My Fair Lady

I watched My Fair Lady few weeks ago, and was impressed by the way this old movie portrayed romantic attraction.  I know that romance is not the main point of the story, I know that the story is about how “an artist created a lady”, yet there are some scenes which show romance.

My Fair Lady is a 1964 musical film adaptation of Pygmalion, a play written by George Bernard Shaw.  As the title of the play suggested, it was inspired by a story in Greek mythology about a sculptor named Pygmalion who made a statue of a woman.  This statue was so fair that he fell in love with “her”, and wished that she would be changed to a real woman.  His wish was granted, she became a real woman, and they got married.

In the play Pygmalion, and in My Fair Lady, the role of the sculptor was interestingly given to a pedantic professor.  His field was phonetics, so when he encountered a flower girl who spoke a heavily accented English (“She should be hung for the cold blooded murder of the English tongue!” exclaimed the Professor), he was determined to teach her to speak proper English and to behave in a ladylike manner.  This he did with much success: just like Pygmalion made a woman out of ivory, Professor Henry Higgins made a lady out of a common flower girl.

During the training period, Professor Higgins introduced Eliza (the flower girl) to his friends, all of which belonged to the upper class of London society.  One of them, a young gentleman named Frederick Eynsford Hill, completely fell in love with Eliza in their first meeting.  And why did he fall in love with her? Because she was young, very beautiful, and she could talk so interestingly.  That’s all.  The writer made no attempt to make Freddy’s infatuation seem deeper.  So it was what we would call crush, immature love, not a solid foundation for a relationship, etc.  Nevertheless, when the movie showed us how Freddy afterward often walked along the street where Eliza stayed because he was genuinely happy simply by being there, I could not help smiling.  Oh, yes, he was genuinely happy.  Just see his silly, sheepish face and you will know he was genuinely attracted to her.  And of course it does not hurt that it was young Jeremy Brett who played Freddy in the movie.  He could manage to look handsome and sheepish at the same time.  I must admit that perhaps what makes this scene even more endearing to me is that Jeremy Brett would, in the later part of his career, play Sherlock Holmes in the Granada series.

The second infatuation was Eliza’s.  She was attracted to her maker, the eccentric professor, who trained her so strictly and had seen her more as a research project than a woman.  When she managed to pronounce the vowels correctly for the first time, they were so happy that they fell into an impromptu dance (the famous “The Rain in Spain”), which lasted only for a few seconds.  After the dance, Eliza looked at the professor with awe and affection.  (And it was Audrey Hepburn who played her, mind you.  To see Audrey Hepburn in any pose would make one smile.  But to see Audrey Hepburn staring at the man she loved would make one … well, completely be done in?)  Professor Higgins left the room soon after their dance, with no further remarks than that Eliza should work hard to master the rest of her assignments.  He was clearly unaffected by their dance.  After all, it was not a romantic dance.  It was more like merry folks dancing together – there was also another person joined in their celebration.  In contrast, Eliza smiled uncontrollably and went on to tell all the servants how happy she was.  “I could have danced all night,” she sang, “… my heart took flight…”  All this excitement, just because “he danced with me”.  Again, it was genuine infatuation.  It was slightly deeper than Freddy’s, for through her intense training she began to like the Professor and wished to befriend him, but it was only then that she realized her romantic feeling.  Again, I was touched when I saw her smiling, almost naive, face.

When I saw her smiling and staring blankly, at first I thought she was too happy because she could pronounce the vowels correctly.  Then she said “when he began to dance with me”, and I understood that it was romantic feelings, and not intellectual achievements, that excited her.

I have often dismissed infatuation as silly and argued that a relationship should be based on clear thinking instead.  And how many times have we heard that eros is not reliable and that we all should strive for agape instead?  But now I humbly admit: a relationship should delight both one’s heart and head, eros is not the most perfect form of love but it has its own beauty and power and should be nurtured.  Granted, Freddy was not very bright or capable.  Yet I must admit that he almost completely done me in.  Almost.


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