So much has been said about the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the beloved 1961 film adaptation of Truman Capote’s 1958 novella, in which Audrey Hepburn plays Holly Golightly), that it is difficult to add anything new to the discussion. But let’s try anyway.
The decision of making Tiffany’s New York flagship store on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Seven Street into a movie set was always the intention of director Blake Edwards. It was over a weekend in early October 1960, that the title sequence was filmed on location at the store. After Tiffany’s had closed late on a Saturday afternoon, a small crew worked tirelessly well into the night to have the set ready for a Sunday morning shoot. It’s fair to say the logistics of shooting in New York was troublesome with almost every single news outlet on the hunt for a scope or photography of Audrey Hepburn.
But what about the famous scene itself? The eerie early morning sight of a lone yellow New York City cab careering down Fifth avenue definitely hit its mark. But what draws you in even more so than a cab suddenly stopping in front of Tiffany’s, is the lonely figure of Holly Golightly (Hepburn) stepping out of the cab, hiding behind a pair of oversized glasses, seemingly weary from a big night out. The dead give away of course is her attire, a Givenchy black ball gown with matching black gloves (which admirers worldwide refer to as “Audrey style”) and a small paper carry bag holding the contains of a coffee and breakfast.
Next as Holly Golightly walks over ever so elegantly to one of the tiny windows of Tiffany’s facade, the audience is invited to share her view of precious jewels as she tucks into her breakfast. Arguably the best shot of the opening sequence takes place with a reverse view of the street with Golightly gently tilting her head in deep thought in the store’s window, with the movie’s theme song Moon River, swelling in the background. (Interestingly Hepburn, and the film crew by this stage, who had scrambled to set up the camera inside Tiffany’s store, were beginning to feel really anxious, as hundreds of New Yorkers had started to gather to watch the shoot.)
A street view shot of Golightly walking around the corner heading for home would eventually conclude a memorable opening. The question though on everyones lips by now is who is Holly Golightly? Of course, it wouldn’t be long before we find out what kind of new woman of the 60s we were about to meet. But far from the obvious partygoer and ‘it girl’ persona she gave off, Holly Golightly was also a young woman looking for her place in the world. “I’m not going to let anyone put me in a cage”, Golightly would declare. But that scene is for another time.
Interestingly, there is definitely a lot to take away from Hepburn’s performance as Golightly. Her own troubled, traumatic upbringing shaped who she was as a person and maybe as an actress. Hepburn’s own abandonment issues and struggle to find love definitely mirrored Golightly’s plight. But I don’t think the movie strikes a sour note because of it.