She never wanted to be an actress. She became an actress because she had to make a living. She started doing little roles in movies “to get the extra buck.” Today, she is known as one of the most iconic actresses to ever come out of Hollywood, for her roles, her style and her beauty, both inside and out. The “she” in question is none other than Audrey Hepburn, the title subject of the Salon Pictures production company’s 2020 documentary “Audrey: More Than an Icon.”
Released in December of last year, the biography of Hepburn’s life just made its way onto Netflix last month. In exactly 100 minutes, viewers travel through Hepburn’s life, from her childhood, growing up in the Netherlands during WWII, to her successful acting career. Viewers move across the world with Audrey, as the story turns to her personal life and her later work as a humanitarian with UNICEF.
Director Helena Coan spared no detail. Viewers will likely learn things they never knew about the movie star—you’ll see the kind of person she was off the screen. In traditional biographical style, the story of Hepburn’s life is told through interviews, pictures, movie clips, and never-before-seen footage and family videos. But it’s also told through dance, making this documentary an extremely unique piece.
Hepburn was a dancer. In fact, that’s what she always dreamed of being—a ballet dancer. Fittingly so, the documentary begins with a ballerina on stage. Then, we hear Hepburn herself. Archived interviews allowed her distinct voice to narrate pieces of the story.
In addition to Hepburn’s own commentary, the documentary includes interviews from Sean Hepburn Ferrer, Hepburn’s son, and Emma Kathleen Hepburn Ferrer, Hepburn’s granddaughter. Several film producers and family friends also sat down for interviews, giving the picture a wide range of voices.
One of those voices was Clare Waight Keller, the former artistic director of the fashion company Givenchy. An entire section of the documentary is dedicated to Hepburn’s iconic fashion. Keller discusses Hepburn’s relationship with her designer Hubert de Givenchy and the processes behind creating Hepburn’s timeless style.
Viewers glide through Hepburn’s career, with clips from movies like “Roman Holiday,” “Sabrina,” “Funny Face” and “My Fair Lady.” Later on, part of the discussion turns to Hepburn’s performance of “Moon River,” in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”The Academy Award’s 1962 Best Original Song segued perfectly into another scene with our opening ballerina, serving as the music behind her dance. The ballerina represents Audrey at the peak of her career and the clever choreography continues the flow of the narrative.
As the documentary progresses, the theme of telling a story through movement continues, as a ballerina representing a young Audrey struggles with her father’s absence. Toward the end of the documentary, a third dancer, portraying an older Audrey, joins the fray. The three Audreys unite for a final performance at the documentary’s conclusion.
Cinematographer Simona Susnea and the rest of the production team did a wonderful job incorporating these powerful dance scenes throughout the piece, adding a sense of depth, creativity and emotion to the documentary.
It didn’t feel like you were watching a documentary with an encyclopedia or a Wikipedia page for a script. Sure, the details and facts of Hepburn’s life and career were there, but their delivery and inclusion were so intricately weaved throughout, you never felt bogged down by information.
The documentary followed a timeline that was just linear enough to serve its biographical purpose, but not so linear that it felt like a retelling, rather than a story.
“Audrey: More Than an Icon” did exactly what the title promised. It took the viewer through Hepburn’s journey. Yes, it detailed the progression of her career, but it also described the highs and lows of her life, some of her thoughts and fears, how her experiences both on and off the screen shaped the person she turned out to be.
It told the story of a star.