Funny Girl

Watching this film again, I was surprised to find that I still have all the songs memorized.  Blame Gina Weiss, who was obsessed with Barbra Streisand and used to sing the soundtrack to “Funny Girl” during chemistry in eight grade.  It got so all of us at Gina’s table could join in, when we weren’t trying to set the lab on fire.

I’ve liked Streisand in a lot of films over the years, but none of her subsequent roles suited her as well as Fanny Brice.

Fanny Brice: If I can’t tell when you’re ordering roast beef and potatoes, how will I know when you’re making advances?

Nick Arnstein: You’ll know. I’ll be much more direct.

Of course, it helped that she was playing opposite Omar Sharif.  The two began an affair during the shooting of “Funny Girl,” and it shows.  You see it when they finally kiss, in the alley behind Fanny’s mother’s saloon after her first big success as a Ziegfeld girl, and when Nick makes that advance of his, between the paté (chopped liver) and the Boeuf  à la Bordelaise (roast beef).

But you REALLY notice it at the end, when they split up and she sings “My Man.”

Apparently their real-life romance was also ending, with both preparing to return to their respective spouses.  The director, Billy Wilder, kept Sharif on the set while Streisand was singing, just out of sight, because he knew that his presence would bring out her deepest feelings.

Sharif tells the story in his memoir of how the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt broke out while “Funny Girl” was being filmed.  Both Wyler and Streisand threatened to quit if he was removed from the cast.  Wyler, a Jewish refugee from Vienna, made the case most eloquently:  “We’re in America, the land of freedom, and you’re ready to make yourselves guilty of the same things we’re against?”  When the film was released abroad, with a publicity shot showing the two actors kissing, the Egyptian press agitated to get Sharif’s citizenship revoked.  In true Fanny fashion, Streisand got off the best retort:  “Egypt angry!” she said. “You should hear what my Aunt Sarah said!”

4 thoughts on “Funny Girl

  1. This was Barbra’s picture, all the way. Really, it hardly mattered who directed it (not that he didn’t do a good job, but a film like “Sunset Boulevard” was HIS. This was HERS).

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  2. What I meant was that William Wyler seems to have been the official director, and you name him twice in the last paragraph. But Barbra shaped it a lot, that’s for sure.

    I decided some time ago that the auteur theory, as it’s usually conceived in America, is too narrow and ought to recognize that other forces, not only the director, can sometimes provide the essential shaping “authorship” of a film. Some of the films of some of the major stars are examples, and maybe Funny Girl is too.

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    1. That is what I meant. Of course, the original stage play was hers, so she had grounds to feel that she owned the picture. And Wyler said he didn’t mind that she micro-managed things. He saw it as the sign of a true professional, the attention to detail.

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