Loosely based on the life of famed photographer Richard Avadon, Funny Face is a seminal film on a number of levels. For starters its a classic musical of the first order featuring a fantastic score by George and Ira Gershwin. Next there's the amazingly beautiful art direction supervised by Avadon himself (and employing many of his own photographs.) Leonard Gershe's writing and Stanley Dohen's direction are absolutely top notch and finally there are the polished performances by Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, both of whom were at the height of their artistic prowess. For all these reasons Funny Face is one of my all time favorite films.
The plot of Funny Face is a fairly strait forward boy meets girl affair. Astaire, while working on a spring fashion layout for a well known New York publication encounters an ostensibly mousy shop girl (Hepburn) in a local book shop. Struck by a hidden beauty he presses his publisher to hire the girl as the feature model in the upcoming spread. Hepburn is less than impressed by the offer, preferring the life of beatnik intellectual to the vapid jet-set. After some convincing though Astaire changes her mind and it's off to Paris to start photographing. Once in the City of Lights Hepburn meets and becomes infatuated by a well known philosopher and abandons the project. Will Astaire be able to win back his lady love?
Singing and dancing abound in Funny Face and they're augmented by a reasonably intelligent story that seems fresh to this very day. Hepburn's performance is particularly engaging and, unlike her role in My Fair Lady, she gets to actually sing the songs. Funny Face is one of Hepburn's best film outings and is beloved by her fans around the world.
Funny Face is part of Paramount Picture's recently released Audrey Hepburn Collection. I was looking forward to getting my hands on this disc but I'm sad to report that I was severely disappointed by the quality of the release. The first and most noticeable flaw comes from the source material. Funny Face was shot in three strip Technicolor and in the years since its release the yellow strip seems to have suffered a good deal of shrinkage. The yellow color information is out of registration with the other two strips in most scenes leading to a ghosting effect around darkly colored objects. This problem really plays up the difference between merely preserving a film and giving it a full restoration.
The problems don't end there though. Paramount did an atrocious job of transferring this film to disc. Many of the scenes are exceedingly soft and look almost out of focus. It's like looking at the film through a thin layer of gauze. Next, the contrast is all messed up making many of the critical scenes look washed out. Black levels are way too low meaning that many objects that should be opal in color are a dull gray. White levels are a little better but still much too weak. As if these problems weren't enough Paramount has applied so much sharpening to the image that dark objects on light backgrounds have a distinct bright halo around them. In all these flaws make for a completely unsatisfying experience which is a real shame given the status of Funny Face as a classic American film.
The soundtrack on this disc fares a little better than the video elements. Paramount has included both a 'restored' version of the original Mono track and a Dolby 5.1 remix. The mono track is very representative of what the film must have sounded like at its initial release. It's broad, dynamic and very listenable. I wasn't able to detect any major flaws like pops and hiss and the voices, music and incidental sounds were all pleasantly rendered. The 5.1 remix doesn't really add anything to the enjoyment of the film and probably should have been left of the disc in favor of better video presentation. On the 5.1 track the score has been separated from the vocal tracks and splashed across the front and surround speakers. The voices are firmly planted on the center channel but this all leads to a strange feeling of disconnection between the dialogue and music.
Funny Face offered a prime opportunity for a special edition. It's one of Hepburn's most loved movies and a feature packed release would have attracted many to buy the disc. Paramount chose a different route though. The extras on this disc are limited to a very battered version of the theatrical trailer, a short promotional clip called "Paramount in the 1950's" that only briefly mentions Funny Face and a small gallery of photos, most of which are just stills from the film itself.
Paramount should be ashamed of the shabby treatment they've given Funny Face. It's sad to think that unsuspecting Hepburn fans will buy this disc only to be let down by its many failings. If you're a Funny Face fan you're probably better off renting the disc and or buying one of the VHS releases.