A Murder of Emphasis

         When an artist creates a work of his or her medium it is almost always done to express an idea, feeling, or observation. One of the many intangible tools an artist uses to accomplish expression is the use of proper emphasis on certain focal points of the work. As artist writers must strive for the same use of emphasis in every paragraph of their work and not allow the writing to become hollow and meaningless. When a writer fails at the task of expression the work becomes nothing more than dribble that placates the writer's need to write and a reader's need to read. An excellent example of lost emphasis in a film is the 1964 musical My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor and based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion. Shaw's original play was a well-paced work that contained sophisticated social commentary in the foundation of a clever and interesting plot. When one is reading Pygmalion, it is abundantly clear that the writer had something he wanted to say and managed to say it without becoming didactic or boring. When one is watching the film adaptation of Shaw's masterpiece, it becomes impossible to grasp that it is based on the same play, let alone find anything meaningful for the viewer to hold on to or enjoy. The loss of emphasis in My Fair Lady in large part is due to the placing of song in unimportant scenes that destroy the validity of the useful segments of the film.

         Any worthwhile work of an artist gains its audiences trust by not overstating any unworthy part of its whole; the film makers of My Fair Lady seem to completely shy away from this idea by placing song in any area possible. By giving the character Freddie Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett) a musical number that tells of his love for Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), the director gives the scene an importance that takes away from what the original play was trying to say to the audience. In George Benard Shaw's Pygmalion the fact that Freddie is in love with Eliza is a minor detail that helps the plot of the story evolve, without taking away from the theme of social classes in modern society. Another example of a misplaced musical number in My Fair Lady is Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) singing: "I have grown accustomed to her face," showing a possible romantic connection between Higgins and Eliza that was strictly denied in Shaw's Pygmalion. The addition of these two musical numbers alone is enough to mislay the original emphasis of the writing and turn My Fair Lady into another trivial film that falls short of useful expression and teaches the audience nothing.

         My Fair Lady would work as an original musical that did not evolve from Shaw's Pygmalion, but falls short as an adaptation of a truly creative work. Although it is possible for a musical to be a brilliant form of expression, it cannot happen if the musical numbers of said work take away from the overall emphasis of the writers original themes. After watching My Fair Lady, the viewer has a feeling that the director was more concerned with the amount of musical numbers than their importance and this negligence leads to the death of what was once a brilliant work of art.

Dennis H. Robison

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