Sunday, September 02, 2007

Remaking Sabrina... [spoiler alert]

A few weekends ago friend E visited me after coming back from her 6-week-long trek through South-East Asia (taking in 5 countries from Laos to Malaysia to Vietnam, none of which I have actually been to myself). After dinner and catching up over bottles of wine we settled down to watch DVDs until the wee hours of the morning, and gosh it must have been years since I've done a girlie nite-in [correction: I should say it must have been years since I've hosted a girlie nite-in, as I just remember that I occasionally had sleepovers at friends' places, but just never my own], previously because I didn't have a place of my own, and anyway we all have such busy lives that we seldom have the luxury of our teenage years to stay up and chat all night anymore...

Anyway, the first movie we watched was an old black-and-white classic, Sabrina (1954), starring Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart (l) and William Holden (r).
The movie was chosen because I happened to have recently acquired an Audrey Hepburn movie classic box-set from the HMV summer sales, and having both seen Breakfast at Tiffany's umpteen times, we went for Sabrina out of the other choices available, because E has seen a remake of it from the 90's and quite enjoyed the remake version. I have never seen either versions so happily went along...

And my, how were we shocked by this original!! Watching this movie is like watching a crystallized form of 1950's gender and class relations and morality, a genteel world untouched by the women's rights movement or contemporary paedophilic scandals. From a post-feminist perspective, we could not believe some of the lines of the dialogue, and indeed, the casting choices. Audrey Hepburn is absolutely perfect in her role as the naive chauffeur's daughter falling for the tycoon's son, but Humphrey Bogart??????? He looked old enough to be her grand-dad, never mind her dad. Yes I know that old movies usually have female stars paired with much older male stars (case in point: Nancy Kwan and William Holden in the World of Suzie Wong), but this pairing doesn't work even in the context of the story itself: Humphrey Bogart looks even older than the actor who plays Hepburn's father (the chauffeur), and they only just about managed to find a slightly even more wizenly-looking old man to play Bogart's own father in the movie.

Anyway, Bogart didn't exude any of the older male magnetism that his role demands - he looked terrible in all his outfits, a grumpy old man who played as if all this was beneath him (and it probably was, he should not have continued on playing a romantic lead against such a young actress, and from IMDB I discovered that he didn't like Audrey Hepburn at all, and wanted his then wife Lauren Bacall to play opposite him instead - now that pairing could have probably worked out a lot better if only because Bogart might have had better chemistry with Bacall).

Oh yes, the dialogues. OMG, how dire were they! The key scene that had me and my friend up in arms and yelling at the telly was the one where Bogart visited Hepburn in the indoor tennis court allegedly on behalf of his brother (played by Holden). I mean, "Keep it in the family"?????!!!!!?????? What? The girl is just a thing, a china vase that should be passed round from one brother to the next like some sort of exotic heirloom?????? This is bordering on creepy incest! Why oh why did Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina not give him a good slap (like Julia Ormond's Sabrina did, more on this later), but actually allowed him to kiss her?

Oh, and what's with the older gentleman in Paris who took an interest in her and gave her money to buy the latest Parisian fashion and all, wasn't he just a more genteel version of a modern-day sugar-daddy??? Shouldn't her father worry about all these older guys being interested in his precious daughter?

Speaking of which, that scene towards the end, between Bogart as the rich and powerful Linus Larrabee and Sabrina's father as his obedient chauffeur, when Bogart was actually ordering Sabrina's father to drive him to meet Sabrina, ohmigod, how plain inappropriate is that? Bogart's Linus didn't feel the need at all to give any respect or attention to his driver even though he was allegedly in love with his driver's daughter, and didn't notice anything wrong until the chauffeur plucked up his courage to speak up. How fucking snobbish is that?

The whole thing is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Except for one thing: Audrey Hepburn (and all her to-die-for Givenchy outfits)! Oh, Audrey looked absolutely divine throughout this movie, even from the very beginning when she was meant to be this naive ugly-duckling of a chauffeur's daughter, she was wearing this cute polka dot dress that compliments her gamine beauty really well...

However, the dress that made me gasp, the one that really showed off her tiny, tiny waist and really made her the belle of the ball, is the below gorgeous strapless satin and tulle gown with embroidered brocade details from Givenchy (and which, apparently according to the IMDB, Audrey picked out personally herself, and which helped garner the film an Oscar for costume design).

Of course, while the dresses themselves were divine, it was Audrey's luminous quality and unmistakable polish that made her shine. Even as a young actress faced with two well-established older male leads, she had no problems outshining them with her wit and beauty and, it has to be said, class. Her effortless elegance in the way she carried herself and spoke, as well as her sense of humour, made this cringe-worthy film eminently watchable. Apparently, according to the IMBD trivia page again, Audrey and William fell in love in the making of this movie... Awww... how sweet (and how sad that apparently they later separated because she found out he couldn't have children...).

So that was a few weekends ago, why did I suddenly bring that up here now? Well, very late last night the remake version of Sabrina (1995) was actually on telly and it was by sheer coincidence that I discovered it! I managed to catch most of the film, thinking how lucky I was to be able to catch the remake version just a few weekends after I've seen the original, especially when my friend and I concluded, after watching the 1954 version, that Sabrina was just that rare old movie where a modern remake would actually do it some good.

However, I must say that I am very disappointed in this remake also. Obviously, my friend has already told me much about the new version during our thrashing of the old version: that the new version has a much more independent Sabrina, that she got to use her skills, that she slapped Linus for his slimey "keep it in the family" kiss, that her chauffeur father wasn't stuck in his job but managed to amass a fortune as a result of astute investments during his decades of service to the Larrabees, that Linus Larrabee bristled at others' calling Sabrina a "chauffeur's daughter" and only got to find Sabrina by explicitly and humbly asking for consent from his chauffeur.... These progressive updates are all well and good, and really made the saccharine fairy tale plot a lot easier to swallow than before.

But oh, here we have mis-castings again! This time, it is the female lead. While Sydney Pollack as the director has finally given us a worthy Linus Larrabee in the form of Harrison Ford:
I mean, Harrison Ford versus Humphrey Bogart, Harrison wins hands down, no contest.

The same however cannot be said for Julia Ormond as the latter day replacement for the divine Audrey Hepburn. And it's not just about the looks either (although Winona Ryder would have been so much better has she accepted the role when it has first gone to her according to IMDB) - Julia just doesn't have the level of polish that Audrey had. Julia's Sabrina is still the same awkward kid upon her return from Paris, the only thing that changed about her was her haircut and her clothes, but what about the confidence, the erudition, the innate elegance that Audrey's Sabrina was able to bring upon her return from Paris? Julia's Sabrina has none of that, even though her Sabrina was explicitly mentored by a strong female role model and was encouraged by her boyfriend during her stint in Paris, while all Audrey's Sabrina had in Paris was a creepy old man from her cookery class taking a shine to her.

Case in point 1: Upon her entrance to Larrabee's party, Audrey's Sabrina, resplendent in that beautiful dress, walked in confidently by herself, believing in her right to be there and knowing that she herself is the belle of the ball. Julia's Sabrina on the other hand, felt awkward even in her new dress and new look, and hesitated at the entrance until David Larrabee (in the form of the likeable but not-at-all-handsome Greg Kinnear) came out and extended his hand to invite her in.

Case in point 2: When Audrey's Sabrina learnt of Bogart's Linus' preposterous plot to get rid of her by seducing her away from David, she went away quietly, and with dignity, and didn't shed a tear. When Julia's Sabrina learnt about the same from Harrison's Linus, she was visibly heart-broken and cried.

It's enough to make me wonder: perhaps one's confidence and elegance only grows from having to deal successfully with creepy old men? That an awkward girl cannot become an elegant woman through sheer hard work and mentorship alone, as none of that prepares her for handling men with grace and wit?

Anyway, I know what I want if I were to miraculously be given the reins to direct another remake of Sabrina... Not only will the plot be kept updated to get rid of all the creepiness of the original, but much better stars are available to play the leads (am thinking George Clooney would make a great Linus - he could easily play a mean yet extremely irresistable Linus at the drop of a hat... As for Sabrina, it's quite hard to find a gem like Audrey anymore, perhaps Keira Knightley at a stretch?)
All image credits:

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At Tue Sep 04, 03:35:00 a.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

Sabrina was supposed to make Ormond the new Hollywood sweetheart and Ford a romantic lead, but neither one worked out. So in the end it was pretty forgettable.

At Thu Sep 06, 06:28:00 a.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Hmm I'd think that Harrison Ford was already a well-established romantic lead prior to Sabrina? But yeah Julia Ormond was absolutely dire (although my friend didn't think so!), and it's not surprising the film didn't do well (I myself don't recall this film being released in the 90's in the first place!).

At Thu Sep 06, 05:14:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

I respectfully disagree the part that says Ford was already a well established romantic lead. He is a leading man all right, yes, but more like action hero or American conscience type, Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan kind of tough guy. There are some romantic elements in all his characters but romantic lead he is not....
He is 65 and he's doing Indiana Jones again. And he still looks pretty damn good. That kind of give me some hope.

At Thu Sep 06, 10:20:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Ah perspectives perspectives, where you see an action hero with some romantic elements in Indiana Jones, I see a smouldering romantic lead with some action elements ;)

At Thu Sep 06, 10:26:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Oops, please do insert "hero" after "action" in my last comment, as I don't want to give any double entendre impression where none was actually intended...

And omg did you say Ford is doing Indiana Jones again??? He's getting on a bit for performing that role (from both an action as well as romance perspective), no??? But I guess if Bruce Willis can still do it...

At Mon Sep 10, 02:33:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

Bruce Willis is only 52, he sure can do another die hard if he wants. Sylvester Stallone is doing Rambo and he's 61, so why not. Ford, 65, is really the oldest guy out there.


Is Dublin always cold?

At Thu Sep 13, 06:43:00 p.m. IST, Anonymous Tourist said...

The casting choices are a big problem for the 1995 version, both Audrey Hepburn and William Holden are too much for Julia Ormond and Greg Kinnear respectively.

I watched both versions of Sabrina in June last year, and I thought the remake version would be much better if the leading roles went to Sean Penn and Penélope Cruz other than Greg Kinnear and Julia Ormond.

btw, great blog, excellent level of English, very nice to meet you on the net. :)

At Sat Sep 29, 03:30:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Hi Tourist, thanks for stopping by my humble blog, am glad to learn that you found the rambling musings here to be somewhat interesting :)

I've been thinking about what you said about Penelope Cruz and Sean Penn instead of Julia Ormond and Gregg Kinnear... I can definitely see Penelope as a Latina version of Sabrina, and believe she would be excellent in the role too, but Sean Penn playing David Larrabee, an airhead playboy character, seems to me to be a bit wasteful of his immense talent and sense of gravitas. But put him as Linus Larrabee.. well then yeah I'd absolutely sign up for that!

Anyway, it's cool to be able to compare wishful casting notes with someone else who've also seen both movies :)

At Sat Sep 29, 03:38:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

To LCL: Okay, must say I didn't realise that Bruce Willis is more than a decade younger than Harrison Ford!

As long as there is NOT another movie with JACK NICHOLSON in it as the romantic lead... (I've NEVER EVER understood his appeal) That's not too much to ask, is it?

At Thu Jun 03, 07:25:00 a.m. IST, Anonymous blue said...

I know the original movie is a silly little movie but it is whyi love them. I haven't seen the remake so can't really comment, but the new leading lady was just set up to fail...

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