The Prince of Tides
Opened December 25, 1991
“The Prince of Tides” Production Notes from Columbia Pictures:
Leaving a crumbling marriage behind him in South Carolina, Tom Wingo travels to New York to aid his sister's psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein, as she tries to reconstruct the Wingo family's troubled history. Wounded by the same forces that have destroyed his sister's will to live, Tom begins a halting, painful journey searching for long-denied memories that will help Dr. Lowenstein ease Savannah's torment.
As Tom (played by Nick Nolte) delves into his turbulent past,he grasps for what may be his own salvation as well as his sister's. At the same time, Tom gives Dr. Lowenstein (Barbra Streisand) the courage to resolve her relationship with an arrogant husband who domineers and demeans both her and their teen-age son.
Two people from dramatically different worlds, Tom Wingo, an out-of-work Southern football coach/English teacher, and Susan Lowenstein, a New York psychiatrist, both come face to face with their own pain, make startling discoveries about themselves and each other ... and fall in love in the process.
"The Prince of Tides," based on Pat Conroy's best-selling novel, is a Columbia Pictures presentation of a Film by Barbra Streisand, who directs, produces and stars as Dr. Susan Lowenstein opposite Nick Nolte as Tom Wingo. A Barwood/Longfellow Production, the film is produced by Barbra Streisand and Andrew Karsch and executive produced by Cis Corman and James Roe. The screenplay is written by Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston.
The film, Streisand says, explores "the complexity of family relationships, in this case by looking at the effect seriously flawed parents have on the lives of their children, who must deal with the scars of their childhood. At the same time, 'The Prince of Tides' is a wonderful story about the love between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters and, ultimately, the love of oneself.
"I was fascinated by the idea of transformation—how people change; how people learn to understand and accept their own flaws. Those with, troubled lives sometimes find that going back to the past is the only way to move forward.
"The Wingo twins in our film have reacted quite differently to the craziness of their parents," Streisand says. "Savannah became a brilliant young poet, then crossed over into madness. Tom, on the other hand, becomes cynical and self-destructive, wearing a mask that denies his tragic childhood.
"Tom Wingo would never have worked with a psychiatrist to ease his own pain, but he does it out of love for his twin sister. It is only when he must become her memory in order to save her that he starts to know himself."
Nolte says: "For me, 'The Prince of Tides' is about forgiveness. It's about how one must come to grips with the past and move beyond it to a place of comfort and acceptance with life.
"I found it fascinating that Tom comes to face his own grief, his denial and isolation through a woman with whom he is in no way compatible. Tom and Lowenstein are a classic culture clash — regionally, religiously, philosophically and in every conceivable way. And yet they come to a very profound and trusting relationship on the deepest level. "
The film industry, like the world at large, was captivated by "The Prince of Tides" when the novel reached bookstores in 1987. Though various producers and directors attempted to tum the novel into a motion picture, it was the notoriously determined Streisand who ultimately succeeded.
"I was attracted to the challenge of bringing the book to the screen as a director first," Streisand says. "However, as an actress I was intrigued by the concept of the wounded healer I play in the film.
"I have encountered so many in the medical profession, and other fields, who spend their days helping other people but are unable to cope with their own problems. Susan Lowenstein is enormously compassionate and nurturing to her patients, yet she goes home to an abusive husband and her own dysfunctional family."
Conroy—whose books "The Great Santini," "The Lords of Discipline" and "The Water Is Wide," released under the title "Conrack," have been made into films—says: "I didn't think 'The Prince of Tides' was going to be made until Streisand walked in. It was just too big. Her sheer will and brilliance is the reason this movie got made. She's smart as hell to take this novel of biblical length and great pretension and hone it down into a movie.”
Streisand says: "There are, of course, inherent difficulties in bringing such a widely read and beloved literary property to the screen. People become attached to certain aspects of the book that they love. Needless to say we couldn't bring all 567 pages of the novel to the screen, but I do believe that the essence of the story is here."
In addition to Streisand and Nolte, the cast includes Blythe Danner as Sallie Wingo, Tom's mate in a troubled marriage. Kate Nelligan is Lila, matriarch of the Wingo clan, a woman determined to protect the family honor at all costs and one who will allow nothing or no one to trample her extravagant dreams. Jeroen Krabbe is Lowenstein's arrogant, domineering husband: famed violinist Herbert Woodruff.
Melinda Dillon portrays the suicidal Savannah Wingo, who fled from her South Carolina tidewater roots to New York, where she has won recognition as a poet. George Carlin is Savannah's eccentric New York neighbor, Eddie Detreville. Jason Gould, Streisand's son, plays her movie child, Bernard, troubled offspring of the Woodruff-Lowenstein union. Brad Sullivan is Henry Wingo, a shrimper, who is Tom and Savannah's abusive father.
Streisand assembled a top-flight crew of artists and technicians to bring the story to the screen. Stephen Goldblatt, A.S.C., is the director of photography, Paul Sylbert is the production designer, Don Zimmerman, A.C.E., is the editor, Ruth Morley designed costumes and James Newton Howard composed the score.
Streisand approached "The Prince of Tides" with the same intensity she displayed in her directorial debut, "Yentl," for which she steeped herself in Jewish history, religion, literature and legend. Her immersion in her latest film project included an enjoyable two weeks spent working with author Pat Conroy, who says: "Barbra had to understand every reference in the book, even if it was not in the screenplay. One assumes she does not even make a salad without considering the ingredients mightily." Conroy, who grew up in the waterlogged Lowcountry between Savannah and Charleston, and whose books have been set in the area, says: "She even had to know how to do the regional dance called the shag. I called a friend to say: 'I have taught Barbra Streisand to shag. I can now die a happy man.'" In addition to New York City and rural New Jersey, Streisand needed a filming location in the South. Though there are urban areas in the South that are geared for filmmaking and that could have worked visually, Streisand's early visit to Beaufort, S.C., convinced her that she could make the film nowhere but there. Conroy grew up in Beaufort; it is the town he envisioned as he wrote about Colleton in "The Prince of Tides," and the region's intense heat, wetlands and humidity so permeate the story, Streisand felt an obligation to film there. The small, historic town of Beaufort predates the American Revolution and was spared destruction during the Civil War because of its port facilities. Though Beaufort boasts no filmmaking facilities, other motion pictures have been made there. "The Big Chill" was shot in Beaufort as well as the film version of Pat Conroy's "The Great Santini."
Fully aware that a major film pumps millions of dollars into the local economy and brings added tourist activity, the city of Beaufort worked hard to attract the production. Large structures were offered as makeshift soundstages, notably a gymnasium at the Technical College of the Lowcountry, the National Guard Armory and a large Beaufort County warehouse.
When Streisand began assembling the company that would be her professional family for almost half a year, she instructed that as many Southerners as possible be retained for both technical and acting jobs. Atlanta's Bob Hannah was cast as Reese Newbury, the richest man in Colleton. He played the car salesman in "Driving Miss Daisy" and had key roles in "Norma Rae" and "Coal Miner's Daughter."
Like Kate Nelligan as the iron-willed Lila and Brad Sullivan as the abusive husband and father Henry Wingo, Hannah was granted the actor's dream of aging in his characterization, maturing from 40 to 70 on screen.
As Tom Wingo and Dr. Lowenstein probe his long-denied family history, scenes from the past are dredged up. Needed were three sets of youngsters to play the three Wingo children—Tom, Savannah and Luke, their beloved older brother—at separate periods in their lives. The nine finally selected from thousands of applicants are all from the South.
The youngest Luke, Tom and Savannah Wingo are played, respectively, by Grayson Fricke of Lilburn, Ga.; Justen Woods of Swainsboro, Ga.; and Tiffany Jean Davis of Danville, Va., all of whom had to be excellent swimmers. The second and older threesome are played by Ryan Newman of Augusta, Ga.; Bobby Fain of Charleston, S.C.; and Nancy Atchison, who resides in Montgomery, Ala. Playing Luke, Tom and Savannah as the oldest set of children are Chris Stacy of Charlotte, N.C.; Trey Yearwood of Winder, Ga.; and Kiki Runyan of Hilton Head, S.C.
Additionally, three South Carolina girls were cast as the daughters of Tom and Sallie Wingo. They are Maggie Collier of Columbia as Lucy, Lindsay Wray of Hilton Head as Jennifer, and Brandlyn Whitaker of Sumter as the youngest, Chandler.
Streisand prepared for her challenge as director, producer and actress for over two years before filming began, making forays into the Lowcountry that led one local official to say, "I think she knows this county and the tides and the tiny remote islands as well as any old-timer here." In New York, as she had done for "Nuts," she investigated the secret world of mental illness and its treatment.
Nolte settled in a historic Beaufort home a month before principal photography began to connect again with his Southern roots. He worked with locals to try to capture the distinctive Lowcountry accent, to master shrimping techniques and to discover the feel of being a schoolteacher and coach.
Noted for attacking roles with as much physical as mental zest, he worked incredibly hard to take off the considerable weight he had initially gained for his role in "Q&A" and pared down for "Another 48 HRS." Because of his hours of daily bicycle riding, half of Beaufort came to know him on a first-name basis.
Blythe Danner knew the lay of the land, having played a Southern wife in the filmization of Pat Conroy's "The Great Santini," made in Beaufort. She eagerly traveled to South Carolina during preproduction stages in order to renew old acquaintances and frequently said how lucky she was to be able to work again in one of her favorite spots.
Unlike Danner, Canadian-born and British-trained Kate Nelligan had never set foot in the American South. She made a preliminary visit to Beaufort and steeped herself in Southern ways during an extended stay. Keeping a recorder in her bag, she stopped strangers whose accents intrigued her and asked if they would talk into the microphone. She reports that, without fail, the people of Beaufort were enormously cooperative. She also arranged for afternoon tea with many of Beaufort's leading ladies so she could study the class of women that Lila Wingo so desperately wants to join.
While Danner was meeting old friends and Nelligan was making new ones, across the Atlantic Ocean in The Netherlands Jeroen Krabbe was attacking the demanding mental and physical challenge of "mastering" the violin. Because his role in "The Prince of Tides" is that of a world-class violinist and one major scene requires him to play, Krabbe had to be able to persuasively fake a virtuoso's technique.
If Krabbe's assignment was arduous, Jason Gould's was doubly difficult. His role as Woodruff and Lowenstein's son called for him to shine as both a promising violinist and an equally impressive football player. Though he had never engaged in either activity, he reports that the sport was a picnic compared to the music.
Months before principal photography began in South Carolina, Streisand and her production team studied tide and moon charts in order to ensure that the director's vision—which included vast Lowcountry expanses of water, low back light and beautiful sunsets—would be captured on film.
"Tides and light controlled our shooting schedule," director of photography Stephen Goldblatt says. "It is tricky when nature, not humans, is always in control. In this picture, landscapes are a core part of the story. The main character's tie to the land is a primary force in governing him. Barbra wanted to emphasize that."
Discussing the look of "The Prince of Tides," Academy Award-winning production designer Paul Sylbert talks in terms of formal separations. To stress the North/South, rural/urban theme, he utilized white tones to suggest the Southern heat and that ties Tom Wingo to the land and sea. In contrast, Northern scenes jump with vibrant colors and harsher shadows to suggest a different heat and energy.
The entire cast assembled a week early in Beaufort for rehearsals before principal photography began in June 1990. As the troupe converged on Beaufort (population 11,721, according to 1988 figures), one newspaper noted that not since the Union invasion during the Civil War had the picturesque town seen such a commotion.
When a movie company invades a small city, the impact can be great, in both positive and potentially negative ways. Despite Streisand's demands as director,producer and actress, her well-known environmental concerns remained active. "The Prince of Tides" company was possibly the first major film unit ever to engage in a comprehensive conservation and recycling program.
Environmentally unfriendly products were banned from the set and offices, and recycling bins for collecting cans, bottles and paper seemed to be everywhere. Even the caterer, Tom Katts, based in Nashville, shunned certain products, although their use would have made the chore of feeding several hundred workers each day much easier.
A spokesperson for the Low Country Recycling Association headquartered in Hilton Head, S.C., issued a public statement saying: "We were amazed. It was so unusual that we didn't have to recruit them. They came to us. We have difficulty getting our neighbors in the habit of recycling, yet these outsiders with no investment in our community came of their own accord and asked for help in recycling. It gave our program a good shot in the arm."
The association presented Streisand and company with its very first Certificate of Honor "for joining in the effort to protect, preserve and enrich the environment by participating in the American Recycling Program."
Months later—long after the production had struck its tents in Beaufort and New York, after postproduction had been completed and all the hard work of the cast and filmmakers was finally ready to be seen—Pat Conroy attended an early screening of "The Prince of Tides."
"What I liked best is that Barbra Streisand went for it and held nothing back," says Conroy about the film. "Her artistry is present in every frame. I have liked all three movies made from my previous books, but I simply fell in love with this one."
Streisand & Nolte Talk Tides
“This is a story about a man's journey, a man who has to learn to grieve,” director Barbra Streisand said about her film The Prince of Tides. “It's a film about forgiveness, about saying, 'I need to love my mother and father in all their flawed outrageous humanity.' I chose to put that line at the end, because I felt this is the lesson of the movie.”
“Prince of Tides was sent to me by Mike Ovitz [founder of Creative Artists Agency],” Streisand explained. “I think [Robert] Redford had it for a while and I don't think they could lick the script so they sent it to me. I loved it. I loved that book ... I had Becky Johnson [screenwriter] move into my house for three weeks. I wouldn't let her out of my sight, we worked every single day. Pat Conroy is a delicious human being and he spent two weeks with me [working on the screenplay]. But mainly I wanted to hear about his life. I wanted him to tell me the real stories of his past. I wanted him to teach me the shag ... We had a great time together and it flavored the movie ... How do you condense that wonderful book into a movie?”
“At first,” Barbra explained, “it was supposed to be a $10 million movie with no stars, and I thought, I can't imagine. It came in at $27 million. Another thing, I came in 11 percent over budget on Yentl and less than 10 percent on this one. I'm proud of that.”
Nick Nolte, who was critically praised for his portrayal of Tom Wingo spoke about working with Streisand on the film. “Barbra likes to explore,” he said. “We shot some key scenes in several different ways. We also had long discussions about male-female relationships. It was the first time I had worked with a woman director. In working with male directors I've found that the male actor and director have a kind of collusive attitude about the emotional points of scenes. With Barbra, there is a lot of continued exploration.”
Streisand told the press how she came to cast Nolte as her leading man: “This was attached to [Robert] Redford. He had it first, and we've always wanted to work together (again), so we talked first. He had some qualms about the book and stuff so we didn't quite see eye to eye about it. So we didn't do this one together. Warren Beatty was interested in it, but he didn't really commit. Nick was the one who would allow himself to be most vulnerable and still be macho, and he is macho—and sexy. The challenge was getting him to trust and be whole and be vulnerable.”
A Fox executive told The New York Times: “Originally, Prince of Tides was to be released in September. In fact they had a Vanity Fair cover of Streisand timed to the release of the film. They couldn't pull the cover. So a little bit of their campaign broke early.”
Barbra on Directing
Only about 5% of the films directed in 1990 had female directors. Also, in 1990, only 12 women in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences were voting members in the director category — out of 281 members. Streisand's accomplishments with directing Prince of Tides were truly admirable. Besides being an artistic success-story—it was the second film Barbra directed—Prince of Tides was also a step forward for women in film.
Streisand revealed her directing technique to writer Jeremy Paul Kagan:
“I like to know what I'm going to do, then to throw it away. Because I get bored easily. I don't like to do that many number of takes. A lot of the time I stage things in just one shot. I mean I just don't want to cover it because it's too boring. I kind of like that living on the edge of danger, the risk factor.
“I have a video 8 camera and I go around and I do the shots that I see in my head.
“I have also models near the sets. I like to know what I'm going to do. Does a wall have to move? What has to happen to get this shot?”
“Tides” Poster Concepts
These are all mock-ups of the Prince of Tides advertising campaign. Three of them use Scavullo portraits. The color photos at the bottom are by Francesco Scavullo. [These ads courtesy of Brett Fox]
Navigate to other Streisand films using the jump menu below: