Study Guide

Gigi

Gigi Introduction


Release Year: 1958

Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Writers: Alan Jay Lerner, Colette (novel)

Stars: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan


It's amazing what a fancy get-up can do for your love life:

Bottom line? Say yes to the dress, and you'll get your Cinderella story—at least in the movies.

Gigi, the 1958 American-made romantic musical set in turn-of-the-century Paris, is no exception. Just imagine My Fair Lady taking place in France instead of England. And instead of a cheeky flower girl in need of a makeover and manners, it's a rosy-cheeked schoolgirl about to discover the delights of being a woman. A woman of the night, that is. Oh, and that stodgy professor? Just swap him out for a handsome, bored, millionaire playboy.

Just as My Fair Lady was based on Shaw's Pygmalion, Gigi was based on a 1944 novella of the same name by the French author Colette. When MGM-producer Arthur Freed (known for box-office hits like Meet Me in St. Louis and Singin' in the Rain fell in love with the novella's movie possibilities, he bought the rights from someone else and went to work. To write the words and music, he went straight to My Fair Lady's writing team, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, who even recycled some unused songs from My Fair Lady for the new project. The similarities between the two musicals led one critic to speculate that Lerner and Loewe might sue themselves for copyright infringement (source).

But whatever it was, it worked.

With a budget of 3.3 million—that same year, Hitchcock's seminal Vertigo had about a million less—and a crack team of actors, designers, and cinematographers, director Vincente Minnelli (Judy Garland's hubby, and Liza's pops) shot the luscious story in only three months, filming in Paris and on a studio lot in Hollywood.

Released less than a year later, the movie was a huge box-office success. It also won an at-the-time record-breaking nine—count 'em, nine—Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score, and Best Costume Design, plus one honorary lifetime achievement Oscar for veteran actor Maurice Chevalier. (The record was broken again the next year, when Ben-Hur won eleven. Oh well. But fun fact: Arthur Freed produced that ceremony for TV.)

Since then, the story's been revived as a theatre production, unsuccessfully in 1973, and for 2015's Broadway version starring former Disney star Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi. But will someone remake the film? Maybe set in the present day? Or in 1958?

We'd be lying if we said we wouldn't want to watch that.

What is Gigi About and Why Should I Care?

In the years since Gigi's success, viewers have noticed something a little strange: that Gigi, a young girl of indeterminate age, is being trained to be a courtesan. In fact, it's the family business.

So when her slightly-older bored millionaire family friend begins to see the girl in a new, romantic light, his lawyers offer her family a benefits package, promising that she'll be "taken care of beautifully." Her grandmother, her great aunt, everyone's cool with it. Except for Gigi herself, who sees a grim life for herself once this man casts her aside like a broken plaything. In the end—spoiler alert—she holds out for a marriage proposal and gets it, avoiding the whole pay-for-play arrangement.

This movie was made in the '50s, a time when even suicides could be punchlines. (Hello, The Apartment.) Also, Gigi could be either 14—hello, Lolita—or 18, solidly at the age of consent.

In Colette's novel, though, Gigi was 16. Gigi's definitely not treated like an adult by the adults in the movie—she chills in a plaid schoolgirl outfit, she's sent to her room, she's excluded from grownup conversations—all that jazz. So maybe we shouldn't be assuming consent, especially after hearing Maurice Chevalier sing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." Nobody gave it much thought in 1958, but…kinda creepy, right?

On the other hand, it wasn't unusual at all in 1900s Paris for young women to marry at 16. The life of a courtesan could be a better option for poor women than manual labor in dangerous conditions. The possibility was there of meeting a rich guy or at least having the finer things in life. And Chevalier was singing about little girls being wonderful because they grew up into beautiful women—he wasn't showing sexual interest in children.

Was he?

Whether or not you're interested in sexual politics and gender portrayal in mid-20th-century American musicals, Gigi is still a passport to a strange world. Much of this has to do with the collision of time periods, from Colette's 1944 writing of a story set in 1889, to a bunch of noisy post-war Americans setting up shop to shoot in Paris in 1957, shooting around anything that didn't look like the year 1900.

The movie's an opportunity to think about how things have changed over all of these time periods, and how they've stayed the same. So let yourself be blitzed by its strange, colorful world, filmed in gorgeous CinemaScope. And then, get down to business, and help us figure out what this movie has to say about gender roles, age, class, romance, and eating endangered birds whole.

Trivia

Gigi may have loved her kitty, but that kitty did not love her. In fact, it had to be sedated into compliance each time the script called for Leslie Caron to pick the poor thing up. Someone call PETA! (Source)

Gigi's colorful world has honest, historical DNA: the movie's cinematographer, Joseph Ruttenberg, worked with George Eastman (of Eastman-Kodak fame) to develop color film technology. (Source)

It's a popular criticism that Gigi is a bit too much like Lerner and Loewe's other major hit, My Fair Lady. Lerner knew this, and worried about it. But producer Alan Freed didn't want to mess with success, saying "Stop trying to be different. You don't have to be different to be good. To be good is different enough." (Source)

The cover of rock dynasty Pink Floyd's 1969 album Ummagumma features a picture of the band, with foam cut-outs letter spelling their name...and the album sleeve for the movie soundtrack of Gigi leaning against the wall just beyond. An old roadie named Albert Magoolie took credit for it, telling a story about how the original foam letter "k" got crushed, and bassist Roger Waters had more foam in the van, thanks to the protective packaging of you-know-what. Believe the back-story or not, the album's there, clear as day. (Source)

Gigi Resources

Websites

Is Honoré a Lech?
IMDb has a discussion about this and all things Gigi.

Almost 60 and Still 76% Fresh
Rotten Tomatoes gives Gigi a decent rating, considering the movie isn't what most people expect these days.

Film Nerds Offer an All-You-Can-Eat Gigi Trivia Buffet
The American Film Institute gives us the goods.

Say Yes to the Dress
This website takes us through Gigi's transformation from school dresses to Maxim's, showing how Beaton's gorgeous costumes were used to show Gigi's maturation.

Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Gigi, But Didn't Know to Ask
Here's a full history of the production, from the Hays Code telegram to crew conversations and spats.

Touring Paris, Gigi Style
A film blogger lists twelve must-see sights/sites.

"Against Presentism"
Still chewing through all the eras at play in Gigi, the 1900 Paris period piece made in 1958 and based on WWII-era novella set in 1889? Head here to read about that problem from a historian's perspective.

Une Barbotage, S'il Vous Plait
Visit Maxim's, still in operation after all these years.

Louis Jourdan Gets His Due
A comprehensive fan site for the man who played Gaston.

Book or TV Adaptations

A Broadway Revival, 2015-style
The musical stars Vanessa Hudgens, of Disney Channel and TMZ fame. It closed after 86 performances.

Gigi-The-Novella Vs. Gigi-The-Film
An investigation into the male gaze in both.

Articles and Interviews

Spotlight on Ms. Caron
Her grandfather worried that she wanted to be a professional ballet dancer and would end up a lady of the evening. Little did he know she's just played one on the silver screen, kind of.

La Femme Francaise
Interested in how accurate Gigi is in terms of its portrayal of women?

The Reviews Are In
New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called the film "an obviously blank-check commission."

Worst of the Best
Kate Aurthur ranks Gigi as the worst of the best Picture Winners, calling it "the creepiest, most pedophiliac movie ever to win Best Picture."

In Defense of Gigi
Getting sick of all the Gigi hate? Read one woman's celebration of the flick.

Video

Barbara Walters Hearts Gigi
"Whenever I feel blue, I play Gigi."

Paris, 1900, Minus Cecil Beaton
Here's some honest-to-goodness archival footage from the time itself.

The Original Gigi Trailer
"A 'new' Fair Lady!"

From "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," Onward
A YouTube playlist of every song.

Audio

Maurice Chevalier, Down Under
Honoré himself speaks with famous Aussie interviewer Binny Lum.

NPR's Best Song Supermix
A track of the most popular Oscar-winning songs, from '34 to today.

Images

Paris 1900, As It Really Was
Want to know what the City of Lights really looked like?

Pretty Takes Time
Eva Gabor (Liane) is dressed by Cecil Beaton and his assistants.

Contemporary Influences
Turn-of-the-century French artist Sem inspired Beaton to the max[im's].

An American in Paris
The French movie poster for Gigi.

After Happily Ever After
The cast poses for a quick snap after the shooting wraps.

Wardrobe Malfunction
From when Gigi doesn't yet fit her womanly dress.

An Outfit Fit for A Lady
The grown-up, toned-down shirt-and-skirt number, itself. Those bows!

Those Bows v.2
Someone really liked that skirt and blouse.

From Page to Screen
Beaton's sketches, and the real things: notice that carved wood? It only appears in Honoré 's home.