An Abstract Fish Out of Water

     Experimentation is a good thing. New and innovative camera angles are great. Experimental lenses and filters are fine. Unconventional subject matter even has its place. These things are what make ordinary films into masterpieces. Citizen Kane, directed in 1940 by Orson Welles, is a classic because of these things. But, when experimentation gets in the way of the success of the film, it is time to try more conventional means of film making.

     For instance, My Fair Lady is a somewhat realistic portrayal of life. Granted, people do not go about breaking into song whenever something important happens, but the film does portray realistic scenes of people and places. That is, it portrays them realistically except for one scene. This is the scene in Covent Garden that depicts the flower sellers beginning their day. George Cukor, director of this 1964 musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, tried an experimental approach to showing the gradual livening up of Covent Garden. He had a few people walk onto the scene and freeze while others came on. They, too, would freeze while more people enter. This process repeated until the Garden was full. Then, everyone came to life to show the busy hustle and bustle of Covent Garden.

     This esoteric, unconventional scene is completely out of place in this reality-based film. Nowhere else in the film are people used so abstractly to portray the passage of time or the status of a place. One could make the argument that the scene at Ascot has this abstract quality. The people attending the race are used to show the snootiness and the high-class atmosphere associated with Ascot. However, these people are still behaving realistically, if, again, one forgets the song. They are all moving and acting the way someone of such high class would. Also, the stiff demeanor and perfectly choreographed movements are used to contrast Eliza's lower-class upbringing and show how she is not yet a member of high society.

     The scene at Covent Garden has no such purpose. It does not show any deep insights into a character. It does not set up atmosphere or even prepare the way for other experimental scenes, as it is the only one. The scene is just pointless, an experiment gone horrible awry. It is a distraction from the rest of the film, as it leaves the viewer with the question--"What the heck was that all about?"

     If the rest of My Fair Lady had been abstract, this scene would have been great. It would have been right at home among other unconventional scenes. Unfortunately, My Fair Lady is not unconventional. It is a realistic and concrete film. Cukor should have taken that into consideration before throwing experimental, abstract scenes and ideas into an otherwise conventional film.

Meg Schoenman

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