"Funny Face" absolutely lights up when the lady is on camera -- singing, dancing, stealing scenes from Fred Astaire. What a delight.
The lady, not of course, is Kay Thompson, a renaissance woman of showbiz who found her greatest fame doing "Think Pink" right here in "Funny Face." And, yeah, Audrey Hepburn is special in this 1957 musical as well.
Thompson plays a Diana Vreeland knockoff whose fashion magazine is in need of new faces. Astaire, the Richard Avedon stand-in, thinks he sees a new fashion star in Greenwich Village bookworm Hepburn. They all set off for Paris -- the city of lights, romance and chain-smoking beatniks in need of a good slap.
Paramount continues its Centennial Collection with a double-disc version of "Funny Face," the best in a string of DVD rereleases of this musical. Video and audio appear the same as on the 50th anniversary edition of 2007.
The images (1.78:1) are terrific, bright and clear for the most part. Too bad this wasn't a Blu-ray. Check out the opening 20 minutes or so, which feel right out of a color-popping Frank Tashlin feature. Avedon, the great photographer, had a lot to do with that early energy.
The 5.1 audio is OK; try the mono if it bugs you.
Hepburn does her own singing (makes you wonder about the "My Fair Lady" decision to dub her), and juices the film with a Martha Graham-inspired modern dance number that wears you out from just watching. She's at her loveliest here, whether photographed as the Village book geek or haute couture model. It's worth watching the film just to catch the sequence of Avedon-style fashion shoots.
For all the terrific elements in "Funny Face," though, it's an underachiever. Hepburn's romance with aging photographer Astaire is an eye-roller, the story feels like a sidebar and the recycled Gershwin songs don't seem to fit, 's marvelous as they are. The nadir is Astaire doing a bullfight dance, for some reason, in the Parisian street outside Hepburn's hotel.
The best new DVD extra feature is a half-hour profile of Thompson, not all that well known these days. The woman's career included stints as a singer, songwriter, arranger, dancer, classical pianist, cabaret star and film actress. Get a load of the frantic beatnik party dance number with Astaire, in which the master wisely just gets out of Thompson's way.
"She was an awesome creature," says Ruta Lee, who played her assistant in "Funny Face."
Aside from "Think Pink," Thompson is remembered for her high-energy club act with the Williams Brothers and for her "Eloise" books about a sassy young girl.
Thompson was plenty sassy herself. When she clashed with Edith Head over her "Funny Face" costumes, Thompson decided to wear an overcoat to hide the offending vines. (Hubert de Givenchy did Hepburn's clothing.)
Another new DVD extra is a decent piece on the short-lived VistaVision widescreen format, which stretched from "White Christmas" to "One-Eyed Jacks." Also on disc 2, a short with real-life fashion pros talking about their jobs and the movie, the same "Paramount in the '50s" featurette we've seen before, and brief looks at Avedon's role and the Paris locations.
Even for locals, love comes at you at weird angles in Paris, according to the delightful import "I Do" (Prete-moi ta main), starring Alain Chabat and Charlotte Gainesbourg.
French comic Chabat plays an Albert Brooks-type henpecked not by one strong woman but a half dozen of them. His mother and sisters are sick of looking after him now that he's middle-aged -- and clearly in no hurry to leave his mother's comfy home. They demand he find a wife.
Our hero goes through the motions, deliberately turning off dozens of blind dates. To put an end to the annoyance, he decides to hire a fake fiance who will leave him at the altar, according to plan. His romantic sorrows should be good for a few years of peace at the family home.
A friend's tattooed sister (Gainesbourg) takes the bogus-sweetheart gig and wows the family. This being a French comedy, the scheme blows up in their faces and high-class hysteria rules for a good chunk of the film.
"I Do" is an odd duck -- a chick flick, really, with a guy-friendly guy at the center. Midperiod Woody Allen fans should approve. Lonely guys will find sweet sorrow mooning over the lovely Gainesbourg ("I'm Not There"), a singer-songwriter, actress and the daughter of the legendary Serge.
The chemistry between the stars could have used some work, but all in all "I Do" is a winning Valentine's Day DVD from Lionsgate's Studio Canal unit.
Our Parisian trilogy concludes with the Criterion Collection's resurrection of Roberto Rossellini's "The Taking of Power by Louis XIV." A specialty item to be sure, this lengthy TV production tells of the Sun King's early days, in which he decides to break out of the royal cocoon and actually rule his country.
Rossellini's Louis XIV was an amateur actor who had such stage fright that he spent most of the telefilm as a bit of a overstuffed zombie, often reading his lines off a prompter. The lack of eye contact with the other actors and the monotone line readings translate into a royal aloofness that feels simultaneously real and otherworldly.
Rossellini meant to educate more than entertain, having decided in his later years that this was the true calling of cinema. The supporting actors spend much of the telefilm explaining to each other the daily routines of the palace -- its ceremonies and protocols.
This somewhat neo-realistic focus on Louis XIV's everyday life brings the telefilm to a crawl, but also elevates it beyond mere costume drama. Check out the long scene in which the plump young king alone consumes a meal with over a dozen courses, observed by a rapt audience of the royal court and hangers-on. Strange stuff.
Criterion issued "The Taking of Power by Louis XIV" as a regular single-disc Criterion title. A trio of the director's other educational telefilms have been released as "Rossellini's History Films," part of the Eclipse budget line.
"The Age of Medici" (a similar film about politics and art in Florence) certainly its moments, but it's hard to recommend the box set to anyone but history buffs. The other titles are the creaky "Cartesius" and "Blaise Pascal."
Also circling the DVD blog's players this week are the surprisingly involving Patti Smith documentary "Dream of Life"; "Mr. Mike's Mondo Video," a blast from the SNL past via Shout! Factory; and the Kevin Costner election fantasy "Swing Vote" from Disney.
New and noted DVDs and Blu-rays:
Appaloosa (New Line)
Breakfast at Tiffany's (Paramount)
Funny Face (Paramount)
Brick Lane (Sony)
Brideshead Revisited (2008, Miramax)
Dallas: The Complete Tenth Season (Warner)
The Family That Preys (Lionsgate)
I Do (Prete-moi ta main) (Lionsgate)
Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America (Paramount)
Mr. Mike's Mondo Video (Shout! Factory)
My Bloody Valentine: Special Edition (Lionsgate)
Our Daily Bread (docu, Icarus Films Home Video)
Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Palm Pictures)
Ring of Death (Genius Products and RHI Entertainment)
Screen & Stream is the new home of DVD Spin Doctor, which has merged with Download Movies 101 at the new site. Please visit Screen & Stream for Blu-ray & DVD reviews -- as well as online video news -- written by bleary-eyed L.A. entertainment writer Glenn Abel.