Sunday, February 23, 2014

Boxing Barbra ... and Fanny!

An Examination of the Streisand/Brice Boxing Film Coincidences

Be Yourself (streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime) is a 1930 comedy about a woman who becomes manager of a prizefighter; it stars Fannie (née Fanny) Brice. The Main Event is a 1976 comedy about a woman who becomes manager of a prizefighter; it stars Barbra Streisand. Of course, Streisand famously plays Brice in the 1968 film Funny Girl which then begs the question: is The Main Event a remake of Be Yourself?

Robert Armstrong, Fanny Brice, Harry Green, Whitman Mayo, Ryan O'Neal, Barbra Streisand

In both films, the role of fight manager is hoisted upon the women. Brice becomes manager after fighter Robert Armstrong bemoans his lack of representation. Streisand loses her perfume company when her business manager absconds with all her assets except her contract with fighter Ryan O’Neal. But Be Yourself is, delightfully, a musical. As singer Fannie Field, Brice sings five songs (credit to Billy Rose) in a nightclub (except as noted).

This version contains a few barbs aimed at Brice’s ethnicity
  1. When A Woman Loves a Man - first as a charming uptempo number with chorus girls and then as a torch song à la My Man
  2. Cooking Breakfast For The One I Love - first as a duet with Robert Armstrong (in an apartment home) and as a solo by a bellhop (in the nightclub)
  3. Is There Something the Matter with Otto Kahn? - an operatic parody referencing the infamous financier)
  4. Kicking a Hole in the Sky - production reminiscent of the gospel-like Great Day from Streisand’s Funny Lady
  5. It’s Gorgeous To Be Graceful - a comedic ballet reminiscent of Swan Lake from Streisand’s Funny Girl

Musically, The Main Event has a Top 10 pop song in it’s discofied title tune (back with Fight) - credit to Paul Jabara, Bob Esty and Bruce Roberts. This film, having been made in the middle of the 70s aerobics craze, also includes a choreographed aerobics class in which Streisand and other femmes firm things up. There are also lengthy scenes underscored by the Loggins and Messina's track Angry Eyes.

Single version of The Main Event b/w Fight

If you've seen Streisand in Funny Girl, watching Fanny Brice in Be Yourself illustrates just how good Streisand is portraying Brice. Double-takes, confused idioms and Yiddishisms are uncannily identical in the films. But I digress.

The arm and the foot

Back in the world of boxing, a romance develops between the fighter and manager in each film. Although the relationship in Be Yourself is not consummated with a kiss so much as a touch of the arm, the outcome is clear. The outcome between Streisand and O'Neal is clear from the steam emanating off the screen and the arising of Mr. O'Neal's foot.

The iconic proboscises (proboscisi?)

(SPOILER PARAGRAPH) Amazingly, both films end with the manager throwing the big fight. Why? L’amour, l’amour, toujours, l’ amour. Also, an interesting sub plot of the earlier film includes fighter Armstrong having a nose job - something neither Brice nor Streisand did. Brice even yells to her fighter's opponent how to win - Go for the nose. The beaker.

Did Barbra Streisand see the Fanny (née Fannie) Brice film Be Yourself before (she and Jon Peters and) Barwood Pictures started negotiations for the filming of The Main Event? Streisand most certainly watched Be Yourself during preparations for Funny Girl. In that case, The Main Event could be deemed a reimagining of Be Yourself just as the ballad version of The Main Event (previously available only on the soundtrack LP, now on YouTube) is a reimagining of the disco hit. I'll tweet @BarbraStreisand for a clue.

Ballad version of The Main Event (not b/w Fight)