Monday, 20 December 2010

More on Blake Edwards

I suppose my first contact with his work was the Bruce Willis/Kim Basinger comedy Blind Date (1987), about, well, a blind date, with Willis taking Basinger to an office party, which eventually leads to general mayhem and humiliation for both of them. I haven't seen it since it came out so whether or not it is any good I can't say, but I remember it vividly, partly because I saw it on several occasions, first at the cinema and then home on the VCR.

And then there were the Pink Panther movies, my favourite of which was The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), at least back then, when I was young(er). I saw all of them, but the later ones were not any good. And eventually, I saw Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and was completely smitten by it. Despite the fact that I watch it at least once a year it still hasn't lost any of its tremendous appeal (although it has one problem, that I wrote about last year).

Edwards of course does comedy, and an integral part of his kind of comedy is cruelty, bordering on the sadistic, and often in so-called bad taste. Even films which are not comedies have elements of the farcical and vulgar. The western Wild Rovers (1971) has a scene when the two main characters get drenched in urine, thrown out of a window by a woman. I'm not necessarily a fan of this kind of humour, but Edwards almost always manages to pull it of, partly because he uses it consistently and cleverly, so it takes on an additional meaning. He was something of a misanthropist, depressive and suicidal, and you get the feeling that he was using his comedies as a way of exorcising his demons, tormenting his characters.

It should therefore not come as a surprise that he also did some truly frightening films, including the steely Experiment in Terror (1962 aka The Grip of Fear).

But the thing about Edwards was that he had such an exquisite style. Not always, he could be tired and sloppy as much as the next man, but his best films have such an elegance, finesse and panache. Sometimes, as in the first Pink Panther, The Pink Panther (1963), and Breakfast at Tiffany's, it goes hand in hand with the subject matter, but even other films usually revel in the smooth camera work and the long takes, with beautifully lit and composed images. It's not elaborate as Minnelli, or complex as Wyler, perhaps the expression would be deceptively simple, albeit beautiful. But you often feel that he was a man who worked long and hard on every shot.

And he was often his own man, writing and producing as well as directing. Although occasionally he had studio interference, especially after Darling Lili (1970) became a colossal flop, and lost millions of dollars. In the mid-70s he therefore moved to Europe, and he also restarted the Pink Panther brand, ten years after the first two instalments. But it's those two early ones that are the best. It's safe to say that he did loose his way a bit there, in the mid-70s. But he had a great commercial hit with 10 (1979), and in 1982 he made one of his very best films, Victor Victoria (1982). It combines elegance, slapstick, tenderness and music. Here, everything works beautifully together, and, as was so often the case in his films, Julie Andrews shines in the leading role.

I will end this post with the music. Edwards worked almost exclusively with Henry Mancini from 1959 onwards and together they became an intricate whole. It's impossible to separate the music and the films, and the films usually had wonderful musical numbers, some of which are very famous. The other day I posted Audrey Hepburn singing Moon River, here are some other favourite examples:

This is from Darling Lili, with Julie Andrews singing, in one long take, Whistling Away the Dark:

This is from The Pink Panther:

I should perhaps add that, despite Darling Lili being such a total fiasco, I like it, and in many ways it is the very essence of Edwards. But I think that Wild Rovers is his best film, even better than Breakfast at Tiffany's. Perhaps.

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