The pantheon of movie stars is a vast an ever-expanding collection, and some of them fade or burn out, there are always new ones to replace them. The criteria upon which one earns stardom is only slightly mutable as the decades progress. Stars can explode onto the scene with a fiery burst of paparazzi interest and flashes of E! squibs and one promising, shining performance on screen. But unless they marry well and interestingly and create a plethora of curiosity about their private lives, they must continue to haul their weight at the box office or at least turn in performances that create a buzz or else face the eventual dimming of their appeal. That's why you'll generally find a catalogue of over fifty movies for an actor/actress -- the glittering and immortal stardust left behind. And the truly brightest stars leave in their wake, if they're lucky, one, or maybe two crown jewel masterpiece performances which will ensure the enduring luster of their legacy.
This yet another example of what makes Barbra Streisand different. Her film career spans five decades, and she's only starred in seventeen films. Seventeen! But talk about beating the averages -- of those seventeen, at least three of them are what I'd consider bona-fide masterpiece performances. Some would argue a much higher number of them are. And, of course, her film output was certainly smaller than most actresses because she was also a director and producer, and, of course, a singer.
What's the appeal of Barbra Streisand? Simple, and two-fold. First, she was different. There's no denying it -- she did not have the expected face of a leading lady movie star. And, given some of her choices as a director, I think it's safe to say that she was always aware of this, and that it was quite possibly a point of insecurity for her. That said, I will say that I do find her absolutely gorgeous. And I don't mean that in the Sarah-Jessica Parker way where it's nice to see a "different" looking girl get the sexy lead. I mean I really do think Barbra was different, but gorgeous. Second, the bitch had the shit. Riveting onscreen with impeccable comic timing and a voice that could leave you in slack-jawed amazement. Now, that said, about her voice, which was magnificent, I wasn't a particularly big fan of what she chose to sing. Nevertheless.
I am, however, a big fan of the roles she chose over the years. In her debut, Oscar-winning role as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl she established herself with an almost unnerving confidence that demanded applause. She then followed that up under Gene Kelly's direction in another musical Hello, Dolly. But in 1972, she teamed with Ryan O'Neal for the first time in Peter bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc? This was a true '30's throwback -- screwball and slapstick comedy -- where Streisand truly asserted her unassailable comic chops. The film is zany and joyful, and Streisand is luminously loony at the center and successfully proves that she is the reigning funny girl of film.
Just one year later, Sydney Pollack teamed her with Robert Redford in what should've been a melodramatic piece of tear-jerking tripe -- The Way We Were. It's the story of star-crossed lovers, Katy and Hubbell, who try and try but just can't get their stars to align. The dialogue is overwrought and obvious at times, and the theme of the golden-boy taking on a girl who's not of his class is well-worn. It's the kind of movie that, in anyone else's hands, would make me want to slap all the main characters and leave the theater. But under Pollack's direction, Babs and Redford absolutely sizzle, simmer, and then fizzle in heartbreaking fashion as Barbra brushes his hair away and sings how memories light the corners of her mind. And instead of frustrating me, it turns me into a sobbing little girl. Because although it's obvious, and awkward, there's also a squirmyness to it when Katy asks Hubbell if she's not pretty enough for him. That's how she sees herself -- different, and because of that, not gorgeous. But the sad truth is that she was plenty pretty -- too pretty, in fact. She had that extra brightness which made her gorgeous, and poor Hubbell just couldn't handle it, because all he wanted was simply pretty. It's a film that leaves memories alright, and they're the kind of memories that will forever light up Bab's legacy and keep her star burning bright.