Musicals I Should Know 2: Funny Girl (Wyler, 1969)

Hello! It’s me again back for a (albeit late) second instalment into my ‘Musicals I Should Know’ series. Having a watch and listen through Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Burton, 2007) was very eye-opening at the fact that I can actually like musicals of genres that stray from typical love-story ones (doesn’t sound that revolutionary of a concept but for some reason this did floor me somewhat). This time around I will be going through Funny Girl, directed by William Wyler and fronted by Barbara Streisand. It’s worth clarifying now that the version I’m looking at is the 1969 feature film version, not the original Broadway musical (1964), primarily due to the fact I couldn’t find anywhere to watch the full stage version as opposed to the film. The only notable song I ever really caught from the musical prior to watching it was ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ which I believe I caught from Strictly (BBC, 2011) during a particular performance from Russell Grant (if my memory serves me right). But finally, I’ve gotten around to watching this and it was an extremely worthwhile experience for a musical that I’ve heard mentioned several times by society members.

Spoilers ahead

The first thing I would have to point out with this film would be the music. The overture is a particular favorite of mine from the soundtrack instrumentally speaking. From the vocal tracks there was a wide variety of emotions within the songs (though they did tend to stick within the same genre just when listening to it personally). If I was to list of some songs that really stuck with me, they’d have to be: ‘I’d Rather Be Blue Over You (Than Happy With You)’, ‘People’, ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ and ‘My Man’. If I was to speak specifically about some songs today, ‘People’ and ‘My Man’ were definitely some of the most emotional songs for me. The latter of the pair almost gave off slightly James Bond-like vibes which links in quite nicely given that by this time, Dr. No (Young, 1962), all the way through to You Only Live Twice (Gilbert, 1967) had been released by this point. That’s not to say I think any direct influences really came into the song; it just drew some similarities within my mind slightly. ‘People’ on the other hand went straight for the hard-hitting vocals and as the notes get higher as the song progresses on, the feelings also escalate with the delivery from Streisand. A little bit of digging lead me to find out that after being released as a single in 1964 during the musical’s Broadway run and having a multitude of high-profile covers, Streisand’s version was included in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 (Wikipedia, 2020). As a final little bit, ‘I’m The Greatest Star’ and ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ both had similar musical elements and melodies but served almost bookmarks to remember about throughout the film, showing a rather desperate yet street-smart Fanny transform into a confident yet lovesick person (I also saw a few flaws that emerged throughout the course of the film, a detail I always like as it shows a more realistic progression of a human being throughout life, as opposed to the typical progression style seen in films).

Edit: One extra note to add in here after reading back is that I forgot to mention about the striking camera work used for ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’. For a film in the 60s where still a lot of musical films had their scenes done in studios, outside long shots (specifically referring to the boat and train scenes) were extremely refreshing changes.

Nonetheless, the plot does fall a little bit off for me when I watched the film but that wasn’t really due to the fault of Fanny. Whilst Omar Sharif plays Nicky Arnstein very well and both himself and Streisand duet nicely, I can’t help but feel the second half of the film just fell a bit short for me in terms of engagement. The first half focused more on Fanny’s entry into show-business and getting into Ziegfeld productions. Maybe it was just a personal preference that made me like that side of the film more as I have watched Ziegfeld Follies (Ayers et al., 1945) in the past that actually starred the real-life Fanny Brice. Either way the elements surrounding the marriage between Fanny and Nicky just never stuck with me as much. I did find it engaging and at some points tense, but it was more my interest in how Fanny engaged with the situation rather than Nicky. It is by no means bad, but just wasn’t entirely my cup of tea. However, in its defence, the first half of the film did for me fall into the trap of extended dance sequences that don’t overtly show much relevance to the story itself, found commonly in musical films produced in the 30s and 40s particularly. Again, not a deal-breaker by any means but it still wasn’t entirely my jam.

Overall, Funny Girl is a nice take on the life of Fanny Brice that’s been seen previously in MGM productions (despite the fact this was actually distributed by Columbia Pictures). Whilst the romance side was not really for me and I much preferred the half of the plot that focused on the Fanny’s emergence into show business, a different perspective on the performers of Broadway combined with exquisite vocals from Streisand throughout made for a thoroughly enjoyable watch!

★★★½

(Next)

03 – A Star Is Born (Cooper, 2018)

References (in order of mention):

Funny Girl (1969) Directed by W. Wyler. [Feature film]. Los Angeles, CA: Columbia Pictures.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) Directed by T. Burton. [Feature film]. Los Angeles, CA: Paramount Pictures

Styne, J. (1964) Funny Girl. Lyrics by B. Merrill; choreographed by C. Haney, J. Robbins; directed by G. Kanin. [Winter Garden Theatre, New York City]

‘Week 3: Broadway Night’ (2011) Strictly Come Dancing, Series 9, episode 6. BBC One, 15 October.

Dr. No (1962) Directed by T. Young. [Feature film]. Beverly Hills, CA: United Artists.

You Only Live Twice (1967) Directed by L. Gilbert. [Feature film]. Beverly Hills, CA: United Artists.

Wikipedia (2020) List of Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipients (J-P). Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Grammy_Hall_of_Fame_Award_recipients_(J%E2%80%93P) (Accessed: 26 December 2020).

Ziegfeld Follies (1945) Directed by L. Ayers, R. D. Ruth, R. Lewis, V. Minnelli, M. Pye, G. Sidney and C. Walters. [Feature film]. Beverly Hills, CA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

A Star Is Born (2018) Directed by B. Cooper. [Feature film]. Burbank, CA: Warner Bros.

Patrick Byron – MTS Vice President

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