I hit on the theme of transformations whilst watching a film that I haven’t seen for years. It was My Fair Lady so without further ado, let’s get cracking.
My Fair Lady starred Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in the story of how Professor Higgins, an expert in phonetics, tries to turn working class flower girl Eliza Doolittle into a lady. The film is based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The rude and bombastic Higgins played so well by Harrison enters into a wager with colleague Colonel Pickering played by Wilfrid Hyde White. Higgins boasts that he could pass the lowly flower girl off as a princess and embarks on a wearying schedule of training so Eliza can improve her speech and deportment.
I’m not a great fan of musicals but I’ve always rather liked this film. The songs for the most part are wonderful and the performances excellent. Audrey Hepburn was a controversial choice for the film as the part had been played on the stage by Julie Andrews and as this was before she shot to fame in The Sound of Music, the producers wanted a big star in the role.
The story had been filmed before of course. There was an earlier version, a non-musical version made in 1938 starring Leslie Howard. Howard is probably most famous for his portrayal of Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind but his version of Higgins was to me, much superior to Harrison’s although I love both. Wendy Hiller plays Eliza Doolittle and she is much more believable as Eliza, no disrespect to Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Howard is a bright, eccentric Higgins. What is interesting from researching the film on the internet is that a controversial (at the time) line was included in the film: Eliza saying ‘Not Bloody Likely!’ This made Wendy Hiller the first person ever to swear in a British film. Dear me, how times change! That I suppose is a transformation in itself, the language of the cinema becoming ruder and coarser by the day with the F word becoming more and more prominent in film dialogue. These days, ‘Not bloody likely’ is hardly worth a second thought.
The main transformation in both Pygmalion and My Fair Lady is that of Eliza Doolittle from common flower girl to well-spoken princess. She is the butterfly that emerges from Professor Higgins’ training although the experience does not necessarily make her happy. She returns back to Covent Garden and no one recognises her there. She is dressed differently, she speaks differently and no longer resembles the woman she used to be. Her father recognises her though as he has been transformed too. Higgins was so impressed by Alfred P Doolittle that he has written to an American millionaire advising him that Doolittle is one of the great wits and philosophers of the day and the millionaire bestows a large amount of money on him. The result is that friends and family have appeared out of the woodwork all intent on eliciting financial support from Doolittle and the tables have been turned on him. Instead of his previous happy but poor existence, now the the worries of supporting others lay heavily on his shoulders.
I of course have experienced transformations too. Some years ago, I was in full time work, now I am retired. I made the transition slowly. I first opted for semi-retirement and went from working a shift pattern of six days on and three days off, to one of three days on and six off, a much more agreeable working pattern. I had thought that the new working pattern would give me more time to myself, more time to get acclimatised to retirement. Instead, it actually made my working life more difficult. In our hi tech emergency control room, things were constantly changing and I was not always up to speed. I was using old templates when I should have used new ones, using codes that were now obsolete and so on. I missed updates and briefings that happened on my six days off. Looking back, I should have just retired fully and looked for some part time job to top up my cash flow. Anyway, now I am transformed, a retired former civil servant, writing blogs and making YouTube videos.
Age has transformed me too. In the picture over on the right you can see me as I was when I was aged 19 or 20. It was taken in France by my best friend Chris. Now I am older, at least older on the outside. On the inside I’d have to say that I haven’t really changed that much. You might think that now I’m probably much wiser with different ideas and different thoughts. Actually though, I’m pretty much the same on the inside with similar ideas and similar thoughts.
Here’s another film with transformations at its heart, Silence of the Lambs. It was the first horror film to win a best picture Oscar and it was about a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill by the press. The FBI are trying to catch him and send rookie officer Clarice Starling to visit Hannibal Lector, a psychiatrist and murderer, currently detained in a high security prison in the hope that he might give some insight into the current murderer. Lector agrees to talk but only on his terms.
Jodie Foster plays agent Starling. She wants to work in the Behavioural Science Unit of the FBI and Lector, chillingly played by Hopkins, finds her interesting. He seems willing to give his information and insights about Buffalo Bill but in return he wants information about Clarice herself. He initiates a quid pro quo, he gives her information and observations about Bill and in return she must reveals snippets of information about herself, her background and her life. When Starling reveals the murder victims have something inserted into their throats Lector correctly guesses the item is a butterfly. Buffalo Bill, says Lector, wants to transform himself, in his twisted way into a female.
Much of the content of the film is terrifying but at the same time, it is a compelling film and comes together in an exciting climax. Silence of The Lambs won five Oscars.
I wrote in a previous post about another type of transformation, one achieved by using imaging technology to transform one’s own appearance. Using image editors today, it is possible to smooth wrinkled or pock marked skin and to trim away unwanted flesh. Over on TikTok recently I seemed to be bombarded on one particular day by endless videos of women using a filter for video that made them all seem younger and more glamourous. Here’s an example below from YouTube.
The best transformation though are perhaps the ones that we make ourselves, the transformations that occur on the inside.
Floating in Space was a great achievement for me. I had always wanted to be a writer and finally completing and publishing my book was something very exciting for me. Of course, Floating has never come near to the best seller charts and is not ever likely to. If it did, I can imagine another transformation from quiet part time writer to international author. I could swap my Skoda for a Porsche. Buy some new clothes for my media interviews and join the international jet set. That might be a fun transformation but with my bad back and sore neck, I might have trouble getting into that low slung Porsche. Then there’s my strong northern accent. Would TV viewers be able to understand me? Would I need some vocal training?
Perhaps I should be looking for a Professor Higgins to help me?