Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Funny Girl is the 1968 film version of the 1964 Broadway smash that made Barbara Streisand a bonafide star and diva for all time (and it’s easy to see why). It’s almost an old fashioned sort of musical, a last gasp of Hollywood’s large budget studio mogul type film, though the star system was many years in the past. The location filming and actors not known for singing and dancing indicate it was definitely a late 60s product. Its success would encourage the production of more musicals which caused financial ruin for several producers and almost permanently sunk 20thCentury Fox (Hello Dolly).
Barbra Streisand had wowed Broadway audiences in 1964's Funny Girl, recorded many popular record albums, appeared to much acclaim on variety television shows and even made her own prime-time special—which in retrospect seemed almost calculated to get her this important film role. She certainly earned the right to play it after her Broadway accolades, but conquering Broadway does not insure anyone the right to play the character in the film version.
Streisand almost didn't get to play Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl". Would Hollywood do with Barbra what they did with Julie Andrews when they didn't let her repeat her Broadway success of My Fair Lady on film (giving the part to Audrey Hepburn). It seemed to be the plan as Streisand’s non-leading lady appearance meant the part was offered to Mary Martin, Anne Bancroft, Carol Burnett and others. They turned down the role making it possible for Streisand to attempt having the success with the role on film that she did on Broadway.
Ironically, on Broadway, Streisand was nominated for a Tony but lost to Carol Channing's starring role in Hello Dolly. Later she would play the Channing role in the screen version of THAT Broadway musical (a role many thought she was mis-cast in).
Funny Girl is the fictionalized account of Fanny Brice's early career. The real Fanny Brice was a musical comedienne who was part of the Ziegfeld Follies for over a decade before becoming a huge radio star as Baby Snooks and a popular stage performer who just missed becoming a big film star as well. Brice’s first marriage was to famed gambler Nick Arnstein and her second was to Billy Rose the famous theatrical promoter. Funny Girl concentrates on Brice's rise to fame from an unlikely chorus girl to a Ziegfeld Follies performer and then featured act. The film also tells most of the story of her first marriage to Arnstein.
Funny Girl is an ultimate MOVIE STAR Vehicle production centered completely around not just Fanny Brice, but Streisand. When she’s on the screen she’s the center of attention, when she’s not, various characters and those watching the film are waiting for her to re-appear.
It begins with Streisand as Brice looking into a mirror and saying: “Hey gorgeous”, letting us know that Brice is self-centered, driven to be the absolute center of attention and obsessed with being a star. Most of the film is a flashback and we’ll see Brice calculating and manipulating people not just to get what she wants, but to play power games. She is delighted in one scene when she realizes that Flo Ziegfeld is waiting for her in her dressing room and enjoys making him wait for her. Despite the sentiment of one of the most memorable songs People whose lyrics include: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world”, Brice never acts this way—she uses and manipulates to get what she wants, when she wants it. And she has the kind of charisma and talent that people for the most part let her have what she wants. (The song itself is not cynical, but if you really think about it—it would work almost better if it were).
Streisand plays Brice as sort of a Baby Snooks character slipping into a cute, pixyish schtick complete with false modesty. She’s adorable most of the time, and she’s not above pretending that she can’t roller-skate and then acting the clown while demonstrating her supposed clumsiness is calculated for comic effect. She would get hurt if she didn’t know how to skate…but her phony underdog schtick means she steal all the attention from everyone else and delights the crowd.
Streisand comic timing with her facial expression, and hand movement is remarkable when you consider this is her first movie—except that she honed her craft on the Broadway stage with live audiences over hundreds of performances. Her skill how to be shifted to performing for the camera—which she does almost flawlessly. She also brings a comic actor’s timing to the performance of her musical numbers, making sure she uses not just her voice, but her face and hands when she sings.
The first half of the film works the best because it concentrates on her rise to fame and some romantic comedy-esque scenes with the smooth debonair Omar Sharif. When the second half of the film deals with her marital problems it’s not all fun and games and we also see that Brice’s (and Streisand’s) self-centered ambitions have serious consequences. It also makes it clear how under-developed other characters in the script truly are. We wade and wait through awkward melodramatic scenes for the musical numbers noting that when Streisand is not on screen, the other actors aren’t as charismatic and ‘alive’ as she is.
The supporting cast does have some charm and credibility, but it’s limited. Walter Pidgeon playing Florenz Ziegfeld gets to be exasperated by Brice’s shenanigans. Mae Questel makes an impression because of her voice (--she was the voice of original Betty Boop and later of the animated Olive Oyl). Kay Medford does good work as Rose…Fanny Brice’s mom, but she’s under-used. Faring poorly are Omar Sharif whose basically eye candy for the first half of the film and awkwardly uncomfortable in the second half. Ann Francis who plays Brice’s best buddy Georgia James is mostly wasted after she makes an early good impression. She’s used as a device throughout most of the film and isn’t given much to do but hold on telephones and react with two or three degrees of surprise to Brice’s shenanigans. (You might recall that Francis played Pidgeon’s daughter in the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet in the late 1950s).
Stand-out moments include the recreation of the Ziegfeld Follies show and that show-stopping presentation of Don’t Rain on My Parade, which is sung by Streisand on a real (not studio, not CGI) tug-boat in New York harbor. Some of the spectacular shots were copied many years later when Streisand directed Yentyl.
Now truth be told I am not a fan of Barbra Streisand. There’s no denying her talent, long before she took up with hair-dresser turned film producer Jon Peters, did duets with a brother Gibb (of the Bee Gee's), made excruciatingly bad movies like The Main Event or the remake of The Star is Born or staged one over-priced farewell concert after another, she’s been ruthlessly competitive and utterly insistent on hogging the spotlight as much as possible. In a few productions like Funny Girl her ultimate diva personality works—but she doesn’t work well with others—never has.
Yes she worked in an industry that is more difficult for women than for men, but she’s also been rude and condescending to fellow performers and worst of all to her fans. She’s also made some truly dreadful career choices for herself and plays it relatively safe in terms of what she records and chooses to do. Right from the start in Funny Girl, behind the scenes Streisand was making sure SHE was THE STAR of the production. She was quoted as saying, Director Wyler didn’t direct or guide her performance—she did. She was also reportedly responsible for having several of supporting star Ann Francis' scenes cut or reduced. She was also very upset that the Swan Lake dance number was partially cut in Funny Girl and tried to get it back into the film for the initial TV showings but was unsuccessful. Alas none of this footage has found its way to the DVD either.
Funny Girl is a wonderful entertaining film. The first half is the equal of any musical you can think of. The second half is too melodramatic and starts to drag before finding it's balance but the finale' is a knock-out worth waiting for. And it works because of Streisand.
Funny Girl combines fact, fiction, show biz chutzpah, and crowd pleasing musical numbers into a hugely entertaining two and half hour plus extravaganza. William Wyler directed with Herbert Ross stepping in to direct and choreograph the musical numbers. Streisand became the reincarnation of Fanny Brice, Omar Sharif is charming in the first-half and even sang on key as the love interest. Funny Girl includes some great songs including many that have become Streisand standards. Songs like: Funny Girl, "Don't Rain on My Parade, I'm the Greatest Star, You are Woman , I am Man, My Man . Second Hand Rose and of course "People" * * * * *
Even if you truly dislike Streisand, chances are you'll find a lot to like about this movie. There is no denying the talent and charisma of the lady and if you ever needed proof of that, get prepared to be absolutely wowed by FUNNY GIRL.
Streisand wound up TYING for the top Acting Oscar of 1968 (in 1969). She AND Katherine Hepburn (for The Lion in Winter) both won Best Actress.
DVD IMAGE AND SOUND
The negative has been meticulously repaired, refurbished and painstakingly transferred, and the soundtrack carefully refurbished, and re-mixed to deliver a stellar DVD.
The film is now presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. It’s presented complete with the overture, intermission and exit music intact. The colors are vibrant in that glorious slightly exaggerated Technicolor manner. The colors are not over-saturated--the reds are vibrant but stable, the black levels are strong. The print is free from dirt and damage. There's still some evidence of grain, but that originates with the way the original film was processed in post production. The image we watch isn't utterly crisp… Streisand's close-ups are glamour girl filtered but the image is smooth and the slightly soft-focus can be appreciated and not seen as simply as fuzziness that detracts from the film. There's a bit of edge enhancement visible, but all flaws are minimal and this is without a doubt the best the film has ever looked.
The sound is also better than it has ever been. First the original 6 track masters were re-mastered, cleaned up and then re-mixed and presented in both Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.0. The 2.0 is pretty good, but is compressed and on the dull side. Listen to the 5.0 and you'll hear a much fuller multi-dimensional sound quality to the musical score. Dialogue and sound effects don't make a lot of use of the full range of a good home theatre's speaker system but the musical score and numbers more than make up for that. The low end of the spectrum is a bit weak, however. There is no discernible white noise as was present on past presentations of the film and even on the old CD soundtrack from the film.
The engineers and technicians behind the restoration of this film and the making of this DVD have taken the extra effort needed to make something as free from flaws and blemishes as possible. Fans of the film, and Barbra Streisand will be rejoicing after viewing this impressive DVD presentation of Funny Girl.
Unfortunately there aren't many extras of value to be found on this disc. If you're hoping they dug up some deleted scenes or Barbra finally got a chance to expand the Swan Lake number, well you'll be somewhat disappointed no such thing happened. The song access allows you to quickly jump to the main musical numbers and songs from the film.
"Barbra in Movieland" is a unique featurette that lasts about 10-minutes focusing on the filming of the Don't Rain on My Parade number, as seen through the eyes of an elderly caretaker (Charlie Peterson) of the Hoboken, New Jersey train station that was used in the sequence. The behind the scenes footage is fun to see, and we can hear a different vocal for the song as the musical number is being constructed. It's a pretty worn out piece of film but one of some interest.
"This is Streisand" is a beautifully presented commercial for Babs. It's presented in non-anamorphic widescreen recreating the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It's more than simply a puff piece, it's a testimony to la Streisand that compares her smile to the Mona Lisa and her profile to Nefertiti's, and raves on how incredibly talented she is in oh so many, many ways. It's a pretty incredible almost six minute featurette.
The filmographies in the package are of the substandard incomplete type.
There is no theatrical trailer for Funny Girl in the package but there are trailers for The Mirror Has Two Faces, For Pete's Sake and The Prince of Tides which are presented in full frame.
The production notes you'll find in the booklet with the DVD case.
The important thing of course is how the film sparkles like the jewel it is. Perhaps in the future someone can put together a documentary on the film and find some of the deleted scenes.
Funny Girl’s screenplay was credited to Isobel Lennart based on the play by Isobel Lennart and Bob Merril. The music was by Jule Styne with lyrics by Bob Merrill and Walter Scharf. It was produced by Ray Stark and Directed by William Wyler with the musical numbers directed by Herbert Ross (who would direct the so-so sequel Funny Lady).
Funny Girl is a jewel that has been beautifully polished and presented on this DVD better ever been before. The restoration of the print and the re-mix of the soundtrack
brings out the very best.. Even if you strongly dislike Barbra Streisand, it's likely you'll embrace the film. The first half is as entertaining as any musical you've ever seen and while the second half drags in predictable melodramatic clichés, the stirring finale almost makes up for it. I wish the DVD had some additional worthwhile extras to really round out the package, but that should not stop you from putting this DVD disc on your must have list.
Copyright© Christopher J. Jarmick 2012
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV