Remembering Blake Edwards

Posted on December 17, 2010



Remembering Blake Edwards, who receives an honorary Academy Award this year.

FEB 29, 2004 – AMERICA, IN THIS DAY AND AGE, is still reeling from the discovery that Janet Jackson has breasts, so you can only imagine how many vials of smelling salts were passed around in the early eighties, when the nation discovered that Mary Poppins had them too. The latter’s (that is, Julie Andrews’) wardrobe malfunction occurred in S.O.B., writer-director Blake Edwards’ satire on Hollywood, in which a filmmaker (not unlike Edwards), after test audiences’ cold shoulder to his expensive musical (not unlike the box office’s cold shoulder to Edwards’ expensive World War I musical Darling Lili), decides to court success with controversy – by adding topless footage of his wholesome star-wife (not unlike Julie Andrews, Edwards’ real-life wife, and a star more wholesome than a Norman Rockwell painting of mom’s apple pie).

If the near-autobiographical S.O.B. had been made today, some more footage could have been added – the fictional filmmaker, at the closing moments, would have received a little gold statuette, just like the honorary Oscar Edwards himself will receive “in recognition of his writing, directing and producing an extraordinary body of work for the screen.”

This body of work is spread out over several genres – western (Wild Rovers), detective caper (Gunn), political-romantic drama (The Tamarind Seed), psychological thriller (Experiment in Terror), bittersweet comedy (10), harrowing character study (Days of Wine and Roses) – but Edwards, thanks to his Pink Panther films, is best known as a prime practitioner of that apparent oxymoron, the elegant farce. He made art out of pratfalls – you only have to think of Inspector Clouseau’s agonising moments at the nudist camp with a strategically-placed guitar in A Shot in the Dark, or that climax of The Party in which the Hollywood producer’s mansion becomes a giant bathtub, to recall a Hollywood where outrageous laughs didn’t automatically imply jokes about flatulence.

Edwards himself came to prostrate at the altar of the gross-out in his later years, notably in Skin Deep, that had two men wearing fluorescent condoms and chasing each other in the dark, and in Son of the Pink Panther, where Bobby McFerrin’s vocals did similarly unspeakable things to Henry Mancini’s classic title theme in the name of interpretation. Edwards’ filmmaking too, with the exception of Victor/Victoria, lost its energy, as if wound down by all that heightened physical slapstick of the early days.

That’s what nostalgia and honorary awards are for, to divert attention from the attrition of a talent and focus on achievements instead. Among the many film clips that will comprise the Blake Edwards retrospective at this year’s Academy Awards is sure to be a shot from Breakfast at Tiffany’s – not simply a movie, but a memory of a long-gone era of sophisticated entertainment – and few filmmakers can claim to have emblazoned into our collective consciousness as timeless an image as Audrey Hepburn playing Moon River by the windowsill.

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Posted in: Cinema: English