“My Fair Lady” won eight Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor Rex Harrison, Best Cinematography, Best Music, Best Sound, Best Art Direction/Set Direction, and Best Costume Design. Listed as # 91 on AFI's Top 100 of all time.
“My Fair Lady” was still a hefty gamble by Warner Bros. in 1964, particularly after the financial woes of the costly “Cleopatra,” over at rival studio Twentieth Century-Fox. Adapted from the highly popular stage musical that starred Rex Harrison and then-unknown Julie Andrews, the film version substituted Audrey Hepburn in the Andrews role, and became a kind of swan song by producer Jack L. Warner.
Hire the best, and treat the project with the utmost care seemed to have been the unofficial axiom that governed the project, and Warner Bros.' extras - beefed up from an already solid DVD in 1998 – now include some added promotional ephemera.
The “Production Kickoff Dinner,” archived on Disc 2, gathers al the major and notable secondary actors, plus director George Cukor and some of his production team for a media launch. With Jack L. Warner serving as emcee, it's a rare treat to see one of the U.S. film industry's founding fathers talk at length on camera; sometimes funny and clearly relishing the media attention, it's also amusing when Warner discusses the role of motion pictures under TV's powerful threat. Stars Hepburn and Harrison (himself recently free from Fox' still-unreleased “Cleopatra”) partake in some one-on-one Q&As with a reporter shooting some frequently touchy questions. Whether the promo featurette was ever used is a mystery, as the source print for the DVD – lacking sound in spots, and containing the editor's pencil markings – seems to be an abandoned rough edit.
“The Fairest Lady,” on the other hand, is a finished featurette that trumpets the sets, décor, costumes, makeup, and colour of “the great Super Panavision 70 camera.” Segments from this complete print also appear in the excellent making-of documentary, “More Lovelier Than Ever,” originally made for the 1996 CBS Fox laserdisc.
That doc actually has 2 functions: to present a concise overview of the film's production (as hosted by Jeremy Brett), and to chronicle the immense restoration begun by film archeologists Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz. Though the latter two appear on the DVD's commentary track, viewer's are better served by watching the doc first, as it contains excellent trivia and anecdotes from surviving cast and crew members; and illustrates the restoration process with vivid images of fading negatives and worn sound elements.
The commentary in turn fleshes out the restoration with more precise descriptions, and comments from singer Marni Nixon (who dubbed Hepburn's earnest but unusable vocals) appear when the overall conversations between Harris, Katz, and the film's production designer, Gene Allen, become a bit too dry for the average film fan. Though the men do offer a lot of production anecdotes and historical data, Warner Bros.' DVD ultimately functions – unofficially, of course – as a fine example of why film preservation is so vital.
The myriad stills (many shot by designer/stylist Cecil Beaton) and comments from Martin Scorsese (seen in the documentary, and in an archived outtake) illustrate the artistic importance of the medium and the need to save films destined to disappear from the trauma of age. (Note: some of the complete promo material archived on the disc were taken from older ¾” video sources, and contain burnt-it time code, while excerpts in the lengthy doc appear clean.)
The remaining goodies also include another doc outtake (this time with Andrew Lloyd Webber, regarding an aborted collaboration with “Fair Lady” co-composer Alan Jay Lerner); surviving audio of Cukor directing one of his actors with a razor sharp attention on nuances; and two musical sequences set to surviving audio stems of Hepburn doing her own singing.
A first-rate tribute to one of the great Hollywood musicals.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan