Where I Watched It: Paramount Plus
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
I love it when a classic has audio description. I need to say that up front, because it addresses two things. one: the fact that the older titles get, the less likely that they are audio described. Films from around the same time period as Breakfast At Tiffany’s are sporadically chosen, instead of chosen with intent. Luckily, Breakfast At Tiffany’s qualifies on many levels as to why it has been prioritized, from its standing within the storied history of the Academy Awards, to its appearances on AFI lists.
The second is that aside from being a classic, Breakfast At Tiffany’s is also having a bit of a moment. As we push forward into a world we are attempting to reshape in a positive light that adequately supports equity and diversity, things we embraced in the past, from books to film, are being put under a microscope. No, not really a microscope, more like surgically dissected and the cancerous tumors removed for all to see.
And this whole time, you just thought this was some cute Audrey Hepburn film. Well, it still is. I know that the last thing the world needs is a white male critic commenting on the value of a film that has been deemed to have none. I know that we are trying in some parts to make it as if this film never existed, or at least preventing those from continuing to support an element of this production that was unacceptable then as it is now. Yes, mickey Rooney should never have been cast in this film.
It’s a rather huge glaring error in this oddly progressive film, that at the beginning of the 1960’s introduced us to a young woman living on her own in an apartment, which was subversive enough because many women couldn’t actually do that. This was still a time period when women and their lives and activities were directly tied to a man. Need to open a bank account? Hope you have a husband or a father to do so for you. Women weren’t even able to get their own credit cards when those first really started becoming popular. So the idea that Holly Golightly is living her best life in the big city in her own place is subversive for its time. It suggested to women that you don’t need to slave in the kitchen, or not have a life of your own.
And when the film reveals later on holly’s past, that she was a child bride, the film barely blinks at it. I guess it was nothing unusual back then for an old man to marry someone that would now be considered… well… jail time… and ask them to raise your first wives children. The audacity that Holly would one day wake up and want more for herself, that she would leave her old ass husband behind and seek this new life for herself is the kind of film no one wanted you to see in the early 60’s. Certainly not a man.
Which is why perhaps, this film came into the light through the careful literary guidance of Truman Capote, and the direction of Blake Edwards. This gay influence in the 60’s led to an even more progressive moment, a brief encounter with gay men. It’s fleeting, and likely forgotten, but when holly needs to have a quick little conversation in the bathroom, she ducks in to find there are two guys in there already in the moment, so to speak. Obviously, it was probably all a studio would allow for this time period, but the fact that no one at Holly’s party seems to be the type to fight this behavior, nor does Holly itself, is such a step for gay culture.
And, let’s not even start into this whole Holly really doesn’t need a man aspect. Sure, she has this weird relationship with her neighbor, but this is not a traditional romantic comedy. Her love interest is an aspiring writer carrying on in a love affair with a wealthy woman who gives him gifts. He’s as close to a gigolo as you could actually say for this time. And his relationship with Holly is not traditional either, as she neither suggest that she is a damsel needing rescue, or that she’s even looking to settle down. holly is a woman that enjoys her independence. She’s Carrie Bradshaw before Carrie Bradshaw was even born.
So then, why the hell is mickey Rooney playing an angry Asian landlord?Why in the hell, with all this progressive shit happening all over (with the child bride exception, which she did walk away from), is there a white actor pretending to be Asian? And not just some questionable white guy too, like we thought he looked Asian, but turns out he’s really just South American. No, this is mickey Rooney, just about as white as they come.
The worst part is that his role is so inconsequential to the actual film itself. I’m convinced he could be edited out of the film entirely, if needed, or reduced to just voice over maybe in one scene. This film didn’t NEED Mickey Rooney, but it is ruined forever by his presence. It’s a shame, because this is a great film.
It’s my first time through, not managing to prioritize this while I could see, and being lucky enough to catch it with audio description. This is always odd with older films, because the original track sounds old, and the audio description sounds like it was recorded yesterday. But, at least we have it.
With everything, and trying to analyze this film from a first time standpoint, I never expected this. I always thought it was just a super popular romantic comedy, and that was it. But it is so much more than that, and this film is much more than Mickey Rooney. I do believe we not only should keep showing this film, but we need to. This is very much a discussion piece, because there are things here that shouldn’t be discarded simply because of the one element that is absurdly racist, but the absurdly racist element can’t be enjoyed, and must be viewed s something that never should ahve taken place. I’m positive there was an Asian actor available for that role. At least then, the conversation would be limited to the depiction of Asians in cinema, much like how black actors and actresses just played the help or criminals for so many years. But, we can’t even have THAT conversation, because it’s fucking Mickey Rooney.
At the end of the day, this is a film worth keeping around for a myriad of reasons. Shockingly, all of them positive. Because not only does this film represent a lot of subversive changes being made with film in the 60’s, but it also reminds you that even when you’re in the middle of doing something you believe is the most liberal, most progressive thing you’ve ever worked on, if you’re not paying attention, you can still shit the bed and cast Mickey Rooney. Pretending this film doesn’t exist doesn’t do anyone any good, but continuing to show people this racist stereotype being played out by an iconic actor in a classic film… that has much more power in it than you give it credit for. And sadly, for all of it’s good intentions, because Blake Edwards just couldn’t figure out that a white actor can’t play an Asian man, his film is destined to be remembered for the most famous representation of yellow face in cinematic history.
Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Watch it. Absorb it. Talk about it. And make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Final Grade: A- (Because, if Mickey Rooney wasn’t in this film, it’s a great work.)