Funny Face (Blu-ray)

[Note: Parts of this review have appeared in a write-up concerning a previous DVD release of this film.]

The first time I saw Fred Astaire glide across the screen with Ginger Rogers in Swing Time (1936), I was mesmerized. They seemed to move so effortlessly, almost as if they were walking on air. Fred led Ginger in the dance routines like it was the most natural thing in the world. By 1957, Fred Astaire had been doing films for nearly twenty-five years and Audrey Hepburn was one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars. Musicals were still a favorite among movie audiences, so it’s no wonder then, that Paramount released Funny Face, starring Astaire and Hepburn, directed by the esteemed Stanley Donen (Royal Wedding, Singin’ in the Rain) and featuring songs by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin.

Screenwriter Leonard Gershe patterned the story on his friend, the famous fashion photographer Richard Avedon, and Avedon’s romance with fashion model Dorcas Nowell. Avedon acted as a consultant on the film, set up the photography sessions, and supplied many of the photographs we see in the story. Because Funny Face is a Cinderella type story, Fred Astaire’s character, photographer Dick Avery is the prince. Jo Stockton (Hepburn), a shy bookstore clerk and amateur philosopher, is the young girl in need of a prince charming.

Maggie Prescott (played by nightclub entertainer, singer, dancer, pianist, and author Kay Thompson, a bigger-than-life Auntie Mame type), who plays the editor of Quality, a New York based fashion magazine, is on a quest to find a new “Quality” girl to represent the magazine to the women of America and the world. While looking for a place to do a photo shoot, Maggie and Dick come across Embryo Concepts, the bookstore where they meet Jo Stockton. Maggie decides to use Jo in the first picture to give the shot a more “intellectual” look, and then locks her out of the shop for the rest of the session. Back at the office, Avery takes a look at the picture of Jo, and sees something in her face that is “new” and “fresh.” With some convincing, Dick gets Maggie to agree that with a bit of a makeover, Jo could be a top model in the business.

The only problem is the bookish Jo wants no part of being a model. She thinks the fashion industry and modeling is nonsense, saying: “it is chichi, and an unrealistic approach to self-impressions as well as economics”. However, Jo changes her tune when she learns that the job will include a free trip to Paris to model the clothes of world famous designer Paul Duval (Robert Flemyng). While she doesn’t give a stitch about the fashionable clothing, it has been her lifelong dream to visit Paris. To top it off, she’ll get the opportunity to meet her idol, French philosopher Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair). Predictably, shortly after Jo arrives in Paris, she is transformed; from plain-Jane bookseller to one of the most striking looking women in the world.

From there, Dick and Jo begin to work together on the photo shoot. Jo begins by saying, “You don’t have to be friendly to work together,” to Dick. Acquainted will do.” Naturally, they become more than “acquainted.” The movie’s romance involves her and Dick falling in love. I found it all a bit creepy since at 58, Astaire was thirty years Hepburn’s Senior. Though by the end of the film, I was forced to admit they made a lovely film pairing.

While the romantic pairing wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea, the sets, costumes, and scenery involve some truly eye-popping colors and some glorious location shots in and around Paris. Legendary costume designer Edith Head was once again in charge of the costumes here, while fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy provided Ms. Hepburn’s Paris wardrobe.

The musical portions of the movie include dance numbers choreographed by Fred Astaire and Eugene Loring, plus the songs “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” “Funny Face,” “Bonjour, Paris!,” “He Love and She Loves,” “On How to be Lovely,” “Basal Metabolism,” “Clap Yo’ Hands,” “Let’s Kiss and Make Up,” and “‘S Wonderful.” Along with the scenery, they are the film’s main attractions. Unlike 1964′s My Fair Lady, Ms. Hepburn did all of her own signing. She performs one solo, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”; a duet with Astaire, “‘S Wonderful”; a duet with Kay Thompson called “On How to be Lovely”; and takes part in an ensemble performance of “Bonjour, Paris.” Her previous dance training is also called into play, not only in the two dance numbers she performs with Astaire, but also for a Bohemian-style solo dance in a nightclub, which was later revived in a popular GAP commercial.
Nearing the end of his musical film career, Fred Astaire does a fairly impressive song and dance routine with an umbrella and cape to Gershwin’s “Let’s Kiss and Make Up.”Nearing sixty, he still looked like he was walking on air. Funny Face doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but Astaire/Hepburn, the costumes and the scenery make this a film worth owning. What’s more, the Academy nominated the film for four Oscars: Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Writing. While it’s debatable whether Funny Face was worth those high honors, one thing is for sure, no one before or since has lit up the screen quite like Audrey Hepburn.

Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Warner has done a fine job with this 1080p transfer. A VistaVision production, colors are bright and vibrant throughout. Three’s a nice sense of texture, particularly in regards to the various outfits Audrey Hepburn wears. Detail is noticeably stronger than any of the previous DVD releases, and contrast is fairly even. While I did notice some slight softness in a couple of outdoor scenes, this may be partially inherent to the film itself. There is no sign of DNR or other anomalies.

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 suits the film quite well. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and there’s notable depth during the various musical numbers. While I wouldn’t fo as far as to call it immersive, the dancing sequences go a long way in attempting to draw the audience in, with clear use of both fronts and rears. Ambient sounds come through nicely, and hisses, breaks, or other audio anomalies are never an issue.

English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.

The following extras have been ported over from previous DVD editions:

  • Kay Thompson: Think Pink (26:30) A tribute to the woman who played magazine editor Maggie Prescott. Multi-talented, Thompson was a songwriter who helped create the MGM sound; an author who created the beloved character Eloise; an actress, and a noted fashion icon. Interviewees include her goddaughter Liza Minnelli; Jim Caruso, Liza’s collaborator on a tribute show about Kay; Kay’s biographer Sam Irvin; Dick Williams, one of the Williams Brothers, who spent many years as a nightclub act with Thompson; Hilary Knight, the artist on the Eloise books; Matt Crowley, who finished the last Eloise book with Knight; and Ruta Lee, who played Thompson’s assistant in Funny Face.
  • This Is VistaVision (24:38) Historians and camera technicians discuss the creation of the VistaVision process, which led to what we now know as the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Clips from the Paramount movies spanning the decade or so the process was used are shown, and more.
  • Fashion Photographers Exposed (17:52) A day in the life of a fashion crew taking photos inspired by Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. The photographers discuss working with Richard Avedon, and the portrayal of fashion in the film.
  • The Fashion Designer and His Muse (8:13) Explores the relationship between Audrey Hepburn and designer Hubert de Givenchy.
  • Parisian Dreams (7:49) Author Drew Casper (Style of Stanley Donen) talks about how Funny Face is really Cinderella in Paris, and discusses the films various locations.
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:22)
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