Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), adapted from the book by Truman Capote and directed by Blake Edwards, is a shift from the crime-thrillers that have been discussed previously. The title sequence, drenched in gold, identifies the characters before the audience ever has a chance to meet them. Unlike Harper, the film doesn’t avoid the use of dissolves to show the passage of time.
In addition to the key differences in editing techniques, Breakfast at Tiffany’s empowers the main female character, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn). Though key dialogue moments between Holly and her romantic interest, Paul Varjak (George Peppard), namely the titular scene in the taxi towards the end of the film, fail to counteract the systematic sexism present in the majority of classical Hollywood cinema. Paul tells Holly that they are meant for each other, that he “owns” her.
Holly isn’t there to be a part of his story, though. A quick dolly-up on Holly in the first act as she calls for a taxi explains that she is powerful, and has some agency. Another instance of empowerment can be extracted from the scene in which she sits on her fire escape, singing to “Moon River.” Even when Paul discovers that she is singing, she smiles and continues to do so; he is not threatened by the fact that she has talent.
While she does, indeed, want to find a new job to avoid scummy men, the film restrains from criminalizing sex work; both Paul and Holly get paid for sex. It’s never implied to be a horrible life. And Holly never settles for something that she views as just okay, but rather chooses to endure several different failed endeavors at marrying a wealthy husband (her motivations are somewhat skewed from a feminist perspective). She claims that she can give her cat a proper name if she’s rich.
Most interior shots were filmed at a studio in Los Angeles, but Howard Smith’s flawless editing and Franz Planner’s simplistic, yet effective, shot compositions lead to near perfect transitions between interior and exterior, where many scenes were filmed in New York for a more authentic look. Breakfast at Tiffany’s exposes the shallowness of riches, and what wealth does to a person. Look to the party scene, when all the richest people are in one room: Holly’s apartment.
Minor details could easily be overlooked, but those are the subtle edges of the film’s more complex theme. At one point an unnamed female guest gazes into a mirror while holding a glass of wine. She laughs at herself, at how lucky she is to be able to indulge herself in the lifestyle; she loves it. But after a series of intercuts, the frame returns to her. Her tears stream down her face because even though she owns excess itself, it can never be enough to fill the holes of desire.