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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Brice. Fanny Brice."
DVD ReviewFunny Girl brought Barbra Streisand to the big screen for the first time, reprising her Broadway role as Fanny Brice—singer, comedienne, star of the Ziegfeld Follies and "Baby Snookums" of early radio fame. Young Miss Brice, not an attractive girl in the conventional sense, earns her way into the cast of a music-hall revue by sheer dint of desire. When the show opens, her inability to handle choreography on roller-skates turns her into an unexpected audience favorite, and her singing talents earn her applause and a significant raise. Her career takes off six months later when she joins the famous Ziegfeld Follies as a comedienne and singer, becoming the toast of New York. She also finds personal happiness in her marriage to wealthy gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif), but the bliss is not to last—as Arnstein's luck takes a turn for the worse and her career continues to blossom, husband and wife begin to drift apart.
One can't help but see biographical similarities between Brice (as portrayed here, at any rate) and Streisand's own career. Brice makes her debut in a small role at Keeney's Music Hall, catching the eye of showman Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon); Streisand debuted in a small role in I Can Get It For You Wholesale, catching the ear and eye of producer Ray Stark (among others). Both women come off as cute, confident and talented, but pushy and insecure at the same time. One suspects that Streisand has never been as desperately concerned with love and marriage as Brice is, but the casting seems completely apropos in other respects. Funny Girl itself represented a milestone for Streisand that echoed through her later career—the Brice/Arnstein conflict is borrowed from A Star Is Born, which was remade in the 1970s as a vehicle for Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and the actress reprised her role as an older Fanny Brice in the 1975 sequel Funny Lady. The song People originated here, and while it's become a Streisand cliché, it's still a standard.
The film has held up well over the years. Veteran director William Wyler is ably assisted by Herb Ross, responsible for staging the musical scenes, and the Bob Merrill/Jule Styne score includes such favorites as Don't Rain On My Parade and Secondhand Rose. Omar Sharif is suave and naturalistic as Nick Arnstein (though the accent doesn't quite fit), displaying a capable singing voice in a couple of numbers; Walter Pidgeon is dignified and very funny as Ziegfeld, and Mae Questel (voice of Betty Boop, Olive Oyl and even Popeye on a few occasions) makes a memorable appearance as Brice's neighbor, Mrs. Strakosh. The production is lavish but not overblown, and it's carefully executed, with some amazing musical sequences that include shots of Streisand singing in perfect synchronization aboard moving trains and tugboats. The film occasionally suffers from a lack of grit; the back alleys of the Lower East Side are remarkably clean and obviously a soundstage creation; language and action are constrained to some degree by production code concerns. Styles and color motifs popular in 1968 occasionally intrude on the film's early-twentieth century period flavor, and the songs are not always well integrated into the story. But it's a very watchable film, with several intensely memorable moments, and seems much shorter than its two-and-a-half-hour running time.
Of course, this is ultimately Streisand's show—the entire affair rests on her shoulders, and she rises to the occasion with aplomb. Streisand's ability to interpret a song and make it her own is legendary, and her instincts never fail her here—whether playing for laughs or pathos, she never seems simply to be singing lyrics designed for the occasion. As one of the last big stars to move from Broadway directly into the national consciousness, Streisand acquits herself with honor and palpable talent. As an actress she makes Brice funny, touching, and unapologetically Jewish (not necessarily an easy feat in 1968), and as a singer she preserves the character: she never relies exclusively on breathy "emotion" or brassy belting, but uses a range of vocal techniques backed by honesty and sensitivity. No matter what one may think of the actress/singer/writer/director's later career and persona, it's hard to resist the young Streisand on her way up, working just as hard as Fanny Brice to make the big time (and earning an Academy Award® in the process). Well worth the viewing.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Funny Girl is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a sharp anamorphic image downconverted from a high-definition transfer, derived from the film's recent restoration. The image retains occasional dirt and damage flecks, jump cuts and optical anomalies present in the negative, but the color has been restored and there are no running scratches, damaged frames or other serious flaws. Colors are rich, shadow depth is impressive, and the film rarely betrays its vintage, though interlaced displays may encounter moiré patterns in a few spots. Nicely restored (by Cineric under the supervision of Tom Heitman and Sony Pictures' Grover Crisp) and transferred.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Funny Girl features a Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack (in English and French), as well as a Dolby 2.0 Surround mix. The 5.0 mix is constructed from the film's original 70mm 6-track presentation, collapsing the panoramic five-channel front soundstage into the three available front channels, with the sixth surround track providing monaural ambience in the left and right surround channels. Chace handled the digital audio restoration, eliminating pops and crackles while retaining some low-level hiss present in the analog source (only audible during otherwise silent passages). The 2.0 Surround track seems to be a downconversion of the 5.0 mix, and is audibly "flatter" with narrower frequency range than the enveloping 5.0 version and some reduction of dynamic range as well.
The restored and cleaned-up Dolby Digital 5.0 audio sounds just great, with crisp music, clear dialogue and a solid presentation of Ms. Streisand's distinctive vocals. There's no bass activity to speak of, though none is really called for by the film, and the audio's analog origins are occasionally apparent. But I can't imagine this film sounding any fresher than it does here on DVD.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 0 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Mirror Has Two Faces, For Pete's Sake, The Prince of Tides
Layers Switch: 01h:10m:28s
Extras Review: Funny Girl on DVD features 28 picture-menu chapter stops, subtitles in 7 languages, and 5 "song highlights" selections presenting musical excerpts from the film. Supplements (of varying value) include:
Barbra In Movieland featurette:
This arguably mistitled ten-minute short focuses on the production's shoot at a defunct train station in Hoboken, seen through the eyes of the facility's elderly caretaker, one Charlie Peterson. The behind-the-scenes footage was apparently shot silent; interview audio with Peterson, voiceovers by a narrator and music from the soundtrack are used to tie the piece together. Ms. Streisand appears only briefly, in celebrity mode with sunglasses and in character, but there is some interesting footage of screenwriter Isobel Lennart, director Wyler, musical sequence director Herbert Ross and producer Ray Stark. The print is grainy, but the 1.33:1 full-frame transfer looks passable, and it's an interesting and historically valuable featurette.
This Is Streisand featurette:
Fluffier than the Movieland piece, this five-and-a-half-minute featurette is an old-fashioned, star-centered promotion, playing up Ms. Streisand's personality and celebrity (as a Broadway star and recording success) to drum up an audience for her feature film debut. It's presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 letterboxed format, and the faded film clips included in this vintage short provide a dramatic contrast to the restored main attraction.
No biographical information is provided, but the disc does feature selected filmographies for William Wyler, Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif and Walter Pidgeon.
Three trailers are included for Streisand starrers The Mirror Has Two Faces (02:34), For Pete's Sake (02:50), and The Prince of Tides (03:00). All are presented in 1.33:1 format, at film frame rate (24 frames per second) with Dolby 2.0 audio (stereo surround on the two more recent films, monaural on For Pete's Sake.)
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsFunny Girl displays the young Barbra Streisand at her best, portraying Ziegfeld comedienne, Fanny Brice, with verve, humor and a great set of pipes. Columbia TriStar's DVD features restored video and audio, full overture, intermission and exit music, and some worthwhile supplements. A quality DVD presentation of an entertaining but fairly serious musical. Recommended.
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