Pygmalion

Pygmalion

DVD - 2008
Average Rating:
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A cranky professor takes a bet that he can turn flower-seller Eliza Doolittle into a 'proper lady' in no time
Publisher: [United States] : Criterion Collection, [2008]
Edition: Fullscreen ed
Branch Call Number: DVD Pygmalion
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (90 min.) : sd., b&w ; 4 3/4 in
Alternative Title: Essential art house
Bernard Shaw's

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t
ThomasJWhiting
Jul 09, 2016

GREAT 1938 b/w movie version of the George Bernard Shaw play first presented in 1913.
When I watch movies (typically alone in late evening in my home office on a desktop computer), I also have Wikipedia open to that subject so I can learn more about the film, actors, etc. And I can stop, replay, whatever as I watch the film - which would be a bit inappropriate if watching on big screen with company. In a way, I taking/making my own self-produced/taught class in films produced before I was born that I haven't seen before.
I do take notes about things that strike me while watching, and when the film is finished, I will go to the great Internet Movie Database (IMDb) site to read the various informative comments people have left there. For Pygmalion there were 65 user comments (and much more) at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_(1938_film).
Many of them were making comparisons (mostly unfavorable) to the 1964s musical film My Fair Lady, loosely based on same play. Some like musical and not the other, and vice versa.
I just recently discovered and watched My Fair Lady - a terrific film available from KCLS. Then when I went to IMDb I learned about the earlier Pygmalion film, put a hold on it, and just watched it. I guess I see so many films now, I couldn't even remember that My Fair Lady is based on same story, although there were some story line bits that kind of perked my mind - so I wasn't making comparisons while watching Pygmalion.
It does seem a bit silly (to me) to directly compare works of art which have such difference of intention, even though they have the same background origins. Perhaps it's because I am a musician - and also enjoy different flavorful interpretations of the same underlying material. In a way, it's kind of like cooking where you can enjoy eating the same ingredients done in different styles.
At any rate, I enjoyed both decidedly different films. And apparently there were significant changes made to both from the original play.
The actors in Pygmalion were excellent, particularly Wendy Hiller (who was new to me). Wilfrid Lawson was lots of fun as Alfred Doolittle, Eliza's father, especially fun to see his change in style/flavor near the film end. And, of course, the entertaining Leslie Howard. It just struck me that Leslie is now pretty much exclusively a female name - funny how time's change!
Overall, quite an entertaining and interesting exploration of influence of speaking style in social status/structure in 'old England'.

hania4987 Feb 17, 2014

Absolutely amazing, brilliant adaptation of Shaw's "Pygmalion" which served as the inspiration "My Fair Lady". Wendy Hiller is magnificent as Eliza and my favorite minor character was Wilfrid Lawson as Mrs. Higgins. This was a contemporary take on Shaw's denunciation of the British class system centered on the power of language and speech. This is the first time I have had a chance to see a clean crisp version of the movie and I can watch this one over and over again.

i
iwasthewalrus
Dec 26, 2013

Pygmalion follows a British professor who – in an attempt to win a bet – must transform a low-class flower girl into an upper-class lady. As a fan of George Bernard Shaw’s original play, Pygmalion , I had decent expectations for this film adaptation. I should mention the reason I finally decided to watch this was because I heard David Lean was the director. Much to my shock and disappointment, I realized subsequently to renting it that he was merely the editor. Needless to say I watched the film despite that surprise.
Although the film adaptation does maintain some of the witticisms of the original, it lacks the amount of cleverness that established the play as an eternal classic. This gives the film a sensation of being dry, and less entertaining. To make up for this, the work fell onto the actors to revive any lost enjoyment from the original text.
Leslie Howard (who I’ve noticed bears a striking resemblance to James Woods) is magnificently casted (and most likely self-casted) in the iconic role of Professor Higgins. He has a very clever sense of physical expression which makes a strong double feature with George Bernard Shaw’s dialogue. He matches his character through charm, but he comes off as overly whimsical towards the end.
Wendy Hiller portrays Eliza Doolittle, another renowned character. Unlike Audrey Hepburn in the musical adaptation of Pygmalion (My Fair Lady), Hiller is magnificent in her performance as a low-class flower girl, but less convincing when acting as an upper-class woman. Hiller may look the part of a wealthy upper-class society member, but there’s a specific scene in which Eliza and Higgins argue whether he sees her as simply an object used to win a bet, or a real person. It’s a vital scene to the climax of that film, yet Hiller’s delivery went over the top and it resulted in a thoroughly unbelievable performance. However, during the earlier scenes, she was in deeper understanding of her role. That was most likely due to the fact that the role was far simpler during the earlier scenes, and when it became more complex, Hiller drew a blank.
I would speculate the reason for Pygmalion being on The Criterion Collection is due to the technology montage scenes. They’re excellently edited (fantastic work, Mr. Lean) with great layering and unique special effects. For me, personally, they made the film far superior. Aside from the setting itself in the film, everything is ahead of its time.
The camerawork is unique, and follows what I consider the Golden Rule is cinematography (“Photography is truth, and cinema is truth 24 times per second” -Raoul Coutard). The black and white is striking, and it seems as if it were shot in the 60s (when black and white imaging was at its height of beauty). Everything revolving around the photography is beyond its time and it makes Pygmalion a unique cinematic experience.
But similarly to the original text, Pygmalion holds a ‘message’ that is both ignorant and discriminates to the lower-class. Everybody looks down at Eliza with scorn and contempt until she is beautifully transformed into a ‘lady’. At that point, people begin to pay attention to her – this includes a young man named Freddy who ignored her when she was a poor flower girl. It seems as though George Bernard Shaw is suggesting beauty and happiness is only accessible to the rich. If you’re poor, you’re genuinely screwed and happiness will be an elusive pursuit over the course of your life. It’s not so much the message alone, but how the message combined with how it’s told creates a painful ending. It’s told with such enthusiasm as opposed to understanding that I wished to commit Hara-Kiri upon myself.
Despite the ending, Pygmalion is a very unique experiment (and a successful one) in cinematography and editing. The film is charming, but not quite as much as George Benard Shaw’s original play. Still, worth a watch; especially to fans of classic cinema.

p
Pegasos
Feb 28, 2013

In ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion fell in love with one of his sculptures that came to life...

m
missy2
Mar 30, 2010

Wendy Hiller's tour-de-force! This film, along with "I Know Where I'm Going" assured her of permanent fame. Brilliantly acted and cast.

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