Knight at the Movies Archives
Barbra Streisand's mega movie comes to DVD as does a new boxed set from Natalie Wood
Two recent highly anticipated DVD releases are of particular interest to the GLBT community – Barbra Streisand’s 1983 directorial
debut Yentl and a boxed set of Natalie Wood films that includes 1965’s Inside Daisy Clover – for obvious and not so obvious reasons.
Streisand, of course, has long held a place in the hearts of the gay community for her extraordinary talent and individualism and
Yentl, her directorial debut is certainly a testament to both of those. The film, gorgeously shot and dressed, is a beautifully
shaped tone poem with its glorious score by Michel Legrand and Marilyn and Alan Bergman, offering Streisand (who sings every
song) a tour de force. The new, 2-disc DVD (from MGM Entertainment), a director’s cut with 14 minutes of additional footage,
director's commentary and a second disc full of special features certainly provides evidence of Streisand’s unique vision. Relaxed
and chatty, Streisand introduces the film and the background material which features behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes and
more and offers a fascinating window into her careful planning for the project.
For Streisand fans all this bonus material is like winning the lottery but the movie itself, for the uninitiated, with its tricky story in
which a young woman in turn of century Eastern Europe passes as a boy in order to be allowed to study the Torah is also a funhouse
mirror. When taken literally its gender bending twists and turns suddenly turn into the story of a gay boy in love with her straight
best friend who it seems, is perhaps bi-curious. To wit: after Streisand as Yentl has morphed into Anshel (by cutting her hair and
dressing in boy drag), she quickly gets accepted to a yeshiva, finds a roommate and best friend in hunky Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin)
and in scene after scene is forced to confront her growing desires for him (they share a bed their first night together).
This desire reaches its height when the two stop by the local swimming hole and a nonplussed Avigdor strips down for an afternoon
swim. As the camera objectifies Patinkin’s near nudity Streisand, chastely watching from the shore articulates her silent lust (in
interior monologue) via the great song “The Way He Makes Me Feel.” Later, during some roughhousing Avigdor suddenly realizes
that Anshel’s turning him on, too. Then things get even more interesting when Amy Irving as Avigdor’s fiancé ends up married to
Anshel (at which point the wife tries to seduce the woman impersonating the man who is her husband). In a final denouement
Anshel pleads with Avigdor for acceptance when she reveals her true feelings for him and this scene, too poignantly reads on the
surface like a gay man coming out and revealing a crush on a straight best friend (until Streisand coyly gives Patinkin a gander at
her breasts, that is).
In the final analysis Streisand’s Yentl is her purest artistic achievement but it’s also a tremendous launching pad for all sorts of
gender bending fantasies for an audience willing to take it at face value and do a little projecting at the same time. This is an
unexpected bonus that may or may have not been planned by Streisand (and don’t put it past her – someone who color coordinates
the flowers outside their bedroom window with the décor inside would surely appreciate the underlying smorgasbord of delicious
ambiguities all the sexual role playing inherent in Yentl’s story offers).
Natalie Wood, another favorite with the gay community before Streisand came along, is represented with the long overdue DVD
boxed set The Natalie Wood Collection (from Warner Home Video). The 6-disc set includes 1957’s Bombers-52, 1959’s Cash
McCall, 1964’s romantic comedy, Sex and the Single Girl and three of Wood’s best films. These are 1961’s Splendor in the Grass,
1962's Gypsy, and 1965’s Inside Daisy Clover.
This last film found Wood, after a long run at the top, starring in her last big budget movie. It’s a somewhat lurid, ice cold tale of
Hollywood’s dark side and its abuses toward a Judy Garland like teen singer scripted by gay writer Gavin Lambert, based on his
novel. A critical and financial flop; it’s one of those movies that is reviled and adored in equal measure (I’m in the latter category).
Wood begins the film as a tough 15 year-old teenager and she’s, well dreadful, but she gets better and she’s surrounded by an
assortment of really great character actors (Ruth Gordon won an Oscar nomination as her eccentric mother). Roddy McDowall plays a
smirking, sycophantic toady to the studio boss Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer) while Robert Redford plays a cryptic, gorgeous
movie star named Wade Lewis who romances Daisy, marries her and then cuts out for parts unknown.
The lure for gay audiences at the time might well have been the bitchy Hollywood as rotten and soulless story or the songs of Andre
and Dory Previn (including “You’re Gonna Hear From Me”) but the film’s lasting notoriety (and footnote in gay cinema history) has to
be the moment when Katherine Bard as Plummer’s wife reveals to Wood in a drunken fit that she, too, slept with Redford and
slashed her wrists when he left her – for a new lover. “Your husband never could resist a charming boy,” she taunts with venomous
relish as Wood gasps in horror realizing she’s married a fag! Robert Redford at the height of his physical beauty playing a movie
star who dallies with boys? Sign me up!
Barbra & Natalie: Yentl and the Natalie Wood Collection DVDs
2-11-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.