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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

My Fair Lady (1964)

A few years ago, I saw a production of George Bernard Shaw's The Man of Destiny at an area theater (see Spirited Away's entry). I went into it with a bad mindset, grumbling about Shaw (his masturbatory prose, his love of his own voice, his deeply rooted misogyny), and then was really surprised, about halfway through, when I started to agree with it. "Wow!" I thought, "he's giving some excellent writing to the sole female character (YAWN) and she's holding her own against this blowhard character!" And then, in the last five minutes, LIKE CLOCKWORK, Shaw gave the blowhard the last word and basically ties up the story with the idea that the blowhard was the correct point of view (Shaw's point of view) the whole time. And undercuts the strength of the one female character by having her fawn over him. And I was so angry walking out of that theater. And I am so angry walking out of my living room today, having had the exact same experience with My Fair Lady, a musical (and play, in Pygmalion) I used to dearly love.

A couple of disclaimers:

-I don't think we talk enough about cultural experiences being hugely impacted by what we bring with us when we sit down to view/participate in it. We might love something one day but if we watch it a different day, it rankles (like My Fair Lady today) and that's okay. I had a very difficult therapy session last week that focused on my need for approval and how that has intrinsically shaped my relationships with others as well as myself. I had a big old breakdown that day, realizing how deep that ran and feeling incredibly ashamed by it, and I had a couple mini breakdowns watching this movie.

-There is a world of difference between saying something is "bad" and something is "not for me." The craft of this movie is exquisite. The music is some of my favorite. I think that where I am now in life... I am very very affected by watching a young woman break herself for the slightest bits of approval and validation. At this moment, My Fair Lady is not for me.

I took a break from writing to look at social media and saw a post that read, "Many of us don't believe we can be loved without earning it. We grew up being dismissed & found the only way to get attention was to perform for it. As adults, this may show up as overextending ourselves to others, dismissing our own needs, or not attempting to love at all." And that's... all of my feelings about this in a nutshell.

I never totally understood "I Could Have Danced All Night" as a youngster. I knew there was debate about whether or not Eliza and Henry loved each other romantically. (A quick shout out to the community theater production of My Fair Lady I appeared in - a production I treasure for the people I met, the thoughtful and generous approach to the material in the rehearsal room, and the immense kindness I was shown as the youngest - by a lot - cast member. I learned so much and I love you all.) But it was easier to assume she loved him and that's why she liked dancing with him. Maybe that's part of it. God knows I have loved the Henry Higgenses of my life. But watching today, it was so clear that she blossomed under a moment of kindness from him. And then, she ached for his approval. Weeks of abuse and the lesson should have been that kindness was so much more effective in her learning than yelling, but instead, it became a carrot that was quickly and ruthlessly ripped away.

I had a pretty bad breakdown trying to write this so I stepped away and here are a few spare thoughts I had watching it that I wanted to write down. Maybe I'll expound later, maybe not.

They taught her how to speak but they took away her voice.

I am so tired of the idea that saying cruel things casually "as a joke" is a way of showing affection. If you care about a person, show them. Tell them. Don't hope that they can read between the lines for you.

Why the fuck does Higgins have FOUR songs? And they're all horrible.

My father is Alfie Doolittle.

Eliza tells Freddy she's going to kill herself she is so distraught not knowing where she belongs any more. This is entirely glossed over. Like most of Eliza's feelings. It is devastating. (I choose to believe that Freddy's dimwitted "what do you mean?" comment distracts her long enough in the moment to stay her hand. I wonder if her contemplating suicide in the midst of all that is what was so specifically triggering to me. I wonder if it was how flippantly it was treated.

Yeah, this movie and my reaction to it stayed with me in a bad way all week. I don't have the energy to further unpack all of it.

Crepe paper, wire, glass vase?bowl?, glue, fire.

Takeaways: -I am so uncomfortable with struggling with new tasks. I know I did the flowers admirably but they were a struggle. Each one taking an average of an hour. I don't know if it was post COVID something or other but my fingers were DUMB this week. I had what felt like half my usual dexterity for small detailed tasks. Still, they turned out beautifully.

-So why burn them? I think I'm still on an anger kick. Deep gratitude to Ben for, when I pitched burning the flowers, he nodded and said solemnly, "yeah, your reaction to that film warrants a performance of some kind. Maybe interpretive dance?" He also held the background while the flowers burned which I appreciated too. But I think I'm in such a moment of change and self discovery I'm having a really hard time letting go of the girl I had been. Addressing the Sunk Cost Fallacy of a life. Or at least a career. We're so often told that we can't walk away from people - no matter what they've done to us - because at some point they did something good for us. We can't walk away from a project because we spent money on it or it took time. Let this serve as a reminder to us both: you can walk away. And if you need to burn the bridge to keep from going back to what doesn't serve you? I will bring the matches.

-Fun science note: the ribbon I wanted to use is polyesther so it won't burn. I wanted it to carry the fire through the flowers in case they didn't catch, though, so I soaked in in isopropyl alcohol. The flame carried across the ribbon which otherwise would have self-extinguished. Hooray I got to use high school chemistry and textile science. (And holy cow did the flowers catch. I did not need the ribbon.)

-Full video will be up on Instagram later today.

Next week: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (I think.) Entmoots! Sad boys! Meat may or may not be back on the menu!

Take care of yourselves this week. Deep breaths. Listen to your gut. Walk away, at least for a little bit.

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