgeous film, of bright colors and vibrant songs and fabulous dialogue that does not get smothered in the music. 

Shaw's other themes, like the evolution of middle-class morality, are still explored (Morality did not exist, either amongst the wealthy, who did what they liked, and the poor, who couldn't afford it. With the rise of industry and the middle-class, they brought with them morality and religion, which was rather tiresome for the poor as well as the rich. Moving on.) 

Despite the fact that Eliza returns to be Higgins' whipping dog, I shall dwell on the film's merits as a musical. While Julie Andrews portrayed her on Broadway, she was not considered to be a big enough name for the film. 

This video dubs Andrews' voice over Marni Nixon's (Hepburn's dubbed singing voice). Oh, Julie. WHAT a voice. 
When I listen to Hepburn now, her voice distinctly bears an accent; I am no teacher of phonetics, but I can tell she is not a British-born. They should have gone with Julie Andrews, but I suppose Hepburn is all right. 


Sweet Profusion said...

OMG! I meant to post this exact (okay,hyperbole, but anyway) blog about a month ago. And your next one ("Oh so lonely") is so in sync with my blog of about a month ago (although opposite conclusion). Freaky!

iTripped said...

I first read Pygmailion last year, after having seen My Fair Lady about 50 times (that is not an exaggeration!). It is somewhat disappointing that Eliza settles into a life of mediocrity, practical— but no romance at all. However, the movie never did a great job of selling the romance either. Which is perhaps why they left it so ambiguous at the end.
The one thing that irks me is that Higgins never offers a sincere apology or admits that he has mistreated Eliza in any way. At the end he is still a pompous snob with hardly any redeeming qualities. In the last scene of the movie it is apparent that he misses Eliza— but love her? I think not.

Despite all the plot flaws, I can't help loving My Fair Lady. I'm a sucker for a good musical.

Princess Lea said...

SP: I'm starting to notice inter-blogger ESP. All the things I want to post others post before I do!

iT: Yeah, it is a romantic letdown, which musicals, on principle, is not supposed to do. But is a breathtaking film.

Higgins is so narcissistic he is incapable of truly loving someone else. He only misses Eliza in that she was a very competent personal slave.

Yedid Nefesh said...

i love my fair lady. In seminary, my bestfriend and i used to sit there memorizing songs from the movie...

ps: i think about you everytime i see the preview for starwars thats coming back to the movies :)

Anonymous said...

ITA, and not only for this movie. You have to watch it in the right time frame and at the right psychological age. Like Sixteen Candles--I'm sure that if I'd seen it in the 80's when it came out or in the 90's when I was a teenager, I'dve loved it. By the time I got around to it a few years ago, I thought the cute guy (forgot the character's name) was an arrogant jerk and I hated the ending.

Same thing with books. I was never allowed to read Catcher in the Rye when I was a kid, so when I finally did read it years later, all I could think was, what's the big deal? On the other hand, a few years ago I tried rereading The Outsiders and could barely slog my way through it, but omg, when I was 15 and reading it for the first time I had the hugest literary crush on just about every one of the characters--I probably spent that summer rereading it a dozen times.

Princess Lea said...

I grew up on musicals - I still have the old VHSs. I watched them all over and over and over, even though I didn't understand what was flying most of the time.

A lot of things need some sort of maturity to comprehend, like Gigi or 1776. As for books, there were plenty I tried as a kid and I thought were murderous, only to enjoy them as an adult.

As for Star Wars, all coming back in theaters - in 3D! I'm not that crazy about the prequels, even though they are visually gorgeous, but the acting kills me. The only one who was good was Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jin, and he was stabbed with a light saber all too soon.