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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Coincidence? Or conspiracy?? Both movies came out in 1968. Both are musicals (and live action, before audiences decided any musical had to be animated by Disney). Both are widescreen - won Academy Awards® - are rated family friendly "G" - and get this, even come from the same movie studio! The mind reels! ;)
Actually the new release of Funny Girl on DVD gives us an opportunity to also go back and review Oliver! Interestingly Oliver! was released at the beginning of the DVD format, so the newly issued Funny Girl showcases some of the the technological advances made in the short time since then.
Funny Girl is the movie that turned Barbra Streisand into an Academy Award® -wining superstar (she had to make up for all those Tonys® the show lost to Hello Dolly!), and it was also pretty much the last time we saw her talents fully blossom due to a collaborative environment. She brought with her the wonderful performance she gave in the Broadway show and learned how to moderate it for film - her fresh faced charm still works up there on the screen even after all these years. (If you want to see a star born - go right to chapters 4 and 5 - where she performs in the very funny "Roller Skate Rag" and then sings the charming "I'd Rather Be Blue." It is a classic movie moment.)
Basically the story of Ziegfeld Follies / early radio comedian Fanny Brice, Funny Girl focuses on her tumultuous romance with gambler Nicky Arnsteen, played by Omar Shariff. Most critics (including yours truly) still feel the first act (before intermission) is the strongest part of the movie, after she marries Nick things get rather soap opera like, until Streisand redeems the movie with a knock out finale performance of "My Man." You can read a biography of Fanny Brice on the Jewish Virtual Library site - it's brief, but fills you in on her.
(The story was continued in 1975's "Funny Lady" - but do yourself a favor and avoid this one. Streisand's inability to collaborate with others is fully evident here - Funny Lady only showcases a major talent lost in its inability to see past its indulgences. Sometimes you just can't go home again, no matter how you try.)
As far as family viewing, the kids will enjoy some of the songs, and the very adult romance should go right over their heads. The second half of the movie may be way too slow for the Cartoon Network generation though. (Everyone may wonder just what was up with all the eye makeup troweled on the women in this movie - let's just say it was an affectation of the time. It's the only thing that dates the picture really.)
Oliver! on the other hand is one of those movies which was a big hit for everyone involved, (it won six Academy Awards® including Best Picture and score) but it never again translated into anything as major for them later on. In other words, no superstars here. Composer Lionel Bart has never done anything since of value, except preside over a (you guessed it) recent stage revival of the show. Jack Wild and Mark Lester (the Artful Dodger and Oliver respectively) never really followed up their childhood performances, Oliver Reed and Ron Moody (Bill Sikes and Fagin) went in other directions, and Shani Wallis (Nancy) sort of got lost in the sands of time.
"Freely adapted from Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist' " (one of the few times there has been truth in movie advertising) this is a big, rambunctious and fun movie with some wonderful Onna White dance numbers - although like Funny Girl, things can get rather tough in the second act. The music is great, with songs such as "Food, Glorious Food," "Consider Yourself (a friend)," and the pre-Star Search power ballad "As Long as He Needs Me."
Kids nowadays will enjoy the big production numbers, and older children who have had some exposure to Charles Dickens will find the story of interest. Again, the youngest crowd may not find enough kinetic energy to keep them in front of the screen.
The goodies are sparse on both discs (as are the included booklets) - maybe due to the length of the films - but it could be more likely to the inability of Columbia Pictures to properly preserve and archive their film history.
Funny Girl only has a trailer and two promotional featurettes - "Barbra in Movieland" and "This is Streisand." The former is actually an interesting look into the filming of the show stopping "Don't Rain on My Parade" number - you can see how the helicopter got the now infamous shot of Streisand belting out the finale of the song on the tugboat. The latter can only be described as a featurette directed written and produced by Ms. Streisand's most rabid fan - consisting solely of stills that are panned across the screen, the script lavishing drooling praise upon her has to be heard to be believed.
There are also some other trailers included for other Columbia Streisand films (The Mirror has Two Faces, For Pete's Sake), and a nifty menu that just lists the songs in the movie, and lets you go right to them and then back. It would have been nice to at least see a small "look back" featurette - unlike some recent revivals, most of the principals from this movie are still alive and available to reminisce about it.
Oliver! has a photo gallery and a featurette - not much considering the package trumpets that this is a "Thirtieth Anniversary Tribute Edition" - I guess interviews with the remaining cast and key creative talents were out of the question.
The Video, Audio and Interface
Both films were fully restored and remastered for DVD to their complete road show lengths (including Overtures, Entr'acte and exit music), and they both look the best they ever have on home video.
Funny Girl enjoyed a recent limited theatrical run so I got the chance to compare the new print up on a big screen to this disc - there are apparently things that can be fixed on video that make the DVD an even better experience. Colors are evened out a bit - and grain appears at a minimum. There are still a few optical zooms that look poor - but this was done in the printing of the movie and are a trait of that process. Expect the odd speckle here and there - that could have been fixed easily on the video master, but I guess that was too much trouble.
Oliver! looks good, but not as astounding as Funny Girl does - we don't know how bad a shape either negative was or what was done to restore them to what we see on the discs. You can tell how far along they have come in learning the DVD format between the two releases. Oliver! has to be flipped midway through - as Columbia was not doing dual layer discs at the time. It isn't a major problem on this title though, as it comes right at intermission.
The remastered 5.0 soundtrack on Funny Girl is great - except for a muffled sounding overture. It reproduces the original widescreen mix, and there is enough bass in the five tracks to not require use of the subwoofer track. Streisand's voice sounds full and clear without any of the distortion heard in past home video releases.
Oliver! on the other hand doesn't quite come up to snuff - even with a full blown 5.1 Dolby Digital remix. I was lucky to have worked while at RCA / BMG with people involved in the original soundtrack release - and that even was problematic. The CD had to be remastered and reissued due to the use of a lesser quality source. Yes, the sound this time is much better than before - but this may be the best they can do.
Meuns are simple on both releases - with Funny Girl providing some clever short animations within each one (for example, the main menu is based on the Ziegfeld Theater marquee, you can watch it light up). I really liked the "songs only" menu too - sometimes you just want to hear the music and not worry so much about Nicky Arnsteen. ;)
After some of the recent major DVD releases where it takes forever to get through the various navigation screens due to long introductions, I have to say it's almost refreshing to be able to just go to where you want on the two discs with a minimum of fuss.
The Final Evaluation
Both releases should be available at retail for around $20 - and are terrific values. Although younger audiences today may not have the patience for the storytelling from this more leisurely era - old whipper- snappers such as myself can delight in newly restored prints, widescreen anamorphic transfers and the new multi- channel soundtracks these discs have.
Either Funny Girl or Oliver! make fine holiday gifts - a perfect 1968 era double feature for a rainy day I would think.
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