Funny Girl; directed by William Wyler, 1968
There's something about the movie musicals of the 1960s that just doesn't seem right. Visually, the colors tend to be more watered down, faded like that once bright pink dress you've put through the washing machine thrice too many times. The lens focus tends to be softer, with the edges of an image melting off gradually. The sets for most of these films look just as blatantly fake as the ones from the 1930s-1950s, but because the times had changed and the colors were so drab, it just doesn't seem acceptable anymore. And the music and story content itself tend to lack the spark and catchiness that inhabited musicals from Hollywood's Golden Age.
There are some exceptions, West Side Story being the biggest one since it came at the beginning of the decade, and Natalie Wood's terrible accent aside, it took bold risks visually and supported the choreography immensely. But after viewing Funny Girl for the first time yesterday, I was reminded just how much I really don't enjoy most of the Hollywood movie musicals of the 1960s.
Once the 1960s hit, musicals were on the decline, and the only way to get one made was to make a bloated, big budget picture so that they could trek it around the country road-house style. A movie like The Sound of Music, which was 3+ hours, could be shown for limited engagements at the nicer movie houses and charged audiences premium ticket prices. And so we went from Astaire and Rogers flicks being 110 minutes, to musicals running nearly as long as Gone With the Wind. For one of the best chronicles on how the 1960s began the transformation of Old Hollywood into the New, you should check out one of my favorite books, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.
I've always been a fan of Jule Styne, who has written the music for such great shows as Bells Are Ringing and Peter Pan, but I don't find the music for Funny Girl to be particularly exciting. Yes, I am immune to the appeal of "Don't Rain on My Parade"--I've always found it to be a rather grating tune that is too easily ruined by amateur performers. This was also my first Babs film in full (I've only been able to willingly sit through about 20 minutes of The Way We Were, even with Robert Redford's ridiculously good-looking self), and I must say, as an actress, I really like her in the role of Fanny Brice. She is very much a female Woody Allen without all the sex included--since the script is pretty tame--and she is goofy, self-deprecating, and gamine all at the same time. Still, I'm convinced that her voice is an acquired taste, much like Judy Garland's seems to be--although as anyone who knows me could tell you, the latter is most certainly my cup of tea. I can appreciate Streisand's vocal stylings, but I just don't like them.
Speaking of Joots, after viewing the entire film, I've come to the conclusion that it is essentially A Star is Born without the memorable music and the tragic ending. Despite all of the warning signs that crop up immediately--a drunk Norman Maine crashes Esther Blodgett's performance in front of a crowd of hundreds; Nicky Arnstein tells Fanny Brice that his career of choice is...gambling--the female protagonists fall in love with their respective men anyway, all the while climbing to the top of their careers as their insecure husbands watch desolately from below and spin into madness because their egos have been crushed and minced to pieces. And for a film made in 1968, compared to A Star is Born, Funny Girl is quite tame. A Star is Born may be longer, but it definitely doesn't feel as long; once Funny Girl loses all sight of Fanny's career and focuses on the relationship between her and Nicky, it just has absolutely nowhere to go. There's nothing new to say about what goes on between the two of them, and it drags and lugs along for another hour. Their amicable decision to separate at the film's conclusion is so devoid of tension and drama that I almost wished the writers had just decided to have Nicky drown himself in the ocean, especially since the entire story takes liberties with the facts of Fanny's life anyway.