patience with this DVD depends on your Babs tolerance level. However, truth
be told, this collection is, well, fabulous. Even if you are not a fan, the
music and the voice is so dazzling that, even if you don’t convert, you’ll
at the very least question your sexuality.
are five TV specials that, if you let them wash over you, will drown you
with an odd, unusual pleasure. Short on guest stars and deliberately
foregoing the cutesy sketches (for the most part), we instead get pure voice
and intense orchestration – for sure, entertainment on an adult level.
sophisticated, yes, and difficult to peg. This unique woman
fingernails and eyelashes
-- is not exactly timeless
throughout these gems, but we don’t feel as if we’ve suffered through a
tiresome, claustrophobic time capsule either. It all holds up.
Streisand first took the entertainment world by storm in the early sixties,
she was nothing short of a stunning revelation. Her story would never be
believable as fiction. Here was a Brooklyn Jewish girl with offbeat looks (to say the least), who had
a voice on her that was immediately nothing short of a force. From the get
go, she would not allow any contemporaries. She copied no one and nobody
could hold a candle to her. To boot, she was bohemian, kooky, unable to
relate to people and often awkward in front of the camera. Yet the stars
were aligned in the sky for her, and she somehow made everything wrong
saved her from late-night-freak-show obscurity was that voice, so legitimate
and unique, backed up with that compellingly distinctive presence. While
singing, her awkwardness melted away quickly, and her odd looks became
intriguing and beautiful. When she sang, she was simply transported
somewhere far away from wherever. Audiences didn’t know where she was going,
but they came along with her, in growing numbers.
wasn’t just another cabaret singer from the Village. Nor was she a nightclub
babe, nor was she a groovy, Burt-Bacharach-lovin’ pop artist. She wasn’t
exactly retro and she certainly wasn’t cutting edge, or in any real way
modern. Figuring out just what she was – and the exasperation in doing so –
only increased her popularity, in an age in which “doin’ your own thing” was
not just finally acceptable but quickly encouraged. After her arrival, the
mold was broken.
became a star first on Broadway, in Funny Girl. This was the story of
comedian Fanny Brice, but that fooled nobody. This was Streisand’s show, and
it was, on the surface, practically her story (Misunderstood Ugly Duckling
enthused CBS signed her to a television special, pretentiously called My
Name Is Barbra. In the age of The Beatles, this blew audiences away, in
its bigger-than-life simplicity (just Streisand and her voice). She looked
like a drag queen doing a lame imitation of herself; between songs, she
would occasionally ramble on about nothing to increase your marveling (a
voice like that came out of this kook?).
girl like this in a world of WASPy young pretties was something to see. When
appearing in her scruffy clothes (scruffy for 1965 but not now), she
semi-apologized to her audience, “I walked out like this and nobody stopped
me, and I should have been stopped.” That she offered up her shabby-chic
wardrobe to an audience used to their TV women vacuuming while wearing
pearls, it was stunning. As well, that a woman – in her early twenties, yet
– demanded total creative control before she was even a proven draw on
television – was unheard of.
course, you know the rest. It all paid off, in spades. My Name Is Barbra
had intensely high ratings and was universally praised and honored. A year
later, this lead to another special – in color – with the equally pretentious
title of Color Me Barbra. Here she sings songs you’ve never heard
before like you’ve never heard them before. This list includes everything
from “The Minute Waltz” to modern go-go, all the while rambling on about her
love for animals (beneath false eyelashes) and singing “We’ve Got A Lot In
Common” to an anteater and “What’s New, Pussycat” to a kitten. One of the
few letdowns is technical: Streisand,
from time to time, lip-synchs!
Another special, The Belle of Fourteenth Street, followed in 1967,
with a sometimes-on-the-money and sometimes-tedious salute to vaudeville.
The Jewish girl from Brooklyn amazes us once again by speaking fluent French
(then closing with the very Yiddish, “know what I mean?”). Also, she breaks
with tradition by allowing a rare guest star – in this case, Jason Robards
(she could have done worse).
However, the jewel in this crown is Barbra Streisand: A Happening In
Central Park. Broadcast in the fall of 1968 but taped a year before,
during the Summer of Love, Streisand seems to shine like a beacon in the New
York night. This
would be only a few years before
the park would become famous for
after-dark muggings. For this free concert, 150,000 people who need people
showed up, all of them somehow looking like Woody Allen – even the women
(those thick, dark-framed glasses of the sixties! Oy!).
Playing to the
adoring, well-behaved crowd, Streisand sings mostly and rambles some. The
videotape, now almost forty years old, has been digitally remastered and
looks as if it was recorded this morning.
there is a weak link in the chain, it may be the last installment, Barbra
Streisand and Other Musical Instruments (1973). Smack dab in the middle
of her successful film career (What’s Up Doc, The Way We Were),
Babs mixes it up with a million-piece orchestra, as well as the great Ray
Charles (although their duet is somehow not as great as it should have
been). Horrors include her singing about being lonely in a future with
no orchestras and only electronic accompaniment (eight tracks! Equalizers!)
and, most horrifying of all, she wears a pantsuit. Also, she insists on
singing “Sing (Sing a Song),” one of the worst novelty songs of the decade
(and that’s saying something).
if you’re not a fan, the mere miracle of a woman getting respect after
overcoming a difficult young life, and presenting her incredible gift to the
world, is definitely worth witnessing.
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: December 16, 2005.