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Genre Magazine

October 2003

Barbra Speaks

Her two great loves, film & music, meet on her new release, The Movie Album

By Steven M. Housman

[GENRE EDITOR'S NOTE: When Barbra Streisand's newest opus, The Movie Album, unreels on October 14th, it's certain to be more of an event than a release. In anticipation of this latest premiere, GENRE's Steven M. Housman was not only invited to hear this new collection of songs from movies spanning most of the 20th century, he was also fortunate enough to be granted an exclusive interview with the reclusive star. His feelings on the album? "It took my breath away," Housman reports. "To sum it up in a word, astounding."

As you might expect from the famously press-shy Streisand, we get just a taste of her fabulous life from Housman's questions. That gorgeous man of hers? Mentioned only once, in passing, while discussing the significance of the song, More In Love With You, from the film, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (she and her husband used it as their wedding march). And for those of you expecting a little Administration derision? Hopefully, by the time October 2004 rolls around, she'll be singing a more rollicking tune.

She was, however, more than happy to help out when Housman requested one or two additional questions, even calling him from her car on the way to the airport. So buckle your seat belt for recording artist Barbra Streisand talking (exclusively) about her most exciting new project in years.]

Like many fans of FOB's (fans of Babs), I can recall the first moment I "discovered" Barbra Streisand as if it were yesterday. It was the fall of 1968, my family had gone to a matinee of a new movie called Funny Girl in Times Square. As a kid, I didn’t know who Barbra Streisand was, nor did I care. Less than ten minutes into the film, this gawky girl stepped out on to a stage. She joked, cooed, sang and belted her way through a number called “I’m The Greatest Star,” and by the time she hit that last note, I swear, she was the greatest star. Funny enough, she wasn’t gawky anymore either. She was beautiful. Not before or since that experience have I felt that way about any other performer.

You may be one of the many who share my enthusiasm. You may not. Barbra Streisand has become one of those supremely polarizing figures. Yet even her sternest detractors can't deny that she's a woman of firsts. She was certainly the first 28-year-old to win every major entertainment award allowed, beginning (in 1962) with the New York Drama Critics Award for her first role as Miss Marmelstein in the show I Can Get It For You Wholesale, a part that also earned Barbra her first Tony nomination and legions of fans.

Her first album, 1963's appropriately titled The Barbra Streisand Album, won the singer two Grammy Awards, making her the youngest artist at that time to win even one. In 1965, she won five Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award for her first television special, My Name Is Barbra. Thirty years later, her special Barbra - The Concert won five more Emmys and a second Peabody. She carted home the 1968 Best Actress Academy Award for her film debut in Funny Girl, and in 1970 she was bestowed with a Tony Award for “Star of the Decade” for her work in Wholesale, and for the 1964 Broadway production of Funny Girl . Barbra was also the first woman to win an Academy Award as a composer for the song “Evergreen” from her 1976 film A Star Is Born. And in 1983, she became the first woman to direct, produce, co-write and star in a major motion picture, Yentl, for which she won a pair of Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Film. In fact, with 12 Golden Globes in all (including the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2000), she has won more accolades from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association than any other entertainer. In 2001, the American Film Institute gave Streisand another honor for her trophy case — when she became the twenty-ninth recipient of the prestigious AFI Award.

Not impressive enough for you? Well, she has also garnered 48 Gold Albums, 28 Platinum Albums, and 13 Multi-Platinum Albums, ranking Number 2 in Gold and Platinum certifications, just behind Elvis Presley and just ahead of the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

And let's not forget the millions of dollars that she has donated to charities, including AIDS Project Los Angeles, for which she was the 1992 recipient of the Commitment To Life Award. She has “given away” to other various charities, ranging from the environment, women’s rights, children’s organizations, Gay Men’s Health Crisis to her undying passion for the Democratic Party. Her television projects have also dealt directly with the gay and lesbian issues, including the 1995 TV film, Serving In Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story, which earned three more Emmys.

One more fact before we get to Barbra: She is also the only artist to have Number One albums in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. And if my ears are tuned in properly, my guess is she’ll be the first artist to have a Number One album in five consecutive decades, as The Movie Album debuts October 14th.

Barbra, as excited and eager to discuss this album as if it were her first, reminded me of the girl I first saw and heard thirty-five years ago telling the world, “I Am The Greatest, Greatest Star!” She was…and still is.

Barbra, considering you’ve recorded an album entitled The Movie Album, before I ask you about the songs on it, what movies from your personal filmography are your favorites—and why?

I loved Funny Girl because it’s something I felt very close to. I had played it a thousand times, literally, on the stage, and therefore LOVED to do the movie of it. The Way We Were was something that I read in treatment form. I wanted to play it from the three-page treatment because I absolutely loved it! It was never a novel, it only became one after the film. The reason I loved it was because I could relate to it politically and also because it had five great scenes in it, one of which was cut out, but I put it on the DVD. Yentl, I was passionate about telling that story about what women have to go through in a man’s world in terms of achieving equality. And, The Prince of Tides. It’s hard to say which one was my favorite. I loved working with Willie Wyler, the director of Funny Girl. I also loved working with Sydney Pollack, the director of The Way We Were.

In 1986, I recall that you mentioned you were researching music for an album of songs from movies you wanted to record. Why did it take seventeen years to make this album?

I needed to become a director first!

Of the thousands of songs from films, what was your process of narrowing them down to twelve tracks?

I had to like them melodically and lyrically and feel I would have something to offer.

How many songs did you actually record before deciding on the final twelve?

I only recorded twelve.

Were there any songs chosen because of the film they appeared in, or were they all chosen simply on their own merit?

They were chosen on their own merit.

You have a wonderful selection of songs representing nearly every decade beginning with the 1930’s with “Smile” and “I’m In The Mood For Love” through “Calling You” from Bagdad Café. Was this cross section of history deliberate, or did these songs just happen to be your favorites?

No, it wasn’t deliberate at all, they just happen to be my favorites.

I loved your live performance of “Moon River” from 1961 that was included on your Just For The Record box set. Is this new version very different? If so, how?

The orchestration is different—but I felt 19 years old again when I sang it!

Speaking of “Moon River,” I noticed that it’s the only song you recorded that has won an Academy Award. Did you purposely try to bring attention to great songs that were mostly overlooked by the Academy?

No, I never thought about the Academy Awards—since so many songs never won it.

I am so happy you chose the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile,” it’s always been one of my favorites. What was involved in the decision to record it?

I’ve always loved the melody and the sentiment—to hide the true feeling. It’s a brave and very touching song.

I understand that Alan & Marilyn Bergman added original lyrics to Andre Previn’s composition from Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. What inspired you to call upon the Bergman’s to collaborate on this theme?

This is perhaps the most gorgeous movie theme I’ve ever heard. My husband and I used it as our wedding march. So, I’ve wanted to sing it for years and worked on it musically with Andre and Jeremy Lubbock till I thought it was musically right, then the Bergman’s wrote the lyric.

When you heard the Andre & Dory Previn song “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” from the film Inside Daisy Clover, did you feel any significance to the feelings you had when you were first starting out?

Oh, the exact same feelings I had when I was 16, 17, 18 and 19 years old.

Over the years, were there any songs you heard from a film for the first time that you knew you had to record one day for this album?

“Wild Is The Wind,” “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” “Emily” and there are others I’ve yet to record for a second movie album. I hope in less than 17 years!

Since you have been so successful with writing songs for films, (an Oscar for “Evergreen” from A Star Is Born, and an Oscar nomination for “I Finally Found Someone,” from The Mirror Has Two Faces) have you thought about writing more songs for movies?

Yes, but it seems I do it when I have to. I would like to write more music in the future.

You have such a vast catalogue of your own recordings, from pop ballads, to disco, to country, to rock to classical, etc. From all of the songs, what are your favorites?

Well, I only sing songs I absolutely love. I like a lot of my more obscure songs, like “No More Songs For Me.” That was recorded in 1965. (Editor’s note: you can hear “No More Songs For Me” only on the Columbia album My Name Is Barbra Two. It was written by David Shire and Richard Maltby).

What is next for you? Do you have any plans for performing in more films? A musical perhaps? Also, any plans for directing, producing and writing as well?

When the right thing comes along, I’ll do it. As for now, I’m enjoying my free time.

Barbra: On The Movie Album

When Barbra Streisand does a project, whether it is making a film, making an album, performing live, acting, singing, directing, producing or writing, she is a perfectionist. So why should this album be any different? Her latest effort, The Movie Album, is a true labor of love, with typically perfect results. In her own words, Ms. Streisand reveals what each and every song on The Movie Album means to her personally.

SMILE—from the motion picture Modern Times (1936)

Charlie Chaplin’s silent comedy classic speaks volumes about the dehumanization of mankind in the machine age. Eighteen years after he wrote the score, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons set Chaplin’s poignant melody to an equally heartfelt lyric. It’s funny how great songs somehow relate to everyday life. Two nights before I recorded this, Sammy, my sweet little nine-year old Bijon-Frise, had to be put to sleep. When I stepped into the vocal booth, his brave and loyal face was very much on my mind. “Smile, though your heart is aching…” Dog lovers will understand.

MOON RIVER—from the motion picture Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)

This much loved, Academy Award-winning song by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, perfectly reflects the wistful, romantic quality of the movie. One of my favorite actresses Audrey Hepburn (as Holly Golightly) captivated hearts as she sat on the window-ledge, playing this enchanting tune on her guitar. I was a teenager when I first sang “Moon River,” with just a piano. It was in 1961, the “P.M. East, P.M. West” a syndicated TV talk show, hosted in New York by Mike Wallace.

I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE—from the motion picture Every Night At Eight (1935)

This is one of those golden-era songs, better known today than the movie it was written for. In the picture, leading man George Raft deceptively induces his leading lady to sing it to him in the traditional ballad style of the era. I’ve always imagined this as a gentle, rhythmic bossa nova. In fact, in my 1994 New Years Eve concert, I performed it as part of a medley with “Speak Low.” Since it hasn’t come out on record or DVD yet, I thought it would be nice to do a full-length version for this album.

WILD IS THE WIND— from the motion picture Wild Is The Wind (1957)

This song left a deep impression on me when I was about 15 years old. I loved Anna Magnani…and when I saw the movie, I developed a little crush on Tony Franciosa! I was also a big fan of Johnny Mathis, who recorded it for the end-title. Besides his voice, I loved his beautiful sad eyes. I associate movie songs with a kind of orchestral lushness…and was delighted with arranger Jorge Calandrelli’s wonderful chart for this one…emotional and romantic.

EMILY—from the motion picture The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Composer and arranger Johnny Mandel’s memorable theme music for this satirical, anti-war movie, is like a gentle waltz. However, Johnny Mercer’s superb lyric was obviously written for a man to sing. I thought if the song had a verse--with the idea of Emily longing to hear her lover speak her name—it would be possible for me to perform it. Fortunately, when I suggested this to Johnny, he was willing to revisit his own standard…and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, received permission from the Mercer foundation to write a new (and perfect!) two-line introduction.

MORE IN LOVE WITH YOU—from the motion picture The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse (1962)

Andre Previn wrote the most magnificent movie theme I think I’ve ever heard! I loved it so much, that on our wedding day, my husband and I walked down the aisle to it (with a chamber orchestra arrangement by my friend Marvin Hamlisch). It’s such a beautiful melody, that I desperately wanted to sing it. I discussed the idea with Andre and my good friends, Alan & Marilyn Bergman. With the composer’s blessing, arranger Jeremy Lubbock (who has a great classical background) and I worked together for several weeks…finding just the right structure. With the Bergman’s heartfelt words…I’m really pleased with the results. My special thanks to all of them, for helping me realize the sounds I’d imagined in my head for this gorgeous composition.

HOW DO YOU KEEP THE MUSIC PLAYING?—from the motion picture Best Friends (1982)

Alan & Marilyn Bergman’s lyrics eloquently address the challenges couples can face, keeping the flames of romance alive. I’ve worked with composer Michel Legrand since the 1960’s. His melodies are always so passionate and such a joy to sing. (I’d actually recorded this song once before in the 1980’s, but wasn’t quite satisfied with the arrangement, so I never released it.)

BUT BEAUTIFUL—from the motion picture Road To Rio (1947)

As a kid, I remember buying Billie Holiday’s “Lady In Satin” off the rack in a supermarket for $1.98. It was extraordinary. I don’t recall if I even knew who she was at the time…maybe it was something about the album cover…the lavender color…the gardenia behind her ear. Billie had such a unique interpretive vocal sound… I especially liked her version of “But Beautiful.” (Ray Ellis’ arrangements made such an impression on me…years later, I asked him to write the charts for my first Christmas album). Unlikely as it may seem, “But Beautiful” was first sung by Bing Crosby in his fifth “Road” picture comedy with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

CALLING YOU—from the motion picture Bagdad Café (1988)

This haunting song is from a movie I love by director Percy Adlon. The words and music perfectly capture the essence of the film…mysterious and magical. Composer Bob Telson was kind enough to write a new third verse for me. Robbie Buchanan’s distant, hypnotic arrangement evokes the wide-open, lonely landscapes I was imagining as I was singing.

THE SECOND TIME AROUND—from the motion picture High Time (1960)

Bing Crosby sang this in the movie, a comedy about a middle-aged student going back to college—hence the title, “The Second Time Around”…but I think most people know it today as a Frank Sinatra standard. I also heard a really good version by Shirley Horn, who is such a wonderful singer. Anyone who’s been through a failed relationship, and then is lucky enough to find love again in their life, can appreciate these lyrics.

GOODBYE FOR NOW—from the motion picture Reds (1981)

I first heard this as an instrumental theme in Warren Beatty’s movie. It was composed by Stephen Sondheim, whose work I’ve always admired. Later I discovered he’d written lyrics for it, which weren’t used in the picture’s final cut. I love singing Stephen’s songs because they tell a story. They give the actor a chance to play a character. In this case, one that is in the middle of a conversation. Very original

YOU’RE GONNA HEAR FROM ME—from the motion picture Inside Daisy Clover (1965)

I remember liking this Hollywood rags-to-riches-to-nervous breakdown movie with Natalie Wood and Robert Redford…one of his first films. It was directed by Sydney Pollack, who later directed Bob and me in “The Way We Were.” Every actor who’s ever gone into an isolated looping booth…repeating their lines over and over again in order to lip-sync with their screen image can relate to the scene where Daisy goes nuts! Andre Previn’s score and especially this song, has a real show-biz quality…The lyrics come from the point of view of a hungry young talent, who wants to make their presence known in the world. It reminded me of some of the songs from the early days of my career. I thought it would be a good way to close the album.


Related Page: The Movie Album (2003 album page)