An immaculately arrayed montage of magazine covers, contact sheets, and perfectly posed models introduce viewers to Stanley Donen’s 1957 musical Funny Face – and the glamorous, glossy world of mid-century high fashion that serves as the film’s backdrop.
Featuring a title and theme song pilfered from an unrelated 1927 Gershwin musical of the same name, Funny Face is based on the early career of legendary fashion photographer Richard Avedon – known for his iconic portraits of the rich and famous – and his model/actress wife Doe. Written by Avedon’s friend Leonard Gershe, the film stars Audrey Hepburn as Jo Stockton, a fresh-faced model discovered by hot shot shutterbug Dick Avery, played by Fred Astaire. See what they did there?
Avedon’s life not only provided the basis for Funny Face, but his work took centre stage in the film as well, most notably in its opening titles. Avedon designed all the backgrounds used in the sequence, laying out each shot like a fashion magazine spread – an homage to his own fashion photography and the work of Alexey Brodovitch, the former art director of Harper’s Bazaar.
But Avedon's involvement in the project didn’t end with the opening; he was also intimately involved in the rest of the production. In addition to creating the fashion magazine-inspired backgrounds for the opening title sequence, Avedon also served as Special Visual Consultant on the film, providing much of the photography used in the movie – including the iconic overexposed image of Hepburn that accompanies the title card – and helping director Donen to stage the Paris photoshoot and dark room sequences.
Sadly, Funny Face was Avedon’s only serious foray into the world of filmmaking (save for a stint as cinematographer for the Frontline documentary The Choice '96). What’s clear from this brief Hollywood sojourn is that Avedon’s keen eye would have been just as comfortable behind a movie camera as a Rolleiflex or a Deardorff. However, the influence of the title sequence lives on to this day. Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar would evoke the opening of Funny Face – one of his favourite films – in the main titles of his 1988 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Main Title Backgrounds / Special Visual Consultant: Richard Avedon
Music: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin
Song: "Funny Face" sung by Fred Astaire