MY FAIR LADY
MY FAIR LADY ($27) is unquestionably a spectacular motion picture experience- a big, lavish, overproduced musical that rightfully took home eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography (Color), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color), Best Costume Design and Best Sound for 1964. Unfortunately, since its release, decades of neglect had allowed the film elements for this crown jewel of the cinema to fall into a state of disrepair, which required Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz to fully restore MY FAIR LADY back in 1994. I can remember my absolute delight of having experienced MY FAIR LADY on the big screen of New York's Ziegfeld Theater after its restoration. Not only did MY FAIR LADY appear fresh and vibrant once again, but one could also be rendered awestruck by the beauty of Cecil Beaton’s production design and costumes, not to mention leading lady Audrey Hepburn.
MY FAIR LADY is the cinematic adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe Broadway smash, which itself was a musical reworking of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. The plot of MY FAIR LADY follows phoneticist Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), who boasts that that he can take a cockney flower girl and teach her to speak English so well that he will be able to pass her off as a duchess at the upcoming Embassy Ball. As one might expect, said Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), shows up on Higgins’ doorstep wanting to learn how to speak proper English, and better her station in life. What follows is the amusing and arduous process of transforming an English murdering "draggle-tailed guttersnipe" into a proper speaking lady.
Although fans of the original stage production of MY FAIR LADY were disappointed when Julie Andrews was passed over for the role of Eliza Doolittle, Audrey Hepburn makes a marvelous Eliza and she looks utterly spectacular in the period gowns of Cecil Beaton. Professor Higgins is perhaps the role for which Rex Harrison is best remembered; which should come as no surprise as Harrison did take home both a Tony Award and an Academy Award for his vivid portrayals of the character on stage and screen. Other delights in the cast of MY FAIR LADY include Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Jeremy Brett, Theodore Bikel, Mona Washbourne and a scene stealing turn by Stanley Holloway as Eliza’s father- moralist Alfred P. Doolittle.
Warner Home Video has made MY FAIR LADY available on DVD in a 2.20:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The presentation appears very similar to that of the previous DVD release, although this disc offers visual improvements over the earlier DVD edition of MY FAIR LADY. General sharpness and definition remain very good, although there are more subtle details in the image of the new DVD, which allows one an even greater appreciation of the film’s rich settings and costumes. Colors appear more confidently rendered, with greater stability and a bit more vibrancy. Blacks are velvety, whites are very clean and the picture produces an excellent grayscale- check out the meticulous qualities of the production design and costumes during Ascot Gavotte sequence. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed on this cleanly authored DVD.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack would appear to be identical to that of the previous edition, which is fine, since it was a pretty great rendering of this restored vintage soundtrack. Transcribed from the restored six-channel sound elements, the track has a very strong and broad forward soundstage, which provides excellent stereo imaging for the exquisite musical numbers. As for the rear channels, they primarily provide musical fill, however, there is a bit of split surround activity during Ascot Gavotte, with the panning of the sound effects placing one in the middle of the musical number’s horse race. While the fidelity of these forty-year-old recordings do have some limitations, the musical numbers themselves still sound wonderful, which is certain to please fans of this delightful film. Although the dialogue is always completely intelligible, some may quibble that the voices don’t sound as clean and natural as they do on modern recordings. A French monaural soundtrack has also been encoded into the DVD, as have English, Spanish and French subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the excellent array of supplement materials that have been spread across both discs of this set. Starting things off on disc one, is a running audio commentary with restoration team leaders Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, plus art director Gene Allen and singer Marni Nixon (who provided much of Audrey Hepburn’s singing). While this commentary had already appeared on the previous DVD release, it is an excellent track filled with technical detail on the restoration of MY FAIR LADY, as well as insight into the making of the film.
Moving onto disc two, we find the majority of the supplemental programming. More Loverly Than Ever: My Fair Lady Through The Ages is a nearly hour long documentary that revisits the original production, and covers the restoration process in extensive detail. During the program, one gets to see clips of the film prior to its restoration, but since they are pan and scan, one isn’t likely to get the full impact. In the Production section one will find the 1963 Production Kickoff Dinner a twenty-three minute program that combines footage of the dinner with interviews members of the cast and crew. Another feature is an audio passage of director George Cukor providing direction to Baroness Bina Rothschild. Also featured is footage of the film’s Los Angeles premiere. The Show Me Galleries includes production photos, costume sketches and architectural plans. A separate feature offers a series of posters and lobby cards that are shown is slideshow fashion, with a Rex Harrison radio interview providing audio content.
Also in the Production section is The Fairest Fair Lady, a nine-minute making of featurette that gives one a brief glimpse as to what went into the film’s first class production. Carried over from the original DVD release are alternate versions of Wouldn’t It Be Loverly and Show Me with Audrey Hepburn’s original vocals. Personally, I think the studio made a big mistake by not retaining Ms. Hepburn’s vocals for Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, since her performance brings more of an emotional impact to the song, plus her voice is more appropriate to cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle than singer Marni Nixon. However, Nixon’s vocals are more befitting the refined version of Eliza and work better for the song Show Me than do Ms. Hepburn’s. One last thing on the subject of Ms. Hepburn’s vocals, it would have been nice if they could have been offered as a listening option for the movie itself, instead of only being available as a supplement.
The Awards section offers snippets from the Academy Award ceremonies in which MY FAIR LADY was a big winner, plus Rex Harrison’s acceptance speech from the Golden Globes. Another brief feature section called Comments, offers interview footage of Martin Scorsese and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who speak for a little more than a minute each on such subjects as film preservation and the stage version of MY FAIR LADY. Lastly, The Trailers Of Lerner & Loewe provides theatrical trailers for MY FAIR LADY (for both original 1964 release and 1994 restoration re-release), plus BRIGADOON (which could use its own 16:9 enhanced Special Edition DVD release), CAMELOT and GIGI.
MY FAIR LADY is indeed a beautiful gem of a movie musical that has received new sparkle, thanks to its restoration in 1994. This Special Edition DVD release adds even more luster with its improved video presentation and the additional supplemental content. If you have the original DVD, this is worthwhile upgrade. If you don’t have a copy of MY FAIR LADY this is the disc to get. Either way, the Special Edition of MY FAIR LADY is absolutely recommended.
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