Sunday, October 20, 2013

Barbra Streisand In “Funny Girl”

Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” from 1968.

Even though “Funny Girl” marked Streisand’s screen debut, the film captures Streisand’s finest screen performance, probably because William Wyler—a GREAT director of film actors—was at the helm of the picture.

Enormous care was devoted to dressing Streisand—the gowns are in muted colors flattering to Streisand, with patterns and shapes designed to conceal her figure—and enormous care was devoted to lighting Streisand. Similar efforts were involved in creating a special makeup plan intended to glamorize the new star.

All the work paid off. From Streisand’s first screen entrance—a long take from behind, with Streisand wearing a leopard fur coat and hat, exiting from a limousine and proceeding through a stage door into a darkened theater, after which the camera captures its first glimpse of Streisand’s face in a mirror, at which point Streisand says, “Hello, gorgeous!”—Streisand is given the full star treatment. MGM in the 1930s and 1940s was no better at providing deluxe glamour.

The rose was soon to lose its bloom. None of Streisand’s future performances lived up to the promise of “Funny Girl”, although Vincente Minnelli’s “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” from 1970 captures a few magical moments from Streisand.

Things took a sharp turn southward in 1975, when Pauline Kael proclaimed to the world that she had “fallen out of like” with Streisand after seeing “Funny Lady”, a sequel to “Funny Girl”. Streisand, argued Kael, had already become a caricature.

Streisand was never again to get a good screen role—and I shall tweak the nose of anyone who says “Nuts”—and Streisand took to directing herself, always producing wince-inducing performances.

I have excised Omar Sharif from the “Funny Girl” outtake—I did not want to have to share his bloodshot eyes. In “Funny Girl”, Sharif was the fly in the ointment: he looked hung-over for the duration of the film.

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