Barbara Stanwyck and Madonna get what they want. These stars outshine most of their famous contemporaries because they will themselves to be the most desirable, intelligent, and unruly women of their respective eras. They convince audiences with strong actions that their high self-confidences and healthy self-esteems are justified, and, as a result of their poise, we believe in them, identify with them, and admire their spunk.
“Being a funny person does an awful lot of things to you. You feel that you mustn’t get serious with people. They don’t expect it from you, and they don’t want to see it. You’re not entitled to be serious, you’re a clown, and they only want you to make them laugh.” — Fanny Brice
Hollywood filmmaking is an industry that subordinates truth to glamour. Director William Wyler’s 1968 success, Funny Girl, is a typical studio film in this respect. Although Barbra Streisand’s dazzling talent, Omar Sharif’s dashing good looks, and Isobel Lennart’s charming screenplay combine to make an entertaining story, Funny Girl hardly tells the complete tale of Fanny Brice. An equally riveting, factual account of this Jewish comedian’s life can be found in Herbert G. Goldman’s biography “Fanny Brice: The Original Funny Girl”. This paper examines the distinctions between Barbara Streisand’s Fanny Brice and the real Fanny Brice. In doing so, the freedoms and limitations of these two mediums, ‘loosely-biographical’ film and non-fiction writing, are made apparent.
Within the first few scenes of Wyler’s Funny Girl the audience is introduced to Fanny Brice’s low-income home on Henry Street. Fanny’s financial and social obstacles to fame instantly endear viewers to her character. Spectators sympathize with Fanny’s frustration and admire her determination to fulfill her goals, especially in light of her need to continually defend her dreams to her less ambitious, card addict mother and neighbors.
Gene Kelly redefined the American film musical by creating male protagonists who epitomized masculinity while singing and dancing. Unlike his peer Fred Astaire, Kelly was disinterested in portraying upper-class, effeminate men and actually said that he “didn’t want to move or act like a rich man, [he] wanted to dance in a pair of jeans, [he] wanted to dance like the man in the streets” (PBS Special).
Kelly’s unique talent for making the most complex dance sequences appear effortless and commonplace is apparent in Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 musical hit, An American in Paris. Moreover, Kelly’s skill, ideas, and artistic judgement were crucial to the successful planning and production of this film.