Streisand: perfectionist or tyrant?

By Jeffrey Wells | Entertainment News Service

It was early March in New York City, and stress levels were high among crew members working on "The Mirror Has Two Faces," a $45-million romantic comedy that was nearing completion under its star/director Barbra Streisand ("Prince of Tides," "Yentl"). "Mirror" had been in overtime since early February, and was now in its 17th week of shooting with another two or three to go.

Ms. Streisand's reputation is that of a gifted but manic taskmaster, and she had lived up to this tag on "Mirror." Most of the staffers willing to talk about Ms. Streisand were cool to the idea of a reunion. "I'd work on another of her films ... sure," a production assistant was heard saying. "As long as they triple my pay." "People are dying to be let off this shoot," added a source familiar with the TriStar production.

A stab at gallows humor seemed to sum up the situation. Hanging on a wall inside one of the production offices was "the wall of crosses," according to a staffer. More than 20 crucifixes were mounted on black oak tag, each bearing the name of a crew member whom Ms. Streisand had fired or otherwise caused to leave.

Those who have held on to their jobs have mixed feelings. A source claims that Ms. Streisand was so displeased with a trio of production managers (Tony Marks, Sue Jett, Ray Quinlan) that she nicknamed them "the Three Stooges."

Her defenders argue that she's a proven provider of quality films and that strong directors are never a day at the beach. Some say sexism is behind the complaints. "I've watched male directors spit out the dummy and throw tantrums on-set and nobody says a peep," says "Mirror" co-star Pierce Brosnan.

Moreover, the buzz on "Mirror" is encouraging. Richard LaGravanese's script is widely admired by Hollywood insiders who have read it. "There are scenes in this film that are hysterical," says TriStar executive Chris Lee. "But there are real tears in it as well."

"I don't know why people gang up on Barbra," Mr. LaGravanese muses. "She gets such a bad rap. I've gotten to work with the woman ... and I think she's great."

Ms. Streisand, he says, is simply "trying to make a good movie" and "has a lot to do ... she has a billion details inside her head."

Her detractors remain unmoved.

"Her reputation is that of a perfectionist," an ex-"Mirror" staffer says. "Point of fact, she's a meddler. She doesn't let anyone do their job."

An agent who represents an ex-staffer says, "She dissects everything too much. She'll decide what she wants, think about it overnight and change her mind the next day. And it'll just go on and on and on."

"Streisand loves living in chaos," a veteran complains. "Everything has to be tortured (and) she's frustrated about everything ... it's all me, me, me. She shows up late constantly, which I think is unprofessional. She's tired ... I know she's tired."

"Mirror" spokesperson Ken Sunshine disputes this, claiming that Ms. Streisand "feels great about this movie. She's killing herself, but she's having a great time doing it."

As the "wall of crosses" suggests, this mirth has not been shared. The names of the fallen include director of photography Dante Spinotti ("Heat," "Last of the Mohicans"), who resigned, an observer claims, after "taking a tremendous amount of abuse" from Streisand. Dudley Moore, axed by Ms. Streisand last November for flubbing his lines, was another. Ditto editor Alan Heim ("Copycat," "Network").

The list of dearly departed also include veterans of Mr. Spinotti's camera crew, some lighting technicians and a few production assistants (the latter were "dropping like flies" in November and December, according to a staffer.) Still others have been demoted by Ms. Streisand. At her request, TriStar executive Lee, a bright, articulate supporter of "Mirror" who had pushed for the film to be made, was replaced by Columbia executive Gareth Wigan, an old Streisand ally. Ms. Streisand also had line producer Tony Marks "kicked downstairs" in order to install another loyalist, producer Ron Schwary, in his place.

Her allies claim that TriStar forced her into making hasty hiring decisions ("They denied her process," Mr. LaGravanese says) by pushing "Mirror" into production last fall rather than in January, which she requested. Others acknowledge the studio pressure but doubt its importance. Ms. Streisand, says an insider, wanted to start in January because "she wanted time to finish decorating her house in Malibu."

Most of these moves happened late last December when, a survivor recalls, Ms. Streisand "decided to clean house. She said it was time --and this was a little laughable -- it was time she started thinking about herself for a change."

The joke being that Ms. Streisand has been thinking of little else since "Mirror" began shooting in late October. Balancing, that is, her directorial vision with her obsessive attentions over her appearance, an issue that has come up more and more as Ms. Streisand advances in her years. Made more trying by the biological struggle of Ms. Streisand, 54, trying to play a woman of 40. Or rather, two women of 40 -- a mousy Columbia University professor in a sexless marriage and the radiant figure she becomes after making herself over.

Jeff Bridges plays Ms. Streisand's listless husband, Lauren Bacall her mother, Mimi Rogers her sister and Mr. Brosnan Ms. Rogers' husband. Brenda Vacarro and Elle Macpherson co-star.

In any event, says a former crew member, "certain wrinkles and certain gravitational forces" are causing Ms. Streisand concern. "She doesn't want to accept her age. She doesn't want to look it. She's fighting it."

The irony is that "Mirror" dwells on the issue of physical attractiveness vs. inner self-worth. Mr. Lee calls it "a romantic comedy about the nature of love itself. It's about what mothers teach their daughters and what daughters think they learn from them." The film is "about what what our parents do to us," Mr. LaGravanese says, "and physical self-esteem."

But the making of "Mirror" has been yet another melodrama about a studio trying to grapple with an egocentric superstar over whom it has no real power. TriStar executives have felt increasingly frustrated with Ms. Streisand, Mr. LaGravanese says, to the extent that they feel "she's out of control."

One of their beefs has been the slow pace of filming. "Usually, you do two to two and a half pages a day," a former crew member says. "Mirror" was completing an average of "about a half page a day" at times during January and February.

Mr. Lee explains that "the gut-wrenching scenes in this film are going to take longer. It's real tears ... it's tough to do."

An on-set source projected in early March that "Mirror" would finish shooting "sometime in early April ... (Ms. Streisand) just added four more days. It changes every 20 minutes." But a week later the same source confided that physical production vp Gary Martin had visited the set and put his foot down, declaring that filming would cease on March 27.

"The people at TriStar absolutely love this film," Mr. LaGravanese says. "They just wish it would go faster."

Ms. Streisand "isn't happy to be over-schedule either," Mr. Lee adds.

TriStar's concern now is getting "Mirror" through post-production in a timely fashion to keep last-minute costs down and launch a promotion campaign that includes long-lead press. This may be difficult, says a Hollywood veteran, given that Ms. Streisand is "notorious for taking a very long time in post." (The average is six to six and a half months.)

Few doubt Ms. Streisand's professionalism, or the likelihood that for all of its problems "Mirror" will probably turn out fine. Mr. LaGravanese's script is widely admired as a blend of light comedy and pathos. And Ms. Streisand's ability to handle both simultaneously was evident in "Yentl," certainly.

"I had a great time with the woman," Mr. Brosnan says, speaking from the set of the now-filming "Mars Attacks!" "She gets the job done. She's precise, kind and aware. There's only one Barbra Streisand."

Mr. Brosnan pays no mind to the on-set grousings. "Usually the crap you hear comes from frightened, insecure people," he says. "As we all know, scared dogs bite. At the end of the day, if this picture makes big bucks, no one's going to give a flying whatever about how it got made."


Related Links: The Mirror Has Two Faces movie page