Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Something we can all agree on:

Hugh Laurie in praise of America...


David Chute said...

Emma Thompson's first choice to play Higgins in the "My Fair Lady" script she's written. Bumped for Brit du jour and notorious terrible singer Colin Firth.

Tulkinghorn said...

Higgins doesn't really sing in My Fair Lady in any event: more like rhythmic speaking with a mere touch of pitch. You could do it, Rex Harrison could do it...

Problem with both Firth and Laurie these days is that they're both used to being lovable... Hard habit to break.

Maybe Ray Stevenson could do it.

David Chute said...

I don't know MFL very well. I seem to recall that they adopted that mode of non-singing to accomodate Harrison. Suggesting the songs could be sung if they cast somebody who could sing.

Stevesnon cool. Ray Winstone even better.

Christian Lindke said...

Ah, but Professor Higgins must be lovable or the end of the film makes no sense. He must be presumptuous and almost sociopathic in his ignorance of some social relationships, but he must be lovable. If he isn't it makes no sense for Eliza to love him, and Eliza is a saint. She begins the story a morally perfect person who is perceived as less than moral due to her station. She encounters temptations as she rises in station, but rejects them and creates a plan for her own success.

Higgins can love her because she will be able to stand on her own as her own woman.

When Higgins notes that Eliza's paltry offering is a lordly sum to her, he sets himself apart from the rest of English society.

Is he a humbug? Certainly.
Is he a gadfly? Certainly.
Is he a moral man? Certainly.
Is he lovable? Quite.

The only question is whether "My Fair Lady" needs a remake. The original film is a perfect movie, and past remakes have fallen short. As much as some love it "Pretty Woman" ruins Eliza, splits Higgins into an id (Gere) and superego (Alonzo), and completely misses the mark.

Tulkinghorn said...

Interesting point, but the older and more Tulkinghornian I get, I believe that making Higgins's reconciliation with Eliza at the end about romantic love is just Broadway musical slop -- and also, if you think about the lives of confirmed bachelor/academic types like Higgins, profoundly unlikely. In any event, a Higgins who is puppydog lovable from the start would make the whole thing extremely predictable.

Shaw's original was much more astringent and thus more to one's taste. (As a pre-teen aesthete, whom I would now beat with a baseball bat, I adored the original cast album and thought the movie was an abomination.)

David Chute said...

"...more to one's taste"? More Tulkinghorn-ian, is right.

I happen to have seen the Leslie Howard/Wendy Hiller "Pygmalion" quite recently, during my last trip home to Maine. Works somewhat better when compromised because Howard is )or seems) closer to Hiller's age. From the always 100% reliable Wikipedia entry on the play:

Pygmalion was the most broadly appealing of all Shaw's plays. But popular audiences, looking for pleasant entertainment with big stars in a West End venue, wanted a "happy ending" for the characters they liked so well, as did some critics.[15] During the 1914 run, to Shaw's exasperation but not to his surprise, Tree sought to sweeten Shaw's ending to please himself and his record houses.[16] Shaw returned for the 100th performance and watched Higgins, standing at the window, toss a bouquet down to Eliza. "My ending makes money, you ought to be grateful," protested Tree. "Your ending is damnable; you ought to be shot."[17][18] Shaw remained sufficiently irritated to add a postscript essay, "'What Happened Afterwards,"[19] to the 1916 print edition for inclusion with subsequent editions, in which he explained precisely why it was impossible for the story to end with Higgins and Eliza getting married.
He continued to protect the play's and Eliza's integrity by protecting the last scene. For at least some performances during the 1920 revival, Shaw adjusted the ending in a way that underscored the Shavian message. In an undated note to Mrs. Campbell he wrote,
When Eliza emancipates herself — when Galatea comes to life — she must not relapse. She must retain her pride and triumph to the end. When Higgins takes your arm on 'consort battleship' you must instantly throw him off with implacable pride; and this is the note until the final 'Buy them yourself.' He will go out on the balcony to watch your departure; come back triumphantly into the room; exclaim 'Galatea!' (meaning that the statue has come to life at last); and — curtain. Thus he gets the last word; and you get it too.[20]
(This ending is not included in any print version of the play.)

Shaw fought uphill against such a reversal of fortune for Eliza all the way to 1938. He sent the film's harried producer, Gabriel Pascal, a concluding sequence which he felt offered a fair compromise: a romantically-set farewell scene between Higgins and Eliza, then Freddy and Eliza happy in their greengrocery/flower shop. Only at the sneak preview did he learn that Pascal had shot the "I washed my face and hands" conclusion, to reassure audiences that Shaw's Galatea wouldn't really come to life, after all.

Tulkinghorn said...

Wow. One problem I have in these opinionated rambles is that it's often years since I've seen or read any of the works discussed. So I'm depending on my unreliable memory of my (unreliable) younger self's reactions.

Shaw's my man, though:

My ending makes money, you ought to be grateful," protested Tree. "Your ending is damnable; you ought to be shot."

Christian Lindke said...

Shaw should re-read his Ovid.

Like Higgins, Pygmalion loathed women -- but came to love the idea of woman. Pygmalion's ideal was primarily physical, what makes Higgins' superior is that she is a moral force. She is the embodiment of classical virtue.

There are times when even the author misses the point. "My Fair Lady" is superior because its characters affect each other. Galatea doesn't relapse by loving Pygmalion, Eliza and Higgins have created something new. They have created the modern love match. It is a match of work ethic, merit, and morality.

Eliza's return is much more subversive than mere emancipation, it is emancipation and emotional fulfillment. Anyone who believes Higgins doesn't love Eliza because she is capable of self-sufficiency -- and that she will be self-sufficient -- isn't paying attention.

David Chute said...

Something about a version of a period subject, from a period source, that wants to appeal to a contemporary audience? Might tempt producers to introduce anachronistic elements.