Funny Face, Centennial Collection (1957/2009)
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson
Director: Stanley Donen
Studio: Paramount 4 [Release date: Jan. 13, 09] 2-disc set
Video: 1.85 (VistaVision) enhanced for 16:9 color
Audio: English DD 5.1, English restored PCM mono, French or Spanish mono
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: “Think Pink” – Kay Thompson, This is VisaVision, Fashion Photographers Exposed, The Fashion Designer and His Muse, Parisian Dreams, Paramount in the 50s, Original theatrical trailer, Photo galleries
Length: 103 minutes
This is the wonderful Gershwin-infused song and dance extravaganza which won all sorts of Oscars and followed Stanley Donen’s previous musical Singing In the Rain – widely regarded as the best film musical ever made. The earlier musical made fun of the movie industry and the high fashion industry was his target this time. Fred Astaire had starred in a 1927 Broadway production of a Funny Face which was written by the Gershwins, but the movie is based on a story inspired by the romance of fashion photographer Richard Avedon with the model who became his wife. (Avedon was also a consultant on the film and Astaire’s character replicates his unique style.) However, the film uses four great Gershwin songs which are its musical highlights. Another nice touch is that the studio allowed Audrey Hepburn her own distinctive singing voice.
Hepburn plays a shy, French philosophy-obsessed bookstore clerk who is discovered by photographer Astaire when his crew invades her basement store to use it as a background for a series of fashion shots. The Greenwich Village clerk is quickly transformed into a high fashion sensation by Astaire and Kay Thompson as the editor of a top fashion magazine. The goal of a trip to Paris to meet her favorite philosopher is enough to get Jo (Hepburn’s character) to go along with the makeover. Of course her attraction to Astaire also helps. The Parisian settings are just what one would expect, and they look spectacular in the hi-res VistaVision format – which is explained in detail in the interesting special feature on the subject. VistaVision involved running the 35mm film sideways thru the camera and projector, thus achieving a 2.5 times larger transparency, similar to that of 35mm still film cameras. The added resolution clearly transfers successfully to standard DVD format, just as do the IMAX films using the same basic format idea. The other featurettes on the fashion business and Paramount Studios are worth watching as well. As with most transfers of original mono soundtracks to 5.1 surround, there’s not much in the surrounds except for occasional swells of orchestral music.
This delightful musical has everything going for it: Audrey Hepburn, Gershwin’s terrific music, great dancing from both Hepburn and Astaire, and the glittering Paris backgrounds. Sure, the age difference thing may make it seem a bit dated, but somehow Astaire brings it off with more aplomb than did Woody Allen.
– John Sunier