I will be watching all 5 nominees from 1968 before I move on to the next year. The goal here is to watch them and have an internal discussion among them to try to piece together a “history” of the year. Let’s get to it.
Funnily enough, Funny Girl earned neither a Best Original Screenplay nor a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, even though it had been produced as an acclaimed stage production – which itself had been adapted from a book. Clearly, the work was not an “original” screenplay, but still removed far enough from Fanny Brice’s actual life (three degrees) so as to offer dramatic license to transform story into narrative. Funny Girl provides a glimpse into the unknown world of a girl, truly funny, but with levels of processing, Brice’s story resembles a game of “telephone,” where star Barbra Streisand steps into the role of a woman she never met, based on a series of adaptations (and maybe conversations/sessions) and script directions. After this many deviations from the original, who can say if Streisand is not simply playing a caricature of herself? Perhaps the performance demonstrated an excellent reading of the script and – with Streisand’s jovial and emotional representation – offered a meta-wink-and-nod to industry elite and sentimentalists. Streisand, in her magnum opus, is quite funny, and identifies as a girl but it becomes increasingly difficult to parse meaning from the concatenation.
Streisand’s humor has not aged gracefully and has lent itself to parody (the audience has to imagine that Streisand was hopelessly in love with a self, and Jewish, parody), but her role in Funny Girl was not to push boundaries or break ground. Its role was to showcase Streisand as much as possible, pushing her musical talent, and landing on a “musical” pulse that had burrowed deep within the American psyche. Streisand’s gags- her “funny” – demonstrated neither “strange” nor “humorous,” but rather “peculiar” – in a manner that very closely represented some Grand American Mood in the late 1960s, using a decades-long runway held over from the 1930s and packed away only recently. Oliver! won in 1968 (beating Funny Girl); but Hello, Dolly! lost in 1969; Cabaret stood up against The Godfather; and Moulin Rouge! might have nailed the coffin closed, save a confusing Chicago victory in 2002. Much like comedy, musical lends itself tenuously to an erudite Academy: what is there to laugh and sing about?
Funny Girl‘s crowning achievement should be Babs’ performance as Fannie Brice. It should not be about its iconic, immensely quotable “Hello, gorgeous,” or its music – “People” – but to reinforce a foundation for funny women as strong women. The purpose of this film was not to mythologize women’s rights and of equality, but to lend voice to women, young and old, that comedy and pride are inseparable. “Girl” is not a throwaway or a derogatory, but a term of non-consequence because this girl, woman, person, human did a wonderful job of making the world a better place, a joke at a time, and Streisand does an equally effective job telling this story as only she can. She adapted it to tell her story and the world is better for it. So whether the Academy voted for Funny Girl via Adapted or Original Screenplay (neither), its place in the lore of Best Picture is well-deserved, and though it did not win, it stands tall as a testament to the acute highs and lows of a woman who represented herself in her brief life, but left a legacy worth carrying on.
Oliver! defeated Rachel, Rachel, Romeo and Juliet, and The Lion In Winter along with Funny Girl. Two musicals are almost unheard of as a point of worthiness, but in a relatively weak year Funny Girl continues to stand out as iconic and archetypal for future pieces of not-feminism-feminism.