Film Research

The reproduction of the written works faces the problem of adaptation of the film and meeting the main motives of the written works. Indeed, the authors express the will to protect their works from the misinterpretations. At the same time, this will is often contradicted by the filmmakers, which represents the pragmatism of the screen adaptation. Among the existing adaptations of Shaw's Pygmalion, My Fair Lady represent the most interesting examples in terms of disclosing main themes and preserving of the original text. Both films show a successful adaptation of Shaw's play.

My Fair Lady is often defined as a play with music, rather than the musical itself (McGilligan 279). The first attempts to film Pygmalion as a musical were made by Pascal, producer of 1938 Pygmalion. However, during the first half of the 20th century, Show’s work was considered to be too intellectual to be filmed as a musical. As a result, the movie has a link to the earlier screen adaptations of Pygmalion. For instance, a cinematographer of 1938 Pygmalion, Harry Stradling, was appointed as the director of photography in My Fair Lady (Martin 45). Some parts of the dialogues applied in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady are completely identical. In addition, the production design of both movies remained the same. It is determined by the fact the Cukor used screenplays written by Shaw in 1941 on the basis of the 1938 Pygmalion. Besides, Shaw’s estate determined that the musical had to adhere to the original work (Martin 50).

In order to address the peculiarities of the filming of My Fair Lady, the development of the genre of the musicals in the 1960s has to be analyzed.  Despite the fact that many countries were filming musicals, the United States and the Hollywood has become a synonym to the musical genre. However, during the first half of the 20th century, the musicals scripts were specifically written for the filming, since in the 1950s the majority of the musicals represented adaptations of different works. The genre of musicals remained the most suitable for the disclosing of the romantic relations between Higgins and Eliza.

My Fair Lady represents a successful adaptation in terms of the appliance of the elements of the film form. For example, literary design of the musical, including themes, characters and their characteristics, dialogues, actions, and general settings, represents the ideas and thoughts introduced by Shaw. Indeed, My Fair Lady remains more close to the original Shaw’s work than 1938 Pygmalion. It is determined by the fact that the musical pays attention to Freddy as a possible Eliza’s husband. On the contrary, 1938 Pygmalion has a clear message on the development of the relationships between Eliza and Higgins. The musical also restores several scenes taken from Shaw’s play. In addition, My Fair Lady has a clear message of the irony of Eliza’s transformation. Thus, Cukor succeeded in My Fair Lady to adapt the text of the original story ad to maintain the main themes of Shaw’s work. Comparing to other adaptations of Shaw’s works, the films based on Pygmalion have been transformed. For example, there were several differences between the original Shaw’s Pygmalion and 1938 film adaptation. For instance, working on the film script, Shaw added new sequences. For instance, for Act I, Eliza’s taking a taxi to her place and Eliza is daydreaming at her home; for Act II, introduction of one of the Higgins; for Act III, the reception at the embassy, and for Act IV Eliza leaves Higgins to spend a night with Freddy. As a result, the film adaptation influenced the original work of Shaw and introduced new features worth including in future editions. The film has become a successful adaptation of Shaw’s work, despite representing a critical version of the original play. Shaw was closely involved into the process of filming; however, the film is rather an interpretation of the play itself, rather than its copy. The film follows the general guideline and preserves all significant motives of the play. In addition, there are fewer variations in the dialogues written by Shaw. At the same time, the film represents a different variation of the play. The most noticeable differences include the development of the relationships between Higgins and Eliza. For example, in the final scene, Eliza returns to Higgins. In addition, the Pascal screenplay of 1938 Pygmalion underlines that the movie itself has to be treated as a romantic story that reveals the relationship between two individuals.  

According to the appliance of the visual effects, or mise-en-scene, My Fair Lady represents one of the most successful films of the 1960s. It is determined by the fact that musical applied clever lyrics and pleasant songs. In addition, the movie is based on the well-designed theatrical sets. The actors perfectly describe the roles of their characters. At the same time, attention is also paid to the general settings of the movie. In order to achieve this, the camera movement of the backward track was applied. As a result, the actors are often situated at the background, while the camera reveals the front scene. Besides this, characters often appear in the scene from the side, gradually integrating into the particular scene.  The characters of My Fair Lady also have rich and elegant costumes that help to underline the peculiarities of the described epoch.

In order to underline the most important messages of the movie, several techniques are applied, such as the usage of music, lighting and camera angling, actors’ performances, and other technical instructions for shot composition. These features represent another element of the film form, known as cinematography. My Fair Lady has a number of visual similarities with other films based on Shaw’s Pygmalion. In particular, My Fair Lady is similar to 1938 Pygmalion. For instance, the same visual effects, such as appliance of light and camera angle, are used to underline a particular message of the musical and the film. For example, similarly to 1938 Pygmalion, in the opening scene of My Fair Lady high camera angles are applied in order to indicate the emotions of fear and vulnerability, experienced by Eliza. My Fair Lady also contains a lot of contrasts based on light and shadow. At the same time, there are some differences in the film process. Thus, Cukor refused from employing tracking and panning shots and significantly reduced the amount of reaction shots. In addition, Cukor applies visual motifs and colors in order to help to disclose the personalities of the characters and their moods. The colors are also used in order to distinguish the environments of the main heroes. On the contrary, one of the most impressive aspects of 1938 Pygmalion is the achievement of visual fluidity. For example, the scene of the continuous movement of Higgins during the episode of the phonetic coaching is achieved with the appliance of the forty separate shots taken from slanted camera angles (Leitch 155). In addition, the importance of Kharpaty is expressed by framing of the character in medium shot and tracing back with him (Leitch 156). Thus, the film already increases the interest towards Kharpaty’s character before he eventually starts any dialogue. Similar techniques are used throughout the dialogues between the characters in order to underline the core motives and points of their speech. The usage of different camera angles is often used to underline the vulnerability of Eliza, describe her status in the society, and reinforce menace and isolation of Eliza. For instance, low camera shooting that accompanies Higgins’ words “It’s almost irresistible. She is so deliciously low - so horribly dirty” underlines the power of Higgins over Eliza (McGovern 181). As a result, the appliance of the numerous visual effects allowed critics to define the movie as “one of the few featured films from Britain during this decade to be worthy of lasting praise and recognition” (Shafer 66). In addition, according to the position of the critics, Pygmalion (1938) represents a “culminating point of British 1930s cinema because it deals consciously and explicitly with the underlying but often concealed themes of the decade - class, morality, accent” (Armes 130). However, My Fair Lady has a high level of editing. This element of the filming remains important in creating the overall impression of the movie. My Fair Lady can be characterized as exceptionally smooth musical that has fewer sharp changes of the scenes.

Music represents another important element in My Fair Lady. It is used to indicate the romantic and characters’ moods in the musical. Besides this, music strengthens the most important moments that require increased attention from the spectators. However, while the text could not have been changed significantly, the appliance of the songs throughout the movie allowed introducing interpretation of the events, envisioned by Shaw. The songs also helped to underline the range of the feelings that were kept under control in Shaw’s work. For example, Eliza changes her mood from anger, described in a song “Just You Wait Henry Higgins”, to passion, disclosed in “I Could Have Danced All Night” (Martin 54).

Shaw defended an idea that the naturalism should become an integral part of the literary theater. As a result, Shaw plays have gained increased popularity within the audience. It was largely achieved by the disclosure of the urgent problems that were common to the society. Further adaptations of Shaw's’ works, including Pascal’s Pygmalion and Cukor’s My Fair Lady, are also focused on the analysis of the existing controversies, such as identity and transformation, language and communication, society and class inequality, the role of women and manipulation.

At the same time, both movies failed to describe the role of women in the society, which has changed greatly between 1910 and 1960. As a result, Eliza’s character should have undergone metamorphosis related to the time locations. While the original activities of Shaw’s play took place in 1910, the movies were filmed in the 1930s and 1960s.  The scripts of both works ignored the real matter of state. Instead, directors adhered to the motives, mentioned by Shaw. For instance, Eliza, representing working class women, had more limited opportunities of employment and self-establishment in 1910 than her counterparts in 1930 or 1960. Indeed, in the 1930s, women were gradually integrated into the society, gaining rights to vote and participating in activities different from domestic services. However, instead of providing Eliza with employment opportunities, films solve the problem by marrying a girl. As a result, the films failed to be adapted to the realities of the particular historic periods.  

However, both movies succeeded in the description of the men attitude towards women. Both movies and Shaw’s play deal with the issue of the prejudice towards women. For example, in musical, Higgins sings a song “Why Can’t a Woman Be More like a Man”. This underlines the existed assumption of the superiority of a man at the beginning of the 20th century. The song describes women as illogical and jealous. The main purpose of women’s activities is to dominate the relationship and marry a man. In addition, women are portrayed as admirable attributes because of their nice-looking appearance. This also underlines the common thought of the past that women belong to the private sphere. As a result, they cannot be integrated into the social life, which remained ruled by the men.

Both movies help to understand Eliza’s transformation better. For example, the scene in Pygmalion where Eliza looks into the mirror discloses the desire of a girl to see something better. The scene with a bath demonstrates how threatened the girl is by the unknown naked body. Later, Eliza starts wearing make-up, which illustrates the development of a new identity of a lady. Thus, apart from the necessity of the phonetics transformations underlined by Shaw, the transformation in Eliza’s appearance, shown in the movies, emphasizes the message of the identity metamorphosis.

My Fair Lady and Pygmalion are largely focused on the romantic aspects of Shaw’s play and pay less attention to the other issues. Indeed, while 1938 Pygmalion discloses development of the relationships between Eliza and Higgins, My Fair Lady strengthens the possibility of involvement between Eliza and Freddy. Shaw mentioned the problem of the class distinction and social inequality in his play. Society is divided upon several criteria, such as wealth, education, and even language. However, each of the rich and poor groups has subdivisions that are situated in the middle and remain less obvious. It is a so-called gray area between the wealth and the poverty. However, the personality of a person is not determined by belonging to a particular group. Shaw also indicates that the gap between those two groups can be easily eliminated. He argues the common in the past opinion that people born within lower classes cannot be integrated into the upper class. In this regard, he criticizes the society that makes assumptions about a person’s status upon appearance and behavior. Indeed, Eliza, a flower girl form the middle class, is associated with a duchess. This also indicates how easily the society can be divided.

In conclusion, My Fair Lady represent successful adaptations of the original Shaw’s play. While having a number of differences with Shaw’s work, the film discloses a number of important issues. Musical comment on the existed class order and analyze the possible reasons of the occurrence of the social inequality. In addition, My Fair Lady underlines the importance of being civilized and oppose the attitude towards women based on the assumption of their exclusion from a social life. The appliance of the filming techniques provides an opportunity for better disclosing of the film’s messages. 

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