This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of William Wyler, one of the great figures of classic Hollywood, whose films probably amassed more Academy Awards than any other director’s work. In what will hopefully be just the first in a series of Wyler tributes, archivists at Columbia Pictures have produced a magnificent restoration of the director’s lavish 1968 musical by digitally re-mastering the original stereo sound and using Technicolor’s new dye transfer printing process to recreate the vibrant colours of the original.
Fans of Funny Girl will need no reminding that this was the triumphant, Oscar-wining debut of Barbra Streisand as she reprised her stage role and cliche-free characterisation of Ziegfield comedienne Fanny Brice. An ugly ducking with an unstoppable ambition to be a star in New York of the early 1900s, the young Fanny is determined to get out of the Lower East Side. Her big break comes when she’s spotted by handsome gambler Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif). Ziegfeld hires her for his new Follies presentation, where her subversive comic style proves extraordinarily popular.
The film brings together Wyler’s fondness for the stage and his fascination for the temperamental people who make it their natural home. Some of the musical numbers are a bit cumbersome, but Streisand’s Fanny is the personification of brittle effervescence, and Wyler’s mise-en-scene effectively and sometimes breathtakingly (the famous helicopter shot for ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’) strikes a note that reverberates melancholy and loneliness beneath the theatrical glamour. U.S.A., 1966. Restored version, 2001. Colour. Panavision anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 155 mins.