Saturday, September 22, 2007

William Wyler Blog-a-thon: Babs is One Funny Girl

Director William Wyler is often quietly forgotten when one discusses the great directors of the Golden Age. The genre-lovers shun him because, unlike Hitchcock and John Ford, he worked in many different genres throughout his career and the auteur theorists disregard him because, unlike Howard Hawks who also worked in different genres, he never really developed a visual style that connects his films. This isn't a bad thing because, Wyler, instead, focused on the actors and actresses in his films and on helping them deliver the greatest performances they could. His technique often involved simply telling the actor "Again" and then reshooting the scene, but it worked nonetheless: 36 of the actors and actresses in his films earned Oscar nominations and 14 of them won the impressive feat unlikely to be broken anytime in the near future.

Funny Girl is one of Wyler's last films and, although it isn't on par with earlier masterpieces such as Dodsworth, The Letter and The Heiress, it's a personal favorite of mine and one hell of a good time. One reason for this love is the fabulous, star making performance Wyler coaxed out of film newcomer Barbra Streisand, who had originated the role of Fanny Brice in the Broadway production. Everyone figured she would be good, but no one expected the tour-de-force she delivers in Funny Girl. She's uses all of her "36 expressions" to good use, going from loud and boisterous to subdued and contemplative at the drop of a hat...all while toning down the stage performance she knew like the back of her hand for the cameras.

Babs' introduction to the film medium is through the often-quoted line "Hello, gorgeous"...and it was then that a gay icon was born.

One of the reasons I love Babs is because she's a diva bitch, she acknowledges it and basically tells everyone to suck it. Even if sometimes she turns into Ultra-Liberal, protector of the oppressed and the Earth, she has the talent to back all of these nutty antics up. Even on Funny Girl, she clashed with Wyler and other actors on set. When these actors complained to Wyler about her telling them what to do and how to act, he responded, tongue firmly in cheek, "You'll have to forgive Barbra; this is the first picture she's ever directed." Even if they argued all throughout the course of the film, it is in this Wyler/Streisand collaboration that leads to Funny Girl being such a fun movie...and for leading Streisand to her first (and only) acting Oscar in 1968.

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