Funny Face: Centennial Collection
Directed by Stanley Donen
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 103 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English; 2.0 mono English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: January 13, 2009
Review Date: December 27, 2008
The greatest MGM musical not made at MGM, Stanley Donen’s Funny Face is an utterly unique cinematic confection. Assembled by many of MGM’s most well-established luminaries (directed by Stanley Donen who got his directorial start there, produced by three-time Oscar-winner Roger Edens, music direction by Oscar-winner Adolph Deutsch and orchestrations by Conrad Salinger, and starring two performers who had done some of their most memorable work at the studio: Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson), Funny Face was always meant to be an MGM production, but when the time came to borrow Audrey Hepburn from Paramount to play the starring role, Paramount wouldn’t budge. So, the entire production package was sold to Paramount so their star could remain at her home studio. After almost three decades of entertaining but decidedly non-innovative musicals starring the likes of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Betty Hutton, Paramount finally had a musical that was a one-of-kind miracle at the time, a beautifully integrated song and dance show using the most sophisticated photographic techniques at their command and filmed in part on location in Paris giving a real sense of place and time that was sadly lacking in MGM’s own slice of Gallic joie de vivre An American in Paris (which was filmed on studio backlots despite its Oscar-winning credentials).
Desperate to find a new face to herald their introduction of the Quality Woman, fashion magazine editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) enlists the help of ace fashion photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) to come up with a girl who embodies freshness and style. He discovers her in a Greenwich Village bookshop, salesgirl Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn), but she couldn’t care less about fashion. She wants to go to Paris to attend the lectures of her adored philosopher Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair), so she reluctantly agrees to accompany them to the Paris fashion shoot in the hopes of meeting him. Once there, however, she succumbs to the lure of the City of Lights and finds herself falling in love with both the fashions and the photographer.
Director Stanley Donen was aided in his mounting of the story (screenplay by Leonard Gershe) by one of the world’s greatest camera eyes: Richard Avedon. Perhaps this is the reason that Funny Face stands as the most ravishingly beautiful musical made to that time, almost every number not only possessing a precise lyrical perfection but also boasting a stunning sense of innovative cinematic construction that defies easy explanation. Just a glance, however, at “Think Pink” with its montage of pink dresses, bathing suits, furs, toothpaste, and shampoo, “Bonjour, Paree” with its quick tour of every famous Parisian landmark in about three minutes and often filmed in triptych with the three stars in their own locales , “Funny Face” sung and danced in the crimson-glow of a photographer’s darkroom until almost blindingly ending with a close up in Technicolor of the lovely face of the star, and the softly focused wedding chapel dance to “He Loves and She Loves” shows just how unusually distinctive the approach has been to every one of the song and dance numbers. And that doesn’t even take into account the incredible sequence of fashion layout shots all over the city with Hepburn a knockout in every piece of Herbert de Givenchy couture and Donen showing us a series of fashion stills in Technicolor, black and white negative or positive, and through an array of colored filters that gives each pose a kind of lithe, ethereal beauty. It’s just another example of this film’s exciting, offbeat cinematic panache.
It doesn’t hurt that the score to the picture is mostly the work of George and Ira Gershwin, a series of wonderful numbers using songs which hadn’t been overworked in previous films and which find their definitive interpretations in this film. The three perky, non-Gershwin songs (“Think Pink,” “Bonjour, Paree,” and “On How to Be Lovely”) were written by scenarist Gershe and producer Edens keeping it all in the family, these bubbly songs meshing well with the champagne lightness of the entire enterprise.
Audrey Hepburn surprised everyone at the time with her ability to sing and dance, though many of the moment were unaware of her ballet training in her youth. And while her singing voice wouldn’t be welcome in the world’s opera halls, its beguiling lilt and dusky tone are utterly unique and unmistakably Hepburn. Modernists cringe at the fiftyish Fred Astaire wooing the twentyish Hepburn when watching Funny Face today, but one must remember that it was commonplace at the time for older leading men of the day (Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper) to romance screen beauties decades younger than themselves. Apart from Crosby, Audrey Hepburn was romanced by every one of those gentlemen in various films, and Astaire was coming off of a previous pairing with the equally young Leslie Caron in Daddy Long Legs, a combination even less amenable than the one with Hepburn, so the duo really isn’t ill-suited. Kay Thompson, who had served for years as MGM’s vocal arranger, had been singing quite a while in nightclubs with the Williams Brothers, and her sophisticated brio enlivens not only her song and dance chores (her scat singing in “Clap Yo’ Hands” is a tonic) but her acting, too, in her eternal search for customs and clothes with “bazazz.” As for Fred Astaire, his ease and command are at their zenith in Funny Face, and he has one of his best novelty dances with “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” where he capers merrily around an indoor courtyard even amusingly miming a bullfighter at one instance.
The film is framed at 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. If ever a standard definition transfer cries out for high definition treatment, it’s Funny Face. Until that comes, we’ll have to be content with this gorgeously sharp and clean transfer with vivid, sparkling colors and lots of fine object detail in close-ups. There’s a small amount of flickering bloom in the white wedding dress near the end of the dance in “He Loves and She Loves” with the encode struggling just a bit with the combination of the white fabric and the gauze-filtered photography. Smoke-filled interiors of a café and Flostre’s living room, on the other hand, are not a problem at all. The interior of Flostre’s sitting room is so rich and colorful that you’d swear the transfer was already being delivered in high definition. Compared to the 2007 remastered edition of Funny Face, there is very little difference between the two encodes. This new release seemed to have the tiniest bit of deeper color saturation, but that could be due to the different machines used in A/B comparisons. The film has been divided into 19 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track pipes the effusive music into the front and back surrounds with expected regularity, but the mix seems a little deficient on the low end, and occasionally higher voices can seem a little shrill in dialog portions of the movie. A more modern sound mix would allow us to hear the brilliant orchestrations of Conrad Salinger, but, alas, that kind of separation is not available in this encode.
The bonus features are all contained on disc two in this set. They are all presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Kay Thompson: ‘Think Pink’” provides an entertaining and illuminating 26 ½ minutes in a mini-biography of the great author, artist, and entertainer. Among those talking about her life are her biographer Sam Irvin, her goddaughter Liza Minnelli, singers Jim Caruso and Dick Williams, co-star Ruta Lee, illustrator Hiliary Knight, and friend Mart Crowley.
“This Is VistaVision” gives a basic explanation of the widescreen cinematic process which Paramount chose to utilize rather than Cinemascope in the 1950s. Among the VistaVision films shown as examples are War and Peace, White Christmas, Funny Face, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, To Catch a Thief, and The Ten Commandments. Among the experts discussing the merits of the process is Oscar-winning effects artist Richard Edlund who explains how VistaVision was used in the effects work for Star Wars. This featurette runs 24 ½ minutes.
“Fashion Photographers Exposed” is a rather pointless 17 ¾-minute feature contrasting real-life fashion photography of today with the way it’s portrayed in the film.
The other bonus features were all ported from the 2007 Funny Face DVD release.
“The Fashion Designer and His Muse” spends 8 minutes briefly explaining the history of the unique collaboration of Paris fashion designer Herbert de Givenchy and star Audrey Hepburn beginning with their work on Sabrina and continuing for the rest of Hepburn’s life.
“Parisian Dreams” is a puff piece featuring Dr. Drew Casper, among others, speaking of the joys of Paris as displayed in Funny Face, almost as another character in the film. This rather insignificant feature runs 7 ½ minutes.
“Paramount in the ‘50s” is another frequently seen 9 ½-minute featurette detailing the many successes Paramount had during the decade. Interestingly, all of the mentioned films (Sunset Boulevard, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Shane, White Christmas, The Ten Commandments, To Catch a Thief, Funny Face, and the Martin and Lewis pictures) are available on DVD.
The original theatrical trailer is present on the disc and runs 2 ¼ minutes.
There are three photo galleries which the viewer may step through: one with behind-the-scenes shots of cast and crew working, one a collection of color and black and white stills from the film, and a few publicity photos and posters.
Inside the package is an 8-page booklet with some color stills and an overview of behind-the-scenes information on the making of the movie.
Visually stunning and innately sophisticated, Funny Face is a treat no matter how many times one has seen it. For those who have the 2007 edition of the movie, your purchase of this new two-disc set will hinge on how much you want those three new featurettes. Funny Face is one of the handful of screen musical masterpieces, and it deserves its deluxe treatment here. It’s time now, though, to bring it out on Blu-ray!