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Prompted By Rewatchable Movies

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My collection of Audrey Hepburn movies

It strikes me that there are two different categories of rewatchable movies. There are those that you love so much that you will leave your house and go to the theatre to see them whenever they are playing near you. And there are those that you have on videotape (formerly) or DVD (more recently) or just know they are on a streaming platform you subscribe to, and are therefore available to watch on a moment’s notice, in the comfort of your home, when the spirit moves you. The movie theatre category requires a higher level of devotion, but may not even be relevant any more, in this era of streaming everything.

Most rewatchable movie ever: Casablanca. Close second: almost any movie starring Audrey Hepburn.

In my story Celluloid Heroes, on the 2018 prompt “Best Picture,” I awarded the title of “Best Picture Ever” to 1943’s Oscar-winner Casablanca, saying this movie has everything — history, politics, a café full of people singing the Marseillaise in defiance of the Nazis (most of whom were played by Jewish refugee actors), and the powerful love story between Rick and Ilsa with the indelible parting line “we’ll always have Paris.” I stand by this judgment, and also deem it the most rewatchable. I would drop everything to go see it, and no matter how many times I see it I never get tired of it.

However, as I also stated in that story, a close second in my heart would be almost any film starring Audrey Hepburn. I have loved Audrey Hepburn for as long as I can remember. It may have started out because she was very thin, dark-haired, and flat-chested like me, at a time when the preferred type (in the movies and in life) was a voluptuous blonde like Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield. But in addition to her looks, she had a loveliness and charm and dignity, whether she was playing a princess, a nun, a blind woman, or a jungle “bird girl.” She always managed to have at least plausible chemistry with her leading man, even those, like Humphrey Bogart or Fred Astaire, who were thirty years older than she was.

Over the years I collected many of her movies, thinking that I wanted to have them to watch any time I felt like it. (See Featured Image.) Unfortunately most are on videotape, and the only VCR we still have is built into a very small television that is tucked away on a shelf in the bedroom. Little did I imagine how fleeting the videotape era would be!

My all-time favorite rewatchable Hepburn movies, out of the two dozen or so that she made, are Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Sabrina (1954).

When I first saw Tiffany’s I was ten years old, and I don’t think I understood the plot at all, but I was still charmed by it. The story, by Truman Capote, is pretty sophisticated. Holly Golightly is a glamorous New York socialite (and possibly call girl) who delivers coded messages to a mobster at Sing Sing Prison, and is looking to marry great wealth. Her neighbor Paul is an unpublished writer being kept by an older woman. All of that went over my head. But I loved her elegant outfits, and her cigarette holder, and best of all, the scene where she sits out on her fire escape playing the guitar and singing “Moon River.” That became my favorite song, and has continued to be, to this day. The more times I watched the movie, the more details I got, which made it even better. Since Holly and Paul had gotten a crackerjack ring engraved at Tiffany’s, I tried to get a cigarette lighter engraved there. (They wouldn’t do it.) I have to admit that now, with 21st century sensibilities, it is hard to watch Mickey Rooney (wearing facial prosthetics) playing the part of the Japanese landlord who calls her “Miss Gorightry” and yells at her for losing her key all the time. His character was intended to be funny, but times change and it doesn’t seem funny any more. However, that doesn’t prevent me from loving the movie anyway.

Sabrina came out long before I started watching movies, so I don’t think I ever saw it in a theater. I can’t remember when or where I first saw it. I adored the story of the chauffeur’s daughter who is in love with the boss’s playboy son David (William Holden), goes to Paris and returns grown up and elegant, causing him to notice her for the first time. When it turns out that he is the wrong brother for her for so many reasons, she ends up with older brother LInus (Humphrey Bogart). The scene where she is at the Cordon Bleu cooking school learning how to crack an egg with one hand is a favorite in my family. She gets to sing in this movie also, the French song “La Vie en Rose.” (She has a lovely singing voice, notwithstanding the idiots at Warner Brothers who wouldn’t let her do her own singing in My Fair Lady!) I loved this movie so much, I named my first child Sabrina.

One Hepburn movie that turned out not to be rewatchable for me was Wait Until Dark. I saw it in the theatre in 1968, shortly after it came out. I can still remember screaming at the top of my lungs (along with everyone else in the theatre) at the dramatic and terrifying climax, when one of the bad guys jumps out at poor blind Audrey. When Tower Records/Books/Video was going out of business and selling all their videotapes very cheaply, I bought this one, among others. Years later, I sat down to watch it with my husband and kids. I found that I couldn’t, it was making me much too frightened in anticipation. I was actually shaking. So after about the first forty minutes, I went upstairs and read a book while they watched the rest of it. Maybe someday I’ll try again, but I doubt it.

There are many other movies from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s that I could add to my list of rewatchables (Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain, Some Like It Hot to name a few). However, more recent decades have not produced movies with the same rewatchability. I can think of only two from the last forty years that I have rewatched multiple times and continue to enjoy, and they are both “chick flicks.”

Sixteen Candles (1984). I bought this movie on videotape as a present for my daughter Sabrina on her sixteenth birthday in 2001. I had never seen the movie, but it seemed like an appropriate gift, and we had a Sacramento connection with the star, Molly Ringwald, who as a child used to sing at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee every year with her father’s jazz band. However, Sabrina had absolutely no interest in watching it, and never even took the plastic off the box. Many years later, my younger daughter Molly discovered it in Sabrina’s room and wanted to watch it, so she unwrapped it and we watched it together. It was delightful, a sweet movie about the trials and tribulations of turning sixteen, dealing with high school, having a crush on a popular boy, and being misunderstood by your family. We have watched it together many times since then, and it is always still enjoyable. As it turns out, just like in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, there is an Asian character who is a slightly offensive caricature, but at least he is played by a real Asian actor, Gedde Watanabe.

13 Going On 30 (2004). Molly bought this movie on DVD, probably with one of the gift cards she got for her bat mitzvah. Since it’s about a girl who is thirteen years old at the beginning of the movie, it was the perfect time for her to see it. We watched it together, and we both loved it. When the geeky, unpopular main character wishes at her birthday party that she were “thirty, flirty, and thriving,” she wakes up the next morning and finds her wish has come true. However, it turns out that, while she is a successful magazine editor, she doesn’t like the person she apparently became in the intervening seventeen years, so she needs to figure out what is wrong with her life, and how to fix it. Of course it ends happily.

Now that there are so many new movies available to stream, I am less inclined to rewatch movies I have already seen. I feel as if it is more important to see the current films being produced, even though they generally do not rise to the level of the classics of yesteryear.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    I particularly love the keen analysis at the beginning of your story about the two different categories of rewatchable movies. It is very much like what my brother and some of his friends used to say in their movie reviews as they distinguished between movies “worth seeing” versus the more interesting “worth going to see.” Of course, in our current era of streaming and COVID, the distinction may have become blurred.

    As to Audrey Hepburn, I have never been a huge fan of hers — or voluptuous blondes, for that matter — but I do see her unmistakeable charm and beauty. Perhaps, as a guy, I always knew she was just too cool and sophisticated for me. In any event, I certainly understand your love of her and of (almost) all of her movies. (For the record, Alan Arkin played the bad guy in “Wait Until Dark.” In a recent interview, he told about how many filmgoers hated his guts for years for terrorizing poor Audrey Hepburn.)

    I also stumbled upon “Sixteen Candles,” despite not being its target demographic, and thoroughly enjoyed it — though, of course, identified with the geeky kid (identified simply as “The Geek”) played by Anthony Michael Hall. And yes, the Asian stereotype was offensive, even in the 1980’s.

    As usual, you have picked a perfect song title for your title (and I now have Nat King Cole’s beautiful voice as an earworm). And thanks for not only sharing your great list, but for choosing such a delightful prompt.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, we are both Audrey lovers. I was thinking about “Wait Until Dark” recently. I remember exactly where and with whom I saw it (cousins in Cleveland, summer of 1970), and haven’t seen it since. I wondered if it holds up and would still make me anxious. I guess you’ve answered that question. The problem with hoping that you can find anything you want on a streaming service is that frequently, you can’t, or you have to pay for it, so if there is something that I really want, I buy it. Distribution rights come and go, (as do formats, I understand), but if I own it, I’ve got it.

    Not having young daughters, I missed the whole generational movies you shared with your kids, but they sound like fun.

    Thanks for sharing your great list.

    • Suzy says:

      I also bought the movies I wanted to be sure of, and now I’ve got a bunch of almost worthless videotapes. So I’m reluctant to invest in DVDs, in case that format becomes obsolete too. Would love your advice on how to acquire movies in a way that will be permanently watchable.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        I understand the dilemma. I, too, have shelves full of old VHS tapes (I got rid of the Beta movies long ago and slowly am giving up the old VHS tapes). I haven’t bought nearly as many DVDs…only the ones that I truly love, as you are correct, I can’t guarantee that the format won’t be obsolete (it may already be so, but I keep mine around). I only have a few on Blu-Ray; don’t care to be THAT up-to-date. But just this week we looked for an older movie that we wanted to stream and it wasn’t available anywhere, so you just can’t be sure about streaming services either. I say – if you absolutely love it, buy it, then keep the equipment in good working order. I’m not that wise, I’m afraid.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I agree that Audrey Hepburn’s movies were awesome, Suzy. Like you, I loved Moon River. Sixteen Candles was one I watched many times with my girls, John Hughes being a local boy who made good. He made many films I shared with my kids who would watch the same movie many times if they liked it.

  4. Suzy, what fun remembering those old movies.

    We recently watched Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady – wonderful, altho I liked when she threw the slippers at him rather than when she fetched them!

  5. Marian says:

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s is also my favorite Audrey Hepburn movie, Suzy, so I really appreciated your story. Feel the same way about Wait Until Dark as well. And while I liked My Fair Lady, especially the costumes, for me that’s more of a live theater experience. I agree that, for whatever reason, contemporary movies seem less rewatchable than our classics.

  6. Oh, dear…I think I may have rewatched Casablanca too many times…definitely one of the all-time greats, but I have no desire to see it again.

    I’m an Audrey fan as well…for the longest time kept a photo of her in simple black slacks, a white shirt, and ballet flats (as worn in Roman Holiday, if I’m not mistaken) as a reminder of style that never goes out of style. She was a role model in so many ways, not the least of which was her work with UNICEF. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a movie I’ve rewatched countless times.

    I also love the entire John Hughes oeuvre…he created a genre of his own. I probably watched his films more often than my daughter, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off obviously one of my faves.

    No wonder I couldn’t choose just one…so many greats!!

    • Suzy says:

      Glad to hear you’re an Audrey fan too – I’m not surprised. She pioneered the ballet flats look, as I think you wrote in your “Shoes” story. And I agree that she was a role model in so many ways. I remember being heartbroken the day she died.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    I had to laugh when you mentioned things in movies going over your head at the time, and it reminded me of a surprisingly rewatchable Disney movie. I saw “Lady and the Tramp” as an adult, and realized that I had missed the whole tryst in the moonlight between Lady and Tramp after the Italian supper, why Jock had to try to do the noble thing, and what was implied when the puppies came looking like Lady and Tramp. Also where the names “John, dear” and “Darling” came from. I must have been very young the first time around!

    • Suzy says:

      I may have missed all those things in “Lady and the Tramp” as well, Khati. Guess I should have watched it with my kids when they were little, but the only Disney dog movie I remember watching with them was “101 Dalmatians.”

  8. Jeff Gerken says:

    The story piqued my interest in seeing some of the Audrey Hepburn movies that I had not previously seen, in particular “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. I don’t know why, I guess it just sounded to me like she played an airhead – perhaps it was the name, Holly Golightly. But I will definitely find a way to stream it now.

    I took my high school girlfriend to see many movies when they first came out. That was a big date, it meant driving 50 miles to one of the big theaters in Columbus, sometimes having dinner at a fancy restaurant before the movie, then being escorted to our seats in the theater by an usher – big production!

    One of the movies that we made the trek to the big town for was “My Fair Lady”. Years later, I showed that movie to my daughters. I was horrified to see that it was so sexist, and apologized to the kids about that.

    An interesting fact to follow up on is Audrey’s work as a young girl to help the Resistance to the Nazis in occupied Holland in WWII. Google that!

    • Suzy says:

      I hope you do watch “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Jeff. You can stream it on Amazon Prime, if you have that. But if you don’t like it, don’t tell me. 🙂

      As you probably know, “My Fair Lady” is based on the play “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw, and it reflects the attitudes in existence in 1913 when he wrote it. (And to some extent still in existence in 1964 when the movie came out.) I don’t think you should have apologized to your daughters for the sexism – it’s important for them to know that that’s what life used to be like!

      As to the facts about Audrey that you mention, I assure you that I don’t need to google them, I know everything there is to know about her, since I have idolized her for the past six decades!

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    I love the “Marseillaise” scene!

  10. Hah! I guessed right about your title. Knew it had to be a song, and what a song. I concur with John’s view about your distinction of the two types of movies. Indeed. And as for Audrey Hepburn, I suspect that her male fans are vastly outnumbered. I do, however remember a faculty member in Dunster who claimed that she made smoke come out his ears, at the time when the House Committee showed Wait Until Dark (“world champion blind lady”). But my favorite was one of her first, if not her first: Roman Holiday.

    • Suzy says:

      How cool that you guessed what my title would be! Roman Holiday was not her first movie (actually her 9th), but it was her first starring role, and she won an Oscar for it, as I’m sure you know. I love it too, but not quite as much as Tiffany’s and Sabrina.

  11. As I said about another post on this topic, how do all of you remember all of this cinematic detail? I watch a movie, I enjoy it or not, and I go on. I remember scenes and lines and themes, but I do not remember actors’ names and link them unendingly to everything else they have done.

    • Suzy says:

      Well, you obviously have a different approach to movies. I love knowing about the actors and directors. If I like them in one movie, I will seek out other things that they have done. It’s much easier to do now that we have the internet, but even in my childhood I paid attention to which actors I wanted to follow and which ones I didn’t. And I saw A LOT of movies as a kid – I lived across the street from my town’s one and only movie theatre, so by high school I could walk over there by myself if something I wanted to see was playing.

  12. I’m with you Michael! Some of our Retro buddies seem to have encyclopedic minds and photographic memories for details, dates, itineraries, conversations, and even what they wore.

    I’m lucky if I can remember where I put my glasses!

    • Suzy says:

      Dana, I find that hard to believe! You have posted plenty of stories with plenty of details. Including in your story about Precious on this prompt.

      • Ah yes Suzy. maybe I was guilty of hyperbole, but I certainly can’t recall dates or find the evidential photos like some of you seem able to!

        A propos this week’s prompt, I realize my husband remembers everything about every movie we saw and when, where and with whom. Of course he often can’t find his car keys!

  13. Glasses? The other night I was at a friend’s house for dinner, and when I was ready to leave I could not find my glasses. After looking everywhere for many many minutes, I found them in my front shirt pocket.

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