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Funny Girl

review by Anthony D.


Rated PG-13

Running Time: 155 minutes

Starring Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, Walter Pigeon, Kay Medford

Written by Isobel Lennart
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Bob Merrill

Directed by William Wyler

Studio: Columbia/Tristar

Retail Price: $24.95

Features: Barbra In Movieland Featurette, This Is Barbra Streisand Featurette, Filmographies, Trailers, Song Highlights

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.0, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Closed Captions, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, Chinese Subtitles, Korean Subtitles, Thai Subtitles, Scene Selections

Released: October 23rd, 2001

"Funny Girl" purports to be the musical biography of 1920's comedian, Fanny Brice: a backstage love story combined with the rags to riches tale of the "ugly duckling" becoming a swan (literally, in this case) under the spotlights of The Ziegfeld Follies. Though "Funny Girl" takes many, many liberties with Fanny's true story, the film itself is a benchmark film, if for no other reason than it introduced cabaret performer and Broadway star Barbra Streisand, only really a name on the East Coast, to filmgoers across America. And what a debut performance this is, as well it should be since Streisand created the role on Broadway, then took it to London for a fourteen week limited engagement, four years before the film opened to international accalim. Remember, back in 1968, there was not a STREISAND, there was only the voice known to record buyers (she had already won several Grammy Awards), and television audiences (yep, she won Emmy Awards for these) who tuned into her classic television hours "My Name is Barbra" and "Color Me Barbra." (There was a young, and I mean Y-O-U-N-G man who got his first taste of Babs with these specials, creating quite a stir when that young man insisted on buying every Streisand album he could get his little hands on, then playing them over and over again; much to the chagrin of his parental units who just didn't "get" Barbra. FYI - the record collection still sits proudly upon my shelves - - each and every note that Barbra has ever recorded). Cut quickly to 1968, and the announcement that "Funny Girl" would be having a "Gala Premiere" (for the benefit of The Old Newsboys Fund) at the Fulton Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh on an Autumnal October evening, and the announcement from my lips, that I would be there "come Hell or high water."

Then it happened, a leopard-furred woman was followed by the camera into The New Amsterdam Theater, and in a long tracking shot, move through the backstage area, until she stops at a mirror. She lowers her collar, looks into the mirror, and in a deadpan voice speaks the words, "Hello, gorgeous." With those two words, Streisand became "The Legend." The gawky, not-exactly-beautiful woman won millions upon millions of new fans. But the story that follows those immortal words presents the best that Streisand could possibly give, and "Funny Girl" remains one of the best musical films of all time, one that even Streisand's detractors should find to be a fine example of well-crafted filmmaking.

William Wyler, one of the best directors ever, tackles the musical genre, for the first time in his illustrious career with "Funny Girl," creating a film that is almost constantly entertaining. Isobel Lennart's screenplay follows Fanny's rise to Ziegfeld star from humble beginnings on New York's Lower East Side, with a fine attention to period detail. Armed only with the belief that "I'm the greatest star, but no one knows it," Fanny works her way into a chorus of roller-skating chorines - - trouble is, Fanny can't skate! Her antics on the skates lead to a solo spot ("I'd Rather be Blue") and the attentions of a ruffled-shirted gambler, Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif, decidedly exotic, suitably charming). A few months pass, and Ziegfeld summons Fanny for an audition ("Second Hand Rose"). Upon becoming a genuine, glorified Ziegfeld girl, Fanny assures the ulcer-ridden Mr. Z. that she will do anything that he asks. Anything, that is, except appear in his finale proclaiming to be "a beautiful reflection of my love's affection," because with her funny face, audiences would be laughing at her. Ziegfeld insists that if Miss Brice does not appear in the finale, she will not appear in The Follies at all. Opening night arrives, the theater is packed, and the finale, saluting "Beautiful Brides" begins as any other number that glorifies the American Girl would, with bevies of beauties dripping diamonds and little else. The chorus introduces a singing bride, who vocally encompasses the happiness and harmony that marriage truly promises: Fanny, who has stuffed a pillow beneath her billowing bridal gown, appearing for all intents and purposes, pregnant. What a way to stop the show, and who should be in the audience to witness this comic genius come into her own? Why none other than the gorgeous Nick, who decides that though they are worlds apart on the surface, Fanny and he are the same kind of people. Fanny agrees with the score's best known song, and a classic Streisand interpretation, "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world." But Nick and Fanny cannot be together as Nick always has a train to catch, a game to play, or a horse to bet on. That is until The Follies touring company arrives in Baltimore, where Nick is overnighting before hitting a big game on a European-bound luxury liner. Reluctantly accepting Nick's invitation to dinner, Fanny finds herself in a lush, private dining room, where the sparks fly, and musical seduction ensues. Knowing that she has missed out on so much by living her life only on the stage, Fanny quickly decides to abandon The Follies, and follow her heart, and join Nick at sea. With the highly personalized anthem, "Don't Rain on My Parade," and the impeccable musical staging of Herbert Ross, the First Act of "Funny Girl" closes on the indelible image of Streisand on a tugboat steaming past the Statue of Liberty.

With a first half so full of vibrant performances and musical numbers, it's only logical that the second half of "Funny Girl" is not as engrossing as that which came before. Fanny's marriage to Nick, Nick's gambling problems and its effect on that marriage are addressed simply and concisely. But when Nick gets involved in a phony bond deal, and faces prison, the picture regains it momentum, building to a finale ("My Man") that allows audiences to once again witness the sheer, unadulterated force of nature that would become legend.

"Funny Girl" is a great film from a year of strange goings on at the Academy Awards. This was the year that Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" mesmerized viewers, Paul Newman led wife Joanne Woodward to an Oscar nomination, Peter O'Toole played second fiddle to regal cinematic legend Katharine Hepburn, Franco Zefferelli proved that casting "Romeo and Juliet" with real teenagers was not a gimmick, Mel Brooks had people singing "Springtime for Hitler," Steve McQueen took the wheel to San Francisco streets, and another film musical of a hit Broadway musical took home the prize for Best Picture of the Year. Against nearly insurmountable odds, though "2001" was not nominated as Best Picture, Carol Reed's imaginative "Oliver!" was the voters' choice. There really should not have been any doubt that Barbra would also take home the award as Best Actress, but as shocked presenter Ingrid Bergman declared, "It's a tie..."(only the second one in the Academy's history) stunned audiences heard Bergman read the winners' names: Katharine Hepburn for "The Lion in Winter" and "Barbra Streisand for "Funny Girl." As Streisand accepted her award, in a Scaasi-designed see-through pants suit, tripping on the stairs to the podium, she began her speech with a close look at the naked golden statuette, and proclaimed, "Hello, gorgeous."


Three years of solid restoration work has granted "Funny Girl" the best of all possible presentations. The print is as close to perfection as one could ask for - - and no, perfectionist Streisand was not involved in a hands-on function - - with nary a blemish of indication that this film is thirty-three years old. There are a couple of odd edits within the film itself which could be mistaken for drop-outs, but trust me, those little jumps were always there: following Fanny's triumphant Follies opening, in the dressing room, there is an odd occurrence as Walter Pigeon repeats the word "beer," and the editing of the production number in the second half "The Swan" has been that way since nearly two minutes of humor were removed from the number following its roadshow engagements. The black level is excellent, once again astonishing for a film of this age. The edge enhancement is negligible as it only appears on highly contrasted objects, but edge enhancement is there nonetheless. Speaking of gorgeous, though, one cannot see this DVD and not be astounded by the trueness of the Technicolor hues. "Funny Girl" encases a full spectrum of colors in its costume and set design, and speaking of true reds: check out that private dining room in Chapter 13. Unless you've been watching "Gigi," you haven't seen this many shades of red in one single set, and breathtakingly enough, each and every single shade of red is solid - never once veering into oranges or pinks. As befitting a theatrically-themed film, "Funny Girl" boasts quite a three-dimensionality in its newest video format. To say the very least, this presentation - anamorphically encoded at the proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio - is stunning.


The three year restoration also included a fairly faithful recreation of the film's original six-track, 70mm, stereo sound mix. Though this mix was only used for the roadshow engagements, its elements are far better sounding than the deplorable, muddy and thin mix used for each of "Funny Girl's" VHS editions. (I can't compare the hard-to-find, out-of-print laserdisc's mix, but I would assume it's nothing like this). The restoration has been processed into a Dolby Digital 5.0 surround mix, and without that independent bass channel, the highs are crystal clear but the bass clearly suffers. Being a musical, though, the restored mix is a very accurate account of the film's subdued surround effects as well as a few choice discreet effects within songs. The songs, each and every one of them, come across in all their glory. For a truly fascinating comparison, though, there is a snippet of Streisand filming "Don't Rain on My Parade" in the Bonus Features' "Barbra in Movieland," where her phrasing in noticeable different than in the final film. The French language soundtrack preserves the songs in English, and herein Fanny has a husky, smoky speaking voice, while Sharif's tenor speaking voice is now nearer to a basso! The French track has a charm all its own, and I wish that there were credits given somewhere for the substitute voices.


With all that the DVD has to offer in terms of picture and sound, the Bonus Features are quite a disappointment, even to a Streisand fan. Full-framed Trailers appear for three Streisand vehicles: "The Mirror has Two Faces," "For Pete's Sake" (both currently available on DVD) and the soon-to-be-released "The Prince of Tides," but where, oh where, is the original trailer for "Funny Girl?" The Filmographies are nearly useless, as they are simply career highlights for director William Wyler and stars Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif and Walter Pigeon. Babs' credits are lacking "All Night Long." The two period production shorts are both rather bizarre. First up is Barbra in Movieland which allows bit player Charlie Peterson center frame to gush about the filming of "Don't Rain on My Parade." There are some interesting shots of Barbra however, and the thrilling tugboat ride past Lady Liberty is here in a different angle than the film. This is Streisand could easily be a trailer for "Funny Girl," as it is composed of stills of Barbra through the years (the few years before "Funny Girl," of course) accompanied by a sonorous voice extolling the virtues of Babs. It's pure hokum, and utter admiration at its kitschiest.

This sparkling restoration deserves to be recognized, along with those of "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Citizen Kane," for the incredible work that it is. I'm nearly certain that even those who have an aversion to Streisand (and there are many) could possibly come away from "Funny Girl" with a new-found appreciation of the talent that came before the legend. Though it is a star vehicle, it is very difficult to discount the brilliant direction by William Wyler, who obviously taught Barbra a trick or two. Wyler's contributions to "Funny Girl" - his use of framing devices (both story-wise and literally framing Fanny in nearly every shot with a mirror, a door frame, or lighting), his incredible feel for the early twentieth century as well as his great story-telling style are less easy to ignore upon multiple viewings. For Streisand fans, and we are legion, THIS is the Holy Grail of DVD releases, and Columbia has not disappointed us.

(5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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