Click here to read Jan’s thoughts on
FUNNY GIRL & the American Dream.

The FUNNY GIRL Restoration Project

Chuck Pennington 
Staff Writer

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Grover Crisp (Vice President of Asset Management & Film Restoration for Sony Pictures), about the restoration of the William Wyler classic, FUNNY GIRL. From all accounts, the three-year project to reconstruct the best possible version of the Barbra Streisand musical for theatrical and video release was arduous and painstaking. Mr. Crisp, who has had a hand in restoring and preserving hundreds of classic films from the Columbia library, had much to say about bringing FUNNY GIRL back from the brink of extinction.



How did this restoration project get off the ground?
Well, we have a comprehensive program at this studio to go through the entire [Columbia] library and see what needs to be done, either just preserving it properly, or restoring it if it needs to be restored… What actually tripped this [project] off was that the studio made a new print for Barbra Streisand. She looked at it and sent it back and said, "Well, it's out of synch in a couple of places. Send me another one." We went and took a look at it, and we saw a lot of other problems. We then realized we had a major project on our hands.
What kind of shape were the original elements of Funny Girl in? Were you surprised at what you found?
Grover: We were surprised that it was in as poor shape as it was. The original negative… was damaged in 1968 (the year the film was released), and they made some relatively poor replacement sections. In a couple of cases, entire reels were replaced, and that work wasn't very good then. Compounded with the issue of years of further damage, it really wasn't in very good shape.
How did you set about reconstructing the film with such a poor set of elements to work with?
Grover: Well, it's interesting because, when we started, we really couldn't even make a print from the negative that was complete with a soundtrack that actually matched, because of some of the replacements and some of the things that had been taken away, like the overture and intermission. We were very fortunate, however, to have some protection elements and protection material from 1968 that was actually pretty decent, which was a surprise. We were able to replace all of the damaged sections that needed to be replaced with newer material.
Did Barbra or any other members of the creative team get involved with this restoration project?
Grover: Well, the director and cinematographer are dead, and those are really two of the key people [involved with] the kind of work I do. The supervising editor, Robert Swink, was still around, and I talked to him a couple of times about some things. Barbra Streisand was never really involved, but she knew that we were working on it. You know, she's very technically astute. Of course, she is a filmmaker now, not just an actress, so she was aware of some of the things we were facing. At the end, when we did finally show her the restored print, she liked it quite a bit. She was quite complimentary, so that was nice.
The Dolby Digital soundtrack is particularly impressive on this new release. The reissue posters tout the "6-track digital sound" of this restoration. Just how was that created?
In this case, they did create a real six-track stereo mix in 1968, but it only got used on a couple of 70mm blowup prints. This [restored] theatrical release is actually the first time anyone has ever heard that original six-track mix with a 35mm print. 
Did you go back to any of the original prerecordings for the musical numbers?
Grover: No, we strictly worked with the six-track stereo mag. We actually couldn't find any of the original score tapes or anything like that. But once we did the entire cleanup, it was a great sounding soundtrack… That was one of the nicest comments Streisand made when she first saw the [restored] film. As she pointed to the screen, she said, "Now, that is the way it should sound." … Personally, although I've seen it now probably around seventy-five times, I think it's a pretty good film.
I think so, too.
Grover: And I think [Barbra] is just terrific in this film.
I read that Funny Girl took three years to restore.
Grover: Well, basically it was worked on over a three-year period. We didn't work on it every single day, but from start to finish it took about three years. There was a lot of testing and a lot of work being done at Technicolor to try and get the dye-transfer prints corrected. It was done in stages, and was pretty time consuming. We wanted to get this one really right, and it took several months just doing the repair work on the original negative. Every single splice was coming apart and a lot of the perforations were damaged.
And the Technicolor dye-transfer printing process was used on the restored prints?
Grover: Yes. For me, theatrically at least, it kind've completes the restoration process because it really looks terrific on the screen in dye transfer. It is so much better than what you can get on video.
How would you summarize Columbia's commitment to film restoration and preservation?
Grover: I would say that we have a very proactive program here in terms of the [Columbia] library. Sony is very interested in making sure the library survives and is around for years and years… From the beginning, Sony was very supportive of this kind of program, which didn't exist before they bought the studio in 1989… I was in the right place at the right time and helped to engineer it.




We are grateful to Chuck Pennington and DVDANGLE for allowing us to post excerpts from their interview with Grover Crisp. FUNNY GIRL was released in selected theaters on 9/7/01 and was rapidly (& rightly) overtaken by the events of 9/11. However, it is now making its way back, & we urge you all to look for it &/or ask for it in your own community.

Like many great works of art, this is a film that is instantly accessible, and yet, the more you know, the deeper it grows in depth and significance. To fully appreciate the soundtrack, you should try to listen to an Original Cast Album of GYPSY first. The music for GYPSY was written by Jule Styne, the same person who composed the FUNNY GIRL score. GYPSY is considered one of the greatest scores ever written for Broadway, in large part based on Styne’s innovative use of “leitmotifs”. (These are musical cues common in Wagnerian opera, but unknown to Broadway prior to GYPSY.)

In GYPSY, the leitmotif is the “I Have A Dream” phrase linking most of Mamma Rose’s big musical numbers. In FUNNY GIRL, the corresponding leitmotif is “Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein.” The use of this musical phrase is a signal to the audience: “Nicky Arnstein” is not just a person for Fanny, he’s part of her dream.

Unfortunately, the translation of GYPSY from stage to screen was very literal, and the film doesn’t really hold up. (That’s why Jan prefers the Original Cast Albums, particularly Tyne Daly’s TONY winning version from 1990.) FUNNY GIRL, on the other hand, was completely reconceptualized for the screen. For example, in the Broadway version, Barbra Streisand sings 11 out of 16 songs, but in the film, she sings 11 out of 12 songs. Some songs were reordered, some Styne/Merrill songs were replaced by songs made famous by the “real” Fanny Brice (in particular, “My Man,” which is the film’s grand finale but was never included in the Broadway version).



Overture – Orchestra Overture – Orchestra
If a Girl Isn’t Pretty – Neighbors I’m the Greatest Star – Fanny
I’m the Greatest Star – Fanny If a Girl Isn’t Pretty – Neighbors
Coronet Man – Fanny Roller Skate Rag – Fanny/Keeny Girls
Who Taught Her? – Rose & Eddie I’d Rather Be Blue – Fanny 
(credited to: B. Rose & F. Fisher)
His Love – Fanny/Ziegfeld Girls
I Want To Be Seen w You – Nick His Love – Fanny/Ziegfeld Girls
Henry Street – Neighbors People – Fanny
People – Fanny You Are Woman – Fanny & Nick
You Are Woman – Fanny & Nick Don’t Rain on My Parade – Fanny
Don’t Rain on My Parade – Fanny Entre’Acte – Orchestra
Sadie, Sadie – Fanny Sadie, Sadie – Fanny
Find a Man – Rose/ Neighbors The Swan– Fanny/ Ziegfeld Girls
Rat-Tat-Tat – Fanny/Ziegfeld Girls Funny Girl – Fanny
Who Are You Now? – Fanny My Man – Fanny (credited to:Willemetz, Charles, Pollock, & Yvain)
His Music -- Fanny
Parade (Reprise) – Fanny Credits/Finale – Orchestra


Most important, there are things you can see on the big screen that you could never see on the stage, things you will probably miss if you only see the film on DVD or VHS. To be blunt, Streisand's famous nose is an actual character on the big screen. Compare the Original Cast Recording of FUNNY GIRL with the movie soundtrack, and you’ll be able to hear for yourself how she punches out the question: “Who’s an American Beauty rose with an American Beauty NOSE and ten American Beauty toes?”

Hard as it is for us to believe now, there was a time when Streisand’s nose was a cause of great controversy. Told over and over again that she should get a nose job, Streisand supposedly said: “God gives me THIS voice and you want me to do what???”  In FUNNY GIRL, Director William Wyler used Barbra Streisand to completely change our concept of "beauty." In so doing, he literally opened the door for the great "ethnic" stars of the '70s (including De Niro and Pacino).

Without question, FUNNY GIRL’s high point comes when Fanny dares the world to “rain on [her] parade” as her tugboat races across New York Harbor. When Wyler framed this scene, physically placing Barbra Streisand beneath Miss Liberty’s torch, he created cinema’s most aggressive act of reaching out for the American Dream, and brought the implicit symbolism full circle.

Mamma Rose, as the star of GYPSY, dreamed her dreams for her children. Since the show was created in the ‘50s, this woman could not dream her dreams for herself, in her own name. But Fanny Brice is the star of FUNNY GIRL, a show created in the ‘60s. She is the first great woman character to assert her right to dream the American Dream in her own name: “If someone takes a spill, it’s me and not you. Don’t bring around a cloud to rain on MY parade!”

Rich thinks it’s a stretch, but Jan honestly believes that "second generation feminism" became a reality the moment Fanny commandeered that tugboat. Whether they realize or not, women all around the world were immediately impacted, and they continue to be so to this day. The image of Barbra Streisand touching torches with Miss Liberty is the feminist equivalent of John Wayne riding into Monument Valley.

So we both recommend this film highly, and we urge you to see it in a theater if at all possible. Laugh! Cry! Have a great time! But when you leave the theater, think about “the American Dream,” and all the men and women who have fought in their own way for the rights we all enjoy today. Think about New York Harbor. Think about the Statue of Liberty. Think about 9/11, and hold your head high!

© Jan Lisa Huttner (9/30/01)

Click here for more thoughts on FUNNY GIRL & other “Musical Women.”


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