Fashion vs. Empathicalism: Audrey Hepburn in ‘Funny Face’ (Stanley Donen, 1957)

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The following statement is a fact: Audrey Hepburn was one of the most iconic, lovely and stylish actresses to have ever graced the screen. It’s not surprising that, nowadays, she still continues to inspire people with her smile, acting skills, look and philanthropy. Three of my most favourite actresses would have celebrated their 90th birthday in 2019 and Audrey Hepburn (born on May 4th, 1929) is one of them. For the occasion, Three Enchanting Ladies is glad to contribute to the celebrations by taking part in The Salute to Audrey Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Janet from Sister Celluloid. This is not the first Audrey Hepburn Blogathon I’m participating in, as I also wrote about How to Steal a Million for the May the 4th Be Audrey Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Flickin’ Out three years ago.

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Audrey Hepburn seduced many people and that may be why she worked with some movie directors more than once. Among them, we can name William Wyler, Billy Wilder, and Stanley Donen. It’s the latest that interests us today. When we think Donen, the first things that come to our minds are musicals, glorious Technicolor and Audrey Hepburn. As a result, Funny Face (1957) has all the ingredients of a perfect Donen film and this is why I chose to review it for the blogathon. This was their first collaboration and the ones to follow; Charade (1963) and Two for the Road (1967) were as unforgettable and proved their great teamwork as well.

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Audrey Hepburn and Stanley Donen on the set of Funny Face

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Funny Face also stars Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson. It features Michel Auclair, Robert Flemying, and even top model Dovima! The story starts in the offices of Quality Magazine in New York. The publisher and editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) is looking for a way to give a new image to the magazine, to refresh it. After a craving for all things pink, she decides that Quality needs a more “intellectual” image. Fashion photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) is working on photos with top model Marion (Dovima) and he and Maggie decide it would be better to photograph her on-location in an “intellectual” looking place. So, off they go with the Quality team to find an obscure bookstore in Greenwich Village. They arrive to one called Embryo Concepts where the pretty Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) works. Impolite and without asking permission, they start installing their material to take the pictures and pretty much make a mess out of the whole place, much to Jo’s despair whom, after all, has to make sure the library stays in order during the owner’s absence. Jo is a real intellectual, pretty much an existentialist and a philosopher. She certainly doesn’t approve of fashion magazines. Maggie Prescott decides to use her for a shot with Marion (Jo doesn’t have much choice) but she finally decides to get rid of her by locking her out of the bookstore. When the crew leave and Jo is able to get back in the store, she realizes the total mess they have done for the sake of the magazine. A discouraged Jo starts cleaning things when Dick comes back to apologize. After she explains to him a lesson on empathicalism (a theory by Professor Emile Flostre from Paris consisting of putting yourself in someone else’s place), Dick compulsively kisses her.

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Later, Maggie Prescott is still looking for someone to represent the new intellectual image of Quality Magazine (it seems that Marion won’t do) and Dick Avery comes with an idea: the girl from the library, Jo, would be a perfect candidate. Maggie isn’t convinced first as she thinks her face is “perfectly funny” but Dick convinces her that a new face will give a breath of freshness to Quality. Maggie has to find an excuse to make her come to the office (that won’t be easy) so she decides to order a ton of books from the bookstore where Jo works. So, the shy lady arrives, carrying the books under her arm and soon realises nobody from Quality Magazine is in fact interested by these. Maggie and her employers are ready to make a model out of her but she isn’t on the same page and manage to run away. She reaches the dark room where Dick is developing a photo of her and creating a beautiful close-up. The two starts on friendly terms and he convinces her that modeling isn’t that bad after all. When he talks about a trip to Paris for the magazine, it doesn’t take much more to convince her to accept the job. Going to Paris and meet Professor Flostre is a huge dream of hers.

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So, off they fly to Paris where Jo is expected to participate tony photoshoots and fashion shows but, even if she looks like the prettiest top model, she hasn’t lost her philosophical spirit and can’t resist hanging out in the obscure cafés of Montmartre…

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Jo Stockton is the kind of character that was totally built for Audrey. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine someone else than her playing that role. Yes, some could say that a professional singer could have fit better, but I think that’s what contributes to her charm and loveliness. No, her singing voice wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t the most “powerful” one but it has a certain authenticity that fitted Audrey perfectly. I actually prefer to hear her sing with her own voice in Funny Face than hear her being dubbed by Marnie Nixon in My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964).

Audrey’s performance in this film is, in fact, one of my favourites. She plays a woman with a lot of modesty and that we love from the start. I just adore the way she is introduced to us and it’s in a typical Audrey way: Fred Astaire enters in the book store and Audrey is on a ladder with wheels. He hasn’t noticed her and pushes the ladder which slides against the banister. Audrey’s facial expression is full of surprise and fear but it’s also adorable and, from that moment, we gain immediate sympathy for her. Because, you know, she was that kind of actress who wasn’t only elegant, but who always inspired our sympathy as she always had this friendly aura around her. She wasn’t pretending to be someone else and I think that’s why a role like Jo Stockton also fitted her perfectly. There are several details I love about her in the film and one of them is the way she talks. I’ve always love Audrey’s speaking voice and Funny Face provides great examples of that. I think it adds a lot of dynamism and sparks to some of the scenes and well, just make us smile, you know! For example, I love when she says “Take the picture! Take the picture!” during the photo shoot scene at the Louvre. She also proves versatility by being the joyful and tragic person as well. She’s one of these people who loves to have fun but who also knows how to be serious when the time comes. She’s sensible, there’s no denial.

Her teamwork with Fred Astaire is quite delightful. I like this guy! Yes, he was like 30 years older than her but he shows a great dynamism that makes us forget it. Well, it does for me. The two have some unforgettable scenes together and I don’t feel the romance between the two characters is being forced or rushed. I also love the evolution of the relation between Audrey’s character and the one played by Kay Thompson, Maggie Prescott. They are two total opposites, but they manage to gain certain complicity and this is perfectly shown during the “On How to Be Lovely” scene.

But if we look at the entire film, I think Audrey’s ultimate moment of glory surely is the Bohemian Dance scene. Here Audrey shows us her dancing abilities and expresses herself in the most unforgettable dance moves. I totally dig it!

Aside from Audrey Hepburn, what I especially love about Funny Face is the fact that it’s a true love letter to the world of fashion. There are many things we can observe in connection to that. Well, of course, Audrey Hepburn was a fashion icon, but it doesn’t stop here.

I mentioned Dovima who plays Marion. Born Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, she was the first model to use a single name (Wikipedia). What I like the most about her character, is the humour that surrounds her. She plays that overly elegant model but also ones that try to do … too much. We can think of when Dick Avery is taking a picture of her with Jo in the background and she does all those very exaggerated pauses and Jo is looking at her with a suspicious face and saying “what on Earth is she doing?”. There’s also this scene where she is reading a book on the photo set and is supposed to look clever. Dick Avery asks her what she’s reading and she reveals “Minutemen from Mars!” Actually, this was a reference to Dovima’s real-life passion for them and I think this is just awesome! Yes, Dovima had this statuesque and goddess looking face but the whole humoristic aura that is created around her in the film make her a more accessible person than she seems to be.

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Dovima and Audrey!

I love the vintage top model and another important one from that era was Suzy Parker. As a matter of fact, Audrey’s character is apparently based on her. Parker makes a few cameo appearances in the Think Pink! sequence! With her red hair, she was the perfect woman to appear in such a clip. Actually, Suzy Parker is better known for being a top model like Dovima, but she also worked a bit as an actress, especially on television. Parker also played in Donen’s Kiss Them for Me alongside Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield.

One of my favourite fashion photographers is the great Richard Avedon and he is, in fact, connected in more than one way to Funny Face. First of all, Dick Avery is based on him. Notice that Dovima often worked with Avedon, just like Suzy Parker. But, more interestingly, he worked on the set as a special visual consultant and released most of the photographies for the film, including the famous close-up portrait of Audrey Hepburn. Richard Avedon also designed the opening titles which make us realize that Saul Bass wasn’t the only person great at doing that!

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Audrey and Richard Avedon

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Several shots of the opening titles created by Avedon

Of course, what also contributed to the glorification of the fashion world in Funny Face is the work of cinematographer Ray June who offers us some of the most beautiful colour images in a musical. This and the lovely Paris scenery are totally appropriate for the world of fashion. It allows us to see the clothes in all their splendour and in an environment proper to a sense of style. After all, Paris is considered to be one of the capitals of fashion and style! What gives the best expression of that surely is the photoshoot session across the city. What I like the most about this sequence is how the photos are taken in a spontaneous way. It adds vivacity to the whole process and makes an interesting contrast with the photo session with Marion where it takes a lot of patience before getting a satisfying result! It’s in perfect harmony with the concept of “new face” embodied by Audrey’s character.

Interestingly, the scenes in Paris were during the filming of Jean Renoir’s Helena et ses Hommes (Helena and Her Men) in which Audrey’s then-husband Mel Ferrer was staring (alongside another enchanting lady: Ingrid Bergman). This also allowed Audrey to film simultaneously Love In the Afternoon (Billy Wilder, 1957) which also takes place in Paris. The French city sure is a place we associate easily with Audrey since many of her films take place there.

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Fred Astaire, Mel Ferrer, Audrey Hepburn, and Dovima on the set of the film

And can we talk about the costumes?? There are so many of them and this should make the film a real dream and source of inspiration for every aspiring fashion designers! Hubert de Givenchy created Audrey’s costumes (who else?!) and the rest was designed by the talented Edith Head.

Funny Face isn’t only an incredible spectacle for our eyes, but also for our ears as it offers some unforgettable songs. We’ve already looked at a few but “Bonjour Paris” surely is another worth mentioning one! It’s pretty iconic! And so is the song “‘S Wonderful” that Audrey sings in duet with Fred Astaire at the end of the film. Funny Face was originally the name of a Broadway musical by George and Ira Gershwin that premiered in 1927 and that also starred Fred Astaire. However, the plots are completely different and only four of the original songs written by the Gershwins appear in the film. The film story is more based on the musical Wedding Bells (as well as on Suzy Parker and Richard Avedon’s lives as we said before).  The rest of the songs and music score were composed by Adolph Deutsch and Roger Edens. Actress Kay Thompson who also was a singer made the vocal arrangements and we think she did a totally fine job. The choreographies were created by Fred Astaire and Eugene Loring.

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Basically, the clash between musical figures such as Kay Thompson, Fred Astaire and the Stanley Donen (who was a master of the genre) with the numerous references to the world of fashion (Avedon, Parker, Hepburn, Dovima, Givenchy and Head) makes the whole film a must-see for every fan of both artistic forms.

On its release, Funny Face, unfortunately, was a box office flop but this must not stop you from watching it! The critical success was overall good (except for Time Magazine) and the film was nominated at the Oscars for Best Writing (Leonard Gershe), Best Cinematography (Ray June), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Hal Pereira, George W. Davis, Sam Comer, Ray Moyer), and Best Costume Design (Hubert de Givenchy, Edith Head). On his side, Stanley Donen was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes Film Festival.

Funny Face is one of those films that I love more and more on each viewing and that makes us explore various worlds in one of the most satisfying way. I believe it’s one of Audrey’s most subtle performances and if you love her and haven’t seen this film, you must!

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Please make sure to read the other entries written for the blogathon. I want to thank Janet for hosting it. Audrey surely deserves it!

Happy heavenly 90th to this real enchanting lady!

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17 thoughts on “Fashion vs. Empathicalism: Audrey Hepburn in ‘Funny Face’ (Stanley Donen, 1957)

  1. I loved how passionate you are talking about this film. It really shows how much it means to you. 😀
    It’s so true that Fred’s age difference with Audrey is not too bothersome and honestly that is how I feel with most of his pairings. Having them parterned together was really new for me and I think I need to see the film again to open myself up to it fully. The same thing happened to me when I watched ‘Daddy Long Legs’. I just need to convince myself that he is not just great with Cyd and Judy! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicely written as always and I’m so happy that you decide to write about this film since it’s one of my favorites. It’s probably my favorite Audrey’s film and one of my favorite musical. The scene at the bookstore, the Paris scene and most especially her dancing with the black outfit (which my favorite Audrey’s look ever!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic article as always, Ginny! Audrey is just delightful in the movie. And she sings her own songs! I never understood why everyone kept saying she had a “funny face”. “It’s the most beautiful face in the world!” I keep screaming at the screen 😛 Paris and Audrey and Astaire and Kay Thompson (who is just hysterical) – what more could you ask for? Think Pink! 🌸

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I liked what you said about Fred Astaire having an ageless quality with his onscreen romances. He seems a natural fit with Audrey. When I compare them to her pairing with Gary Cooper in “Love in the Afternoon”, I personally find Gary C. too old, even though he’s a couple of years younger than Astaire.

    Anyway, just wanted to say I loved your review of this film. You’ve made me want to drop everything to watch it – and then go shopping. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I adore this film so much. It is extremely close to my heart, and I loved your review of it. I just kept nodding my head in agreement the whole time I was reading it. 🙂

    Fun fact that you might already know: when Henry Mancini was writing “Moon River,” he watched Funny Face to understand how to write for Audrey’s singing range. I never understood why Warner Bros. couldn’t do the same for My Fair Lady. It wouldn’t have been that hard to arrange the songs for her, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Audrey at 90: The Salute to Audrey Hepburn Blogathon Has Arrived! | Sister Celluloid

  7. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I just bought a subscription to a movie site which offers her films and I just watched ‘Funny Face’ with my mum the other day! We are planning to enjoy ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ next.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Funny Face is my favorite Audrey Hepburn movie. In some ways, I even see myself in Jo Stockton! I agree that nobody else but Audrey could have played the character.
    Very nice to know the connections the film had with the fashion world – I knew nothing about it!
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!

    Liked by 1 person

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