(Or, in other words, half of Gigi.)
After a month of movies I adore, Reel 13 failed me on Saturday night by airing Gigi as the “classic” third of the evening. I love Lerner & Loewe; I enjoy Leslie Caron; Paris is lovely in the springtime. But I only made it halfway through this movie before modern sensibilities made it nauseating and I turned the channel. There was a Castle rerun on, and I hadn’t seen the episode. (Nathan Fillion is marvelous.)
I’m not much of a feminist – only when some complete stranger calls me “honey”, or looks astonished or tries to protest when I hold the door for *him* – hey, if I get there first, I’m holding the door. It’s called courtesy. I’ve had men take the door away from me and make me go first. Please. That’s called stupidity. The other thing that brings out the latent Gloria Steinem in me is a movie like this one … Although that button was only one of several that got pushed.
I’ve been reading criticism lately of reviews done without finishing a book or movie; I do understand the point that without seeing it through it may not be entirely fair to express a negative opinion of something … which made me a little uneasy about a few reviews on the book-focused side of this blog. But then again, why is a review of why I couldn’t finish a book or movie not as valid as one about why I loved a book or movie? Perhaps I’ll try not to be quite so scathing in my opinions – that would be nicer. But perhaps I’m just not that nice a person. (*insert smiley face here*) Regardless, I didn’t watch this movie through – this time; I know I saw it many years ago – and I’m talking about it anyway.
The film begins with Maurice Chevalier as Honoré Lachaille talking in Hays-Code-acceptable terms about sexual mores in 1900 Paris, basically – some women marry, and some Do Not (and we see an old goat in a carriage with, presumably, his wife (she’s stout and gray-haired, so she must be), having a wordless gesticulated conversation with a gorgeous creature in another carriage as they pass – she suggesting a tryst, he refusing and pointing out the rather obvious fact of his wife’s presence). And here was where I began to wax not only feminist but puritanical – or prudish, if you like; it wasn’t what I expected from a film from the so-prudish American fifties (1958). And it was nominated for – and won – nine Oscars. Quelle surprise.
Back to Chevalier – charming and suave, of course, he moves on from talking about general loose morals to singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” – and while he is utterly, well, charming (it’s the ultimate word for him), still in this 21st century the song is undeniably creepy. The motivation is not one of pedophilia – “little girls get bigger every day” makes the intent clear, and “without them what would little boys do” should be cute – but the fact remains that he was inspired to sing it by a six-year-old, and it’s just creepy. It’s like a pedo theme song. From there we pick up the story of Leslie Caron’s Gigi, who is a schoolgirl, playing with other girls nearby. I’ll say it again: schoolgirl, playing. I believe she’s supposed to be sixteen (a.k.a. jailbait). She hurries home, where her grandmother reminds her she’s supposed to be at her “lessons” with her Aunt Alicia, and so hurries off again, reluctantly. At her so-elegant aunt’s so-elegant home, she learns how to eat various things neatly and without disgracing herself (including ortolans – little songbirds. *sigh* “For centuries, a rite of passage for French gourmets has been the eating of the Ortolan. These tiny birds — captured alive, force-fed, then drowned in Armagnac — were roasted whole and eaten that way, bones and all, while the diner draped his head with a linen napkin to preserve the precious aromas and, some believe, to hide from God.” – The Wine Spectator) (now I’m queasy again), how to serve coffee and choose a cigar, how to tell real gems from fake (“Dipped!”), how, I suppose, to be a sparkling conversationalist … None of which is for her own sake or betterment, of course, but so that at some point soon some rich man (or hopefully a royal) will pay handsomely to take her on as arm-candy and sex toy. Yup, there’s Gloria raising her activist head. Sexual indenture … I suppose it has always been and always will be, but … maybe it was Gigi’s lack of interest in the whole thing (and schoolgirl clothing) that made it as nauseous as it was. The elegant aunt considers love (i.e., sex) an art, and feeling has little to do with it (though art without feeling is sterile and unpleasant … wait, “sterile” might not be the best word choice there, since that would be a plus in the situation); it’s an interesting viewpoint. And very sad.
But okay, it’s Paris, a hundred (and ten) years ago. Things were basically the same in England in this time frame, only less open – so at least the Parisians were less hypocritical about it. That’s something. And apart from her age and the fact that the girl herself would have, as I understood it, very little say in the selection of her first keeper – er, lover – I could get over it. (Except – – SIXTEEN.)
That put me in the mindset to be irritated, though, and a moment later the irritation mounted as Honoré goes for a carriage ride with his nephew Gaston (the beautiful but supercilious Louis Jourdan). Honoré’s general enjoyment of life in its every aspect clashes with Jourdan’s ennui, in song of course: oncle exclaims over the trees’ beauty, to which Gaston’s reply is “What color are they?” “Green!” “What color were they last year?” “Green!” “What color will they be next year?” “Green!” “I’m bored!” This could have been funny; instead Gaston’s declarations of boredom with life prompted me to the heartfelt reply “So die, then!” Rich spoiled bastard. The character never recovered from that initial bad impression.
The dubbing seemed awkward, in this song and throughout, and not just that of some other woman’s voice in Leslie Caron’s lips; I’ll come back to the spoken song thing Lerner & Loewe loved; and the choreography was, I’m afraid, dreadful – “I Don’t Understand the Parisians” almost made me turn it off right then, for all three reasons.
But then came the whole Eva Gabor storyline. Gaston’s latest mistress, Liane, a flamboyant blonde, turns out to be – horreur! – cuckolding him with – horreur!! – a skating instructor (who was quite a hunk, if a crummy actor), and so Gaston publicly humiliates her. (It wouldn’t have actually been all that much of a public humiliation for her, if she hadn’t drawn attention to the whole thing so spectacularly … Which I suppose is the point? He was breaking it off with her, so this was her play for the sympathy of the reading public?) Well, fine, that’s what you’re supposed to do, I take it – although I would think cutting all ties and refusing to recognize her existence would be at least as effective, but I’m not a fin de siècle rich bastard … But the next morning all of Paris is gleefully agog over the news of Liane’s suicide. Queasiness stirred, easing slightly with the lines “How did she do it this time?” “Insufficient poison!” (So much for sympathy – if this is her usual M.O. it’ll only bring scorn (not that they’re a real sympathetic crowd anyway). And someday if she really is in despair no one will notice.) But then there’s Gaston arriving at his Uncle Honoré’s place, where Honoré congratulates him heartily on his “first suicide – and at your age!” It was a little too early for the Castle episode, but I turned the channel anyway.
I was pretty sure Gaston would wind up marrying Gigi in the end, and according to plot summaries I pulled up he does after a few bumps in the road – but he thoroughly wasn’t supposed to. I can just picture Aunt Alicia’s reaction (HORREUR!) – and it should, unless Parisian society was completely and utterly different in all ways from English, at least come near to wrecking him socially: proper matrons would decline to receive someone like Gigi, wife or not. It’s an indication of Gaston’s inner nobility that he asks her to marry him – but can anyone say with a straight face that ten years down the line he won’t have picked up a new mistress or twelve? Really?
The movie came hard on the heels of My Fair Lady, and struck similar notes all over the place – literally, as in Louis Jourdan’s soliloquy, of which I only saw a little when I flashed back to 13 on a commercial: I couldn’t watch it. Jourdan may have been much prettier than Rex Harrison, but only Rex Harrison should ever have been allowed to do a half-spoken half-sung piece like that. Also, of course, were the many plot similarities – although Eliza Doolittle would have been appalled and outraged had she ever been made aware of such a comparison. She’s a good girl, she is – which protest would meet with blank, uncomprehending stares in 1900 Paris. It was supposed to be a frothy, light-hearted “romantic victory of love over cynicism” – the quote’s from an online review. I found it an obnoxious, callous, and mildly unpleasant depiction of a seamy and sordid practice of male superiority decorated with pretty costumes and sets and not-great songs: a far inferior and slightly depraved My Fair Lady.
Better luck next week.