I hate Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I hate the black Givenchy dress, the tiara and foot-long cigarette holder, a grotesque parody of elegance. I hate the character’s “dahling”. I hate how, minutes after meeting her new neighbor Paul, Holly launches into an asinine explanation of why her cat doesn’t have a name, even though no one fucking asked (she has commitment issues!) I hate how she tells him she is going to Sing-Sing, apropos of nothing (prison! Quel adorable!) I hate how we are not supposed to hate Holly Golightly for being the kind of asshole who repeatedly buzzes her neighbor in the middle of the night (she can’t remember her keys!) I hate that the character spawned the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
Sure, I hate the buck-toothed Japanese neighbor (think, Mr Ed and “Ms. Go-Right-Ree), vulgar by even by WWII propaganda film standards. But it’s the film’s treatment of the central whore character, and of women in general, that I find appalling and deluded. The fact that Holly bribes him into submission with vacant promises of nude photos is enough to make me forgive Mickey Rooney.
“I need money and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get it”. – Holly Golightly, 1961
The film was based on the 1958 novella that was set in 1943. But the movie is set in 1961. That is, while Holly was flapping around like a retarded toucan in a tiara trying to bag a billionaire, Bella Abzug was leading women’s protests against nuclear weapons and the U.S. involvement in the war in Southeast Asia. When Lulamae Barns was remaking herself as a party girl called Holly Golightly, Gloria Steinam was going undercover at the Playboy Club. While Holly is running out on her john – after he’s picked up the dinner check for her and her 5 friends (she isn’t even an honest hooker), – JFK was scripting the Equal Pay Act.
While Holly was learning to knit for her future husband, other American women were having a collective existential crisis – unfulfilled by the accepted wisdom that women were content to serve their families. In 1961, Holly Golightly is already a throwback, bre-frocked and tiara’ed like a prom princess, hailing an ethos that style and cool trump all.
Before her days as a spoiled socialite/semi-hooker, Holly was – not surprisingly – poor white trash, a teenaged bride from Tulip, Texas, wife of an old hillbilly and stepmother to his four children. She has a developmentally delayed brother, Fred who joins the Army, allowing Holly to flee the boonies for New York, where she hopes to earn enough money to support Fred upon his return from war.
Holly has no money, lives hand to mouth, has no job, has no commodifiable skills, she’s delusional to think she could care for her cognitively impaired brother, financially or otherwise. She can’t even manage to get a house key made, so thank GOD Fred is killed! Lucky for her Fred is dead, freeing her from that responsibility! I mean, lucky break, Holly Golightly!
I think the dumb gene has befallen both the Barnes children. She may refer to her brother Fred as “slow”, but Lulamae is not the brightest light in the big city, herself.
Holly’s schtick is “I don’t know how to do anything! I’d lose my head if it weren’t attached!” Yet, she lives on her own in New York City, pays her phone bill, has great style and fabulous highlights. She is self-possessed enough to have abandoned her marriage and moved to New York on her own. She makes herself sublimely presentable and has the bearing of a grown woman, a sophisticated one, even. Heck, the future president of Brazil wants to marry her! Way to be marginally competent and able to survive in society, Holly Golightly!
Holly Golightly is a creature who has survived to this day because no one bothers to read her original description, and because we aggressively overlook her character defects. The film character is purged of all the poignancy and subversion of Truman Capote’s original, a particular paradox; once brazenly open and defiantly guarded. If movie Holly didn’t have candy lips, eyes like lakes and look great in party dresses, would we so easily overlook Holly’s alarming and incurable selfishness? Her abject stupidity and unabashed vapidness? Her criminal complicity, and careless treatment of others?
Holly’s paramour Paul is a dud – pre-A-team George Peppard before he was destroyed by anger and alcoholism – and a cuckold. He passes himself off as sensitive and serious, but immediately succmbs to Holly’s vacuous, exterior charms. He lives – without shame – in an apartment paid for and decorated by his “benefactor” in gilt Roccocco. He overlooks Holly’s rudeness as adorable, her intellectual vacancy as helpless, her carelessness as charming. After all, she is not a woman at all, she is is a will-of-the wisp, huckleberry friend, a “wild thing”. On an objective level, while Holly is merely unlikeable, her romance with Paul and everything that catalyzes it is downright immoral. They trespass and shoplift, they mock and harass working people. Like a giddy preteen, the male hero is tested as to if he is chill enough to waste a jewelry seller’s time in Tiffany’s and go shoplifting with cat masks on.
What’s the one thing that these two numbnuts have in common? They are both prostitutes. Paul is a “kept man” – his older benefactor pays his expenses and finances his “career”, in exchange for sex. Holly takes the bus to prison every Saturday to “unknowingly” receive and deliver coded messages for an incarcerated mob boss and milks wealthy suitors in $50 installments for “the powder room”. Holly is not precisely a prostitute. She is shoulder-candy for expense-account men, with the understanding that her escort will pay her. The foundation of Paul and Holly’s relationship is that both are weary of the “lifestyle” and by their respective johns (despite the fact that the “sponsorships” and “powder room cash” are the only thing sustaining their free-wheeling lifestyles). Breakfast at Tiffany’s concludes with hollow complacency, they both break with their johns, without any concept of the others experiences. If you want to see credible whores in American movies, you’d have to wait 10 years for Jane Fonda in Klute and 20 years for Richard Gere in American Gigolo.
What does any of this have to do with a librarian, you ask? Well, my hatred of this movie is exampled in one terrible sequence. The jobless, big city lovebirds decide to “do things that they’ve never done before.” Wacky Holly brings Paul to Tiffany’s, where they waste the aforementioned salesman’s time with their shenanigans – specifically hemming and hawing over getting a crackerjack ring engraved. It all works out dandy for them, because the salesperson is a gentleman and well, you know, Tiffany’s.
Holly smiles and pouts and moons and bats her eyes at the salesman. “Do you really think Tiffany’s would do that for us?” she simpers. The salesman, the best actor in the entire movie, succumbs to her wiles: “I think you’ll find that Tiffany’s is very understanding”.
Score one for the diamond merchants!
Paul is a failed and poor writer, so he takes his best gal to the one place where he can be the big cheese for a change – the New York Public Library. Holly doesn’t even know what it is.
Holly looks around the library as cute as a first grader at a zoo for the first time. She asks: “What is this place anyway”? Really, Holly? You never noticed the Beaux Arts monolith on one of your early morning strolls down Fifth Avenue on route to your beloved diamond store? Seriously, Holly? You really don’t know what a fucking library is? And what say you, Paul? What “writer” would be smitten by a grown woman who doesn’t know what a fucking library is?
Paul explains the card catalog to her like she is a retarded child: “Each little drawer is stuffed with little cards and each little card is a book or an author!” Holly is wide-eyed: “LOOK! there you are! Do they really have the book itself? Live?” She is like an idiot. They order Paul’s only published book – a terrible book according to the reviews – from the stacks, then she goes on to mock and torment the librarian.
Holly demands Paul’s book, which the librarian retrieves, then goes about her work. But Holly simply must have lots of attention wherever she goes, regardless of the fact that there are 2 million other library card holders in NYC and demands that the librarian be impressed that this man with her is the author of the book. Paul could not be happier.
Holly prattles on (her voice is nails on a fucking chalkboard), “Did you evah read it? Why you must, it’s absolutely maaahvelous!” Dumb Paul looks on, googly-eyed, at his illiterate dream girl, just grateful that she isn’t his emasculating benefactor.
The beleaguered librarian repeatedly shushes Holly, to no avail. She babbles on and on in her insufferable accent, immune to the librarian’s request.
Holly’s usual charms have no effect on the librarian, so Holly and Paul proceed to talk about her as if she isn’t right there. “She doesn’t believe me”. “Show her your driver’s license or dinah’s club card or something”. Paul is amused. It is so cute the way she demeans the librarian.
Holly’s naive charm and stylish beauty do not move the librarian. Holly grows frustrated that the librarian is not giving her attention to which she is accustomed. She simply can not believe that someone is asking her to stop talking!
Holly turns on the librarian. She urges Paul to “sign” his book, i.e. deface a library book. I have to assume that pre-Holly Paul would never treat a librarian, or a library book this way. But Holly makes it so cute to mock and harass the librarian that Paul plays along.
The librarian notices what is happening and tells him to stop! He is, in fact defacing public property! Right in front of her! Paul goes right on scribbling in the book. Seriously. This is actually what happens.
Holly thinks this is simply hilarious, and Paul goes right back to defacing the book, because that will prove to Holly that he is one cool cat.
Holly hates this librarian, working in this place that she doesn’t know what it is. She doesn’t even look like any of the people she knows, and what is she doing here, standing behind that desk in this place? Why doesn’t she just walk around outside and rob stores and laugh all day like they do??
“Let’s get OUT of here, this place isn’t HAWF as nice as Tiffany’s!” says Holly, gleeful. Paul throws the book down on the table, and gives the librarian a dirty look.
Holly cackles then flounces out, looks back to give the librarian a final, dismissive smile, as if to say “Get back to your drudgery, you ugly old civil servant. We’re just passing through.”
Holly confesses that she doesn’t find the library half as much fun as Tiffany’s. Score one for the free market, Holly Golightly! Then they are off to shoplift from the 5 and 10.
In my fantasy, the librarian leaps out from behind her desk and grabs Holly by her scrawny neck and chokes her like a chicken. Then she murders Paul by ripping the pages out of his horrible book and cramming them down his throat. Then she takes off her glasses, leans back in her chair and sings “Moon River”.