Opened November 18, 1983
“It all began the day I found that from my window I could only see a piece of sky. I stepped outside and looked around ... I never dreamed it was so wide or even half as high... ”
The text below is reproduced from the official United Artists press kit for Yentl:
Barbra Streisand's "Yentl" is the story of a courageous young woman at the turn of the century who discovers that in matters of the heart and mind, nothing's impossible. Disguised as a man, she enters the world of study denied to women, and in the midst of a man's world, befriends a fellow student. Everything goes perfectly, until she falls in love with him... and the girl he loves falls in love with her!
"Yentl is someone with a dream who's not afraid to take chances," explains Streisand. And like the character she portrays, Barbra Streisand has been pursuing a dream: to bring this adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story "Yentl, The Yeshiva Boy" to the motion picture screen. Ultimately, she chose to produce, direct, write and perform the title role, an unparalleled accomplishment for a woman in motion picture history. Now Barbra Streisand's dream, like Yentl's, has come true."
"Although it's set in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, 'Yentl' is a love story as contemporary as any film made today," Streisand continues. "It's more than a story about the love between a man and a woman it's about the love between parent and child, between friends, and ultimately, the love we should have for ourselves."
To bring this multi-layered story to the screen, Barbra Streisand surrounded herself with a skilled team of performers and creative professionals. Her costars include two rising talents: Mandy Patinkin, who originated the role of Che Guevera in the Broadway edition of "Evita" and made a memorable appearance in "Ragtime," portrays Avigdor, the young student Yentl loves; and Amy Irving, the beautiful actress whose principal roles include "The Competition" and "Honeysuckle Rose," portrays Hadass, the girl who also loves Avigdor. Nehemiah Persoff appears as Yentl's father, a wise and sensitive scholar who has a profound effect upon his daughter's life, and Steven Hill is featured as Hadass' father, whose influence over his own daughter's desire to marry Avigdor changes Yentl's life forever.
Because Yentl is trapped by her disguise and unable to reveal her identity, she retreats to an inner world through dramatic and beautifully crafted songs. The unforgettable score which reveals Yentl's secret thoughts features music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by the talented team of Marilyn and Alan Bergman, who between them have garnered eleven Oscar nominations and two Academy awards.
Director of Photography David Watkin, whose work was last seen by audiences in the Academy Award-winning"Chariots of Fire," and Editor Terry Rawlings, anoth.er member of the "Chariots" team, added their expertise to "Yentl." Yet another Academy Award-winning contributor was Production Designer Roy Walker, who received his honors for "Barry Lyndon" in 1979.
Rusty Lemorande coproduced "Yentl," and Larry De Waay served as Executive Producer. The screenplay was written by award-winning British playwright Jack Rosenthal and Barbra Streisand.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
"By the time we started shooting 'Yentl', I had been involved with the project for fourteen years," Barbra admits. "No one wanted to make this movie."
But despite the years of discouragement from studio executives and agents, Streisand continued to pursue the project. "I wanted to do it, but I was also very frightened."
Ten years passed before she began working on her own script, outlining songs with the idea of integrating dialogue with music. It was also around this time that she decided to take the biggest chance and direct the film herself.
"I had the pictures in my head and I wanted to see them visualized. I also wanted to stretch myself as an artist," she explains. "I was ready to take on more responsibility. The older I get, the more I realize you have to take chances you have to grow, even if growth means risking failure."
Although Streisand is widely recognized as one of the most 'bankable' stars in motion pictures, studio backing was still difficult to obtain. "Even though I had my own production company and had produced several moneymaking films, I was still viewed as an actress, and therefore not assumed to be responsible with money," she asserts. "So for a long while, no one was willing to take the gamble."
"I remember having to go into an executive's office to play my tapes and tell the story," Streisand continues. "It was like being eighteen again and auditioning for a Broadway show. Now that I look back on it, I know it was good for me."
Coproducer Rusty Lemorande recalls that "the more difficult things became and the more rejection she encountered, the more tenacious Barbra became."
Finally, the project received a commitment from MGM/UA Entertainment Co., and shooting began in April of 1982 at Lee International Studios in London. Yet the combination of directing her first film and starring in it as well presented Streisand with the most difficult challenges of her career.
"Directing a movie is an obsessive act," she explains. "It absorbs most of your waking hours. I don't know how I got through it I certainly wasn't sure that I would."
"I had dreaded the first day," she admits, "but when the time actually came for the first shot, I suddenly realized, 'Oh, I know how to do this I just have to trust my instincts'. As Rusty Lemorande observed, those instincts may be related to Streisand's experience as an actress. The intense concentration required for good film acting gave Barbra an incredible edge as a director. She knows how to focus on the moment."
Three weeks after starting production, Barbra received a gift from the crew — a letter describing how easy they found her to work with. Streisand recalls, "That letter is one of my most treasured possessions. It's so important to have a feeling of comraderie on the floor, to encourage people to contribute ideas they feel are important. We had a wonderful atmosphere on the set."
In July, "Yentl" moved behind the Iron Curtain to the small village of Roztyly in Czechoslovakia, about one hundred kilometers from Prague. There, Academy Award-winning production designer Roy Walker magically constructed an entire village, consisting of a bustling market square, a synagogue and several main streets, out of a few wooden houses located next to a pig farm. This became the village of Yanev, Yentl's home and a world that is forever gone.
During the weeks of location shooting, the British crew of "Yentl" was joined by a Czechoslovakian unit under the supervision of Karel Skop of the Barrandon Film Studios in Prague. While there were numerous cultural and procedural differences the Czech film-makers had to cope with during shooting adjustments were made quite amiably. Most had never worked on a western film before, and worked harder to keep pace with the more sophisticated system of film-making used by the "Yentl" company.
One of the most amusing adjustments, however, was regarding Streisand herself. "Apparently," recalls co-producer Lemorande, "Barbra's records have been released there under the name 'Barbra Streiszandova’. At first the Czechs just couldn't believe her name is really Streisand. It was very charming."
From Roztyly, the company moved on to the old Jewish quarter of Zatec, which was used as the exterior of Beshev. The city was founded in the 7th century as a market town; its population now numbers approximately 17,500.
Next, the crew moved to Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia. Its architecture and beauty places the city among the most impressive in Europe. Among the locations chosen there by Walker and Streisand was the famous Charles Bridge. It is the oldest standing bridge in the city, and can best be described as an avenue of thirty sculptures, all of which are the work of famous masters.
For Streisand, the experience of location shooting was physically grueling, but exhilarating. Directing, acting, singing, watching the budget, maintaining a happy set, learning lines, having wardrobe fittings at 11 p.m. when everyone else had finished for the day, then having to review the day's work and plan the following day's shooting somehow it all had to be fitted into a single day. Streisand usually requires eight hours of sleep each night, but learned to make do with three or four and still be in front of the cameras by 9 a.m. every morning.
Rusty Lemorande comments, "The chameleon-like nature of an actress provided Barbra with the adaptability she needed. She was an American woman directing her first film in a European and East European film culture, yet she was able to react as the situation required."
"My respect for Barbra grew enormously," Lemorande continues. "Her energy and physical stamina never diminished, and it was her ability to constantly maintain a high caliber of performance that allowed us to finish on schedule."
According to Streisand, "I knew the experience would either make me stronger or kill me. The challenge of directing was an unknown I had to prove myself all over again. I just tried to remember what a friend told me: 'Just take it one day at a time.' I did and we made it."
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Alan and Marilyn Bergman have shared Streisand's enthusiasm for "Yentl" ever since she first acquired the motion picture rights to the short story, more than fifteen years ago. Their abiding friendship with Streisand, and their in depth knowledge and understanding of the project made them the ideal choice to author the lyrics to the film's songs. Similarly, Streisand's longstanding working relationship with Michel Legrand, and Legrand's prior collaborations with the Bergmans made him the perfect choice as the film's composer.
"Originally I had no intention of using music," explains Streisand, "but I'm happy it turned out that way. Once Yentl leaves her village, she lives a secret life that cannot be shared with anyone and we all believed that the best way to capture that inner voice was in a musical narrative."
Streisand hoped that the music would provide a poetic quality to the film, heightening the emotions of the story as only music can do. "We worried at first about how audiences would react to this device," Streisand continues, "but there was really no better way to reveal Yentl's unique perspective."
Marilyn Bergman adds, "We often discussed the possibility of introducing music through the other characters. Mandy Patinkin, in fact, has a beautiful voice, but we all finally agreed not to violate the film's musical narrative as experienced by the central character. Avigdor and Hadass are free to express themselves—it is only Yentl who can't share her true feelings."
According to Alan Bergman, "The musical device we discovered for 'Yentl' differs from other film musicals in that the action never stops to make way for the song. Instead, the music is woven into the fabric. The lyrics are essential to the story and hopefully, they are seamless."
"To give you an idea of how the concepts for the songs came about," explains Streisand, "on one occasion I observed a couple I know and felt this man is so lucky he has a wonderful woman who adores him, takes care of his needs, handles his business and brings him eggs rancheros in bed. Why wouldn't a man want a woman like that? If I were I man, I would too. That was the beginning of the song 'No Wonder'."
"The four of us were like children playing," laughs Marilyn Bergman. "We videotaped the first musical performance in our own living room. One day a choreographer visited Barbra at our house just as we were blocking out the wedding scene. We gave her a costume and she instantly became part of the videotape."
As Legrand sums it up, "Every song is an emotion—a feeling—experiences which are not a part of a particular century. Rather than capturing a period, we wanted the style of the music to reach a timeless level."
Yentl opened in the U.S. on November 18, 1983 and overseas in March and April 1984.
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