Given how she grew into perhaps the most annoyingly egocentric entertainer in all the world, it’s difficult to imagine that Barbra Streisand was once an ingenue. But even as early as Funny Girl, the 1968 movie musical which marked her screen debut (not to mention earned her a Best Actress Oscar), signs of what would become the Streisand Syndrome have been set in place. How eerily prophetic it is to hear her belt out a song called “I’m the Greatest Star” early on, not long after various characters have discounted her for her less-than-ideal (to say the least) looks. And in what would become commonplace fashion, Babs–er, stage comedienne Fanny Brice–proves her detractors, in both her professional and personal lives, wrong with a far more overpowering beauty: that of her sense of humor and (of course) talent.
That sense of humor about herself is perhaps the biggest difference between this early Streisand and the Streisand of today, who takes herself so damn seriously that it even comes through in her celebrated singing voice–once melodic, now mannered and melodramatic. So it’s all the more amusing to watch Fanny make a fool of herself (both intentionally and unintentionally) time and again in this film; it makes for a satisfying meta-movie viewing experience to see Miss Monumental Ego surrender to slapstick and for once be eager to make faces sillier than her natural one.
Interestingly enough, “Funny Girl” has a progression not unlike that of its star. The first half is amusing, likable, light on its feet; post-intermission, the film gets overly serious and self-involved as Fanny’s troubled relationship with compulsively gambling husband Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif) become the focus. Unlike its star, the later section does show some glimmers of appeal, namely the timeless tunes by Jules Styne and Bob Merrill, which are nicely rendered by Streisand’s then-pure pipes. Even so, the film ultimately proves to be a keeper for fans o’ Babs, and not the likes of myself.
Similarly, so is Columbia TriStar’s new DVD of the film. This is no knock on the extensive amount of technical work that went into this digital edition; as with the theatrical rerelease that played in a few cities this fall, this version of the film has been refurbished in sound and image, and it shows: the Technicolor leaps out; the music rings clear. But the two vintage featurettes that are the disc’s only notable supplements will only be of great interest to the Babs faithful. First is “Barbra in Movieland,” which talks about the filming of the famous “Don’t Rain on My Parade” number in a New Jersey train station. What is especially odd about this featurette is how it takes the point of view of a veteran caretaker at the station, but that’s all the better to show how Babs can have such a spellbinding effect on regular folk. But that featurette doesn’t get nearly as sickening as the five-minute ego stroke that is “This Is Streisand.” The first words spoken by a completely serious announcer are, “Her smile has been compared to the Mona Lisa. Her profile has been compared to Nefertiti,” as side-by-side comparison photos flash on the screen. If that snippet doesn’t turn your stomach, then you’re made of far stronger stuff than I am. The fawning ends with the declaration, “Nothing like Barbra Streisand has never occurred before.” Let’s hope that nothing ever will again.
Specifications: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; English and French Dolby Surround; English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles; English closed captioning.