Isn’t She Funny?
I have conflicting feelings about Barbra Streisand. The woman can obviously sing. She’s got good timing and a funny delivery. In some ways, as torch song belter and gay camp icon, she took up where Judy Garland left off. (‘Funny Girl’, the film that made Streisand a movie star, came out in 1968; Garland died the next year.) Seen in this way, their duet from Judy’s short-lived TV show is like a passing of the torch.
But there’s something a little hypocritical in Streisand’s film persona. She is often cast as a hardworking, goofy ‘ugly duckling’ who is a tonic to boringly-pretty Aryan girls. But this down-to-earthness doesn’t gel with Streisand’s off-camera diva reputation (demanding to be filmed from only one side) or even her portrayal onscreen. For instance, ‘Funny Girl’ makes a big deal about Streisand not looking like a willowy Ziegfeld girl, but she is always perfectly made-up and gorgeously lit, looking as beautiful as she possibly can. No other actress in the film even gets a close-up. She is, after all, supposed to be playing Vaudevillian Fanny Brice, who sang and danced but whose real talent was for oddball comedy.
In later years, the lightness and possible-subversiveness of Streisand’s identity were further undermined by the dead serious way she treated her own talent, not to mention the schmaltzy candle-lit songs she chose for herself. But perhaps I’m being too tough on her. In 1968, she was a revolutionary heroine, and paved the way for unconventional leading ladies like Sarah Jessica Parker and Jennifer Aniston (who young Streisand greatly resembles). ‘Funny Girl’ is worth checking out even for the luscious costumes by Irene Sharaff, a very sixties take on the 1900’s to the 1920’s, alone.
TIFF In The Park is showing ‘Funny Girl’ tonight at 9.00pm right next to Roy Thomson Hall. If you join me, I promise not to rain on your parade.