#19. Gigi (1958)

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As January winds down, taking football-filled Sundays with it, everyone is making Super Bowl watch party plans.  However, the Super Bowl for the true movie buffs is undoubtedly The Academy Awards. Oscars night has been my favorite night of the year for as long as I began to understand the importance film would have on my life. Sure the glitz and glamour of the red carpet are mesmerizing, but the main reason for my excitement and anticipation are the stories that are being celebrated. It is the placed that a good film’s story takes us that can soothe our souls. The power behind a well-told story can motivate, inspire and provide a delightful escape from everyday life.  A film doesn’t have to be big-budget, star-packed, extravagant or highbrow.  It all boils down to the main ingredient:  the story –  and that is what gives me sheer joy.

Although I am still working my way through this year’s nominees, this is also a great opportunity to indulge in enjoying past Oscar contenders. The first movie of my Oscars tribute is the 1958 film, Gigi. Gigi won an impressive nine Academy Awards in 1959, surpassing the previous record of eight (set by Gone With the Wind, and tied with From Here to Eternity and On the Waterfront).

Best Picture: Arthur Freed

Best Director: Vincente Minnelli

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Alan Jay Lerner

Best Cinematography, Color: Joseph Ruttenberg

Best Art Direction, BW or Color: William A. Horning (posthumously), E. Preston Ames, Henry Grace, F. Keogh Gleason

Best Costume Design, BW or Color: Cecil Beaton

Best Film Editing: Adrienne Fazan

Best Music, Original Song (For the song “Gigi”): Frederick Loewe (music), Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics)

Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture: André Previn

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The film, which was based off the 1944 French novel of the same title, tells the story of Gigi (Leslie Caron), a young Parisian girl in the early 1900s who is being trained by her Grandmother (Hermione Gingold) and aunt (former courtesans themselves) for life as a courtesan—also known as a mistress—of a wealthy man.  Gigi, although innocent and naïve, seems well aware of what is expected of the life of a courtesan.

When Gigi is not attending school or weekly lessons with her aunt, she looks forward to spending time with her friend Gaston. Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan), a young, rich playboy, has formed a platonic friendship with Gigi and her grandmother. He frequently visits to spend quiet evenings enjoying meals and card games. However, as Gigi becomes a young woman, Gaston’s carefree and philandering lifestyle becomes challenged by emerging romantic feelings towards Gigi.

gigi-movie-poster-1958-1020196580The storyline would never pass as fun, family fare based on today’s standards.  Today’s audiences are too sophisticated to allow what we now understand as disturbing undertones of pedophilia despite the film’s upbeat musical dance numbers. The music gives the movie a certain innocence while providing a conversational song style that does not distract from the rest of the film. However, if made today, this film would be much darker. The first number in the film, titled “Thank Heaven For Little Girls,” sung by veteran French entertainer, Maurice Chevalier, is much creepier than was intended in 1958. In this day and age, it is not only illegal for an adult man to take a 16-year old girl as his wife or mistress, but it is morally appalling. However in the early 1900s, it was not unheard-of for a 16-year old girl to become a wife or a mistress. Moving past the sort of pedophilic undertones of the plot, this film is actually quite charming and very well done. The cinematography does quite the remarkable job in making the city of Paris a main character in the film.

It’s almost impossible to deny the vast similarities to the 1964 musical film, My Fair Lady. After doing some research, it’s easy to see why. The creative team that was behind Gigi was also behind My Fair Lady. Alan Jay Lerner wrote the scripts and lyrics for both films; Frederick Loewe composed the music for both films, while Cecil Beaton developed the costumes.

The biggest thing that I took away from Gigi, is that we shouldn’t continue down a path that has been laid out by anyone but ourselves. We are allowed to create our own future, regardless of what other people think. Just because a certain way of life may be right for one person, doesn’t mean that it is right for another.

My Rating: ★★★

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Gaby

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