Thursday, June 9, 2022

freakboy on film: YENTL (1983)

Yentl movie poster

screenplay by Jack Rosenthal & Barbra Streisand / directed byBarbra Streisand  


“What the hell is happening on this blog?  He goes from promoting puppet porn to blogging about…Barbra Streisand?!?  Surely this is a sign of the Apocalypse!” 


That’s probably what you’re saying and I can’t blame you for being confused.  I am so NOT a Streisand fan.  (Papa, can you hear the collective gasp of exaggerated horror from all the bitter old queens in the world?) The only other film I’ve seen her in is MEET THE FOCKERS (2004) and I still loathe myself for sitting through such dreck.  As for her singing career, well…I’d rather listen to my cat puking up a hairball. 


As for YENTL, the plot has been on my radar since I was a kid.  Anything that plays with gender expectations has always interested me.  So, last Sunday evening I plopped down in the recliner, switched on TCM, the same cable channel that introduced me to Andy Milligan, and mentally prepared myself for YENTL.  Though I almost switched it off because the TCM announcer announced it was a musical.  Believe it or not, I had no idea.  I thought it was strictly a period piece drama, which, according to the announcer, is what Streisand originally intended.  A couple of songwriters convinced her otherwise and I convinced myself to watch it anyway…or maybe I was just too lazy to get up from the recliner.  


Barbra Streisand as Yentl

                                Yentl, probably about to sing


The film revolves around Yentl (Barbra Streisand), a Jewish woman who wants to study her religion like the men folk do.  This is forbidden in 1904 Eastern Europe because God forbid women use their brains to do anything other than make babies and almond cookies.  Well, after her father jump-starts the plot by croaking, Yentl flees her oppressive village disguised as a man.  If the villagers would’ve seen her sneaking off, all the gossipy women would’ve fainted and the men would’ve called her a demon.  Personally, as someone whose mom mainly wore jeans or slacks, I was cheering Yentl on.


Barbra Streisand as Anshel

                     Yentl as Anshel, also probably about to sing


Anyhoo, Yentl, now going by “Anshel”, is admitted into a religious school and finds herself in a complicated love triangle.  Yentl has developed feelings for Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin), but he sees her as a man.  Besides, Avigdor is betrothed to Hadass (Amy Irving), so he is taken, but not for long.  


Amy Irving looks bored as Hadass

                      Hadass is longing for the singing to stop


A family secret is revealed about Avigdor, forcing Hadass’ parents to dissolve their engagement.  Now Avigdor is ready to split town on the next steam engine unless “Anshel” promises to woo and marry Hadass.  This way Avigdor will still be in Hadass’ life in some way.  Yentl agrees to this because she doesn’t want to lose Avigdor, even though he still believes she is a man.  Will this emotionally messy deception to become a throuple work or will lives be destroyed if Yentl decides to throw herself a gender reveal party?  You’ll have to watch to find out. 


Mandy Patinkin is nude as Avigdor

               Avigdor tries to stop the singing by getting naked


Mandy Patinkin is electric as Avigdor.  It’s impossible to tear your eyes away from him, especially in the skinny-dipping scene.  Amy Irving as Hadass is sweet and more complex than her initial subservient demeanor would suggest.  Then we have Barbra Streisand as the title character.  From when she is longing for more out of life to maneuvering through a man’s world as a man to the tough decisions she has to make in the name of love, Streisand is believable and sympathetic as Yentl.  Now only if she didn’t sing so bloody much! 


Barbra Streisand continues singing as Yentl

Please pass the earplugs.  There is no stopping the singing!!!! 


Sorry, but my filmic gods help me!  The songs multiply like bloated bunny rabbits that blur together.  I understand the lyrics are supposed to reflect Yentl’s internal thoughts, but this could have been done in speedy, non-musical prayers to God or her dead daddy.  Maybe if Streisand ever directs a reboot, she’ll go with her gut instinct and cut the endless songs.  


(SIDE NOTE: Mandy Patinkin, an established Broadway performer at this point, doesn’t sing a single note) 


I must add that Barbra Streisand does a good job directing the film.  She knows how to frame a scene to best capture the emotions emanating from the script.  It amazes and impresses me that a film dealing with the Jewish faith and gender nonconformity would get made by a major studio in the conservative, moral majority landscape of the 1980’s.  Especially since it was all directed by a woman.  Well done, Streisand & MGM. 


In conclusion… 

YENTL is a good film, but the songs keep it from being a great one.  On one hand, I enjoyed it for the plot and the characters, even though It is disappointing that the story mostly shied away from fully exploring the homosexual overtones.  On the other hand, I found the film excruciatingly painful when the singing would start.  My apologies to any bitter old queens out there, but I haven’t been converted to a rabid Streisand fan who openly weeps at the song The Way We Werewhile obsessively clutching the FUNNY GIRL soundtrack.  I’ll stick with Julie Brown as my diva obsession of choice, thank you very much. 


(SIDE NOTE:  I owe IMDb much gratitude for the spelling of character names) 


Thank you for reading or listening to my half-blind words. 


Freak Out, 

JLH 


P.S.  Don’t have a conniption!  SHE MOB will be ganging up on you sooner or later!  


Until then, click the pic ⤵️ for more fun with shredding gender expectations…


A scene from Ed Wood’s Take It Out in Trade


~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s Pride Month 🏳️‍🌈, so now is a great time to haunt the queer streets of Sturgeons…

 

Haunting Sturgeons by john L. Harmon

6 comments:

  1. Fun review, John! I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds Streisand's singing irritating and strident. I applaud you for watching it, despite your aversion. Perhaps the distributor should release a non-musical version. Hmm...

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, barry!
      I swear this movie would be only 30 minutes long if there was no singing! Lol

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  2. To quote you back, you do write a fun post when you have a rant...really enjoyed reading your post.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Gill.
      I consider this only half a rant since there are things I enjoyed about it. LOL

      Delete
  3. I'm not a Streisand fan, either--she bugs me for some reason--so I'm glad to see other people feel the same way. Solidarity is a comforting thing.

    ReplyDelete