Saturday, September 5, 2015

1968 (tie): Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl

In her first movie, legendary performer Barbra Streisand re-creates her Broadway portrayal of legendary performer Fanny Brice. The story is (very loosely) based on Brice's rise to fame and her turbulent relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein.

It's a testament to how perfect Streisand was for the role that she was cast in the movie, considering how studios felt about taking chances on film novices in big musicals like this. It wouldn't have been surprising if they'd tried to My Fair Lady her, but I'm pretty sure the movie would have completely failed if they had. No one else could have so impeccably embodied this role. Quirky comedy, passionate love, devastating heartbreak: she played it all to perfection. She does a very good job of making that Fanny Brice face, opening her eyes and mouth really wide, but she does her own take on it, rather than an exact imitation or caricature. She also had great chemistry with co-star Omar Sharif, probably helped by the fact that she was having an off-screen affair with him at the time. And then there's the singing. Nobody can sing like Barbra Streisand, and her voice is exactly right for these songs. If Fanny Brice had lived to see this movie, she probably would have been offended by all the inaccuracies, but I think even she would have been impressed by Streisand's performance.

I'm always torn with respect to Barbra Streisand because I think she's a very good performer and I love that she's one of the few women to also achieve success behind the camera, but by all accounts she's kind of a pain. Other actors in this film complained that she had a lot of their scenes cut so she would get more screen time. When director William Wyler was asked if she was hard to work with, he reportedly responded, "No, not too hard, considering it was the first movie she ever directed." She seems like a total diva and control freak, which kind of rubs me the wrong way, but at the same time I'm pretty sure that if she was a man she wouldn't get nearly as much criticism for doing the things she does, so I still have to admire her. And though I thought this movie was kind of long and draggy, her performance really was very good, so I think she deserved this Oscar. I'm not sure whether she deserved to beat Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter, though. I'll have to re-watch that before I can decide.

Fun fact: Fanny Brice actually played herself in 1936's The Great Ziegfeld, for which Luise Rainer won Best Actress. Unless I'm much mistaken, that means that this is the first time somebody won Best Actress for playing someone who was in a previous Best Actress winner. Which is a super random distinction, but just something I noticed.

This was Streisand's only Best Actress Oscar. She was nominated just once more in this category, for 1973's The Way We Were, but she's also the first Best Actress winner to receive nominations in non-acting categories. She was nominated twice for Best Original Song, winning once for the love theme from 1976's A Star Is Born. In addition, 1991's The Prince of Tides, which she co-produced and directed, was nominated for Best Picture, so she would have gotten to share the Oscar for that if it had won. Now she's 73 years old and though she's still working, it's mostly behind the camera, so while it's possible that she'll get another nomination for something, I doubt it will be for Best Actress. But I could be wrong.

It must have been hard on Streisand to have to share her thunder by tying for this award, although Hepburn never showed up to the ceremonies so at least Streisand had the speech all to herself. Stay tuned for Katharine Hepburn's third Oscar winning performance, and my thoughts about who should have won.

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