In a wide-ranging conversation Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival, Barbra Streisand touched on topics such as filmmaking, music, her less-than-happy childhood and the initially fruitless pursuit of acting which lead her to take up singing. The session was moderated by her friend, director Robert Rodriguez.
Streisand, winner of two Academy Awards, 10 Grammys, five Emmys, a Tony and even the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said her work on The Way We Were, the 1973 film directed by Sydney Pollack, led her to take up directing. “I adore Sydney,” she said. “We were close friends and told each other secrets nobody will ever know about. But we also disagreed on some things. There were two scenes cut out that I thought were essential to the plot…That’s when I decided to be a director.” Creatively, she said she prizes directing above all other artistic endeavors.
That passion doesn’t ensure smooth sailing on every project. For example, Streisand didn’t gloss over her experience with the 1976 film A Star Is Born. She said she had been forced to hire the director, Frank Pierson, and the two clashed. “That was tough because I was blackmailed into hiring the director,” she said. “I hired him to write and he said he wouldn’t do it unless he directed. I had final cut rights. I told him he could have all the credit, but that he had to allow my vision to be there. He would agree, but then I’d show up and the cameras would be in [the wrong places].”
Rodriguez heaped praise on Streisand throughout the hour-long conversation, pointing out that she was the first female to write, direct and star in a feature, 1983’s Yentl. The film received five Oscar nominations and won for Original Score. Rodriguez credited Streisand for being part of an early wave of female directors, though he criticized the Academy for not giving her Best Director nominations for Yentl or the 1991 feature The Prince of Tides. The latter did receive a Best Picture nod, one of seven. “I was pleased to see people holding up signs at the Academy Awards that night,” said Streisand about Yentl. “I didn’t go. I must’ve been more hurt than I thought though because I didn’t direct another film until The Prince of Tides. But I also have to have a passion in order to direct… I loved making that movie.”
Streisand starred in both Yentl and The Prince of Tides. When asked if she found it hard to be both in front and being the camera, she quipped, “It’s not hard to act in a movie I direct because there are [fewer] people to argue with…”
The star reflected on her upbringing in Brooklyn, especially her father’s death when she was just 15 months old, which made her seek refuge in movie theatres. “I think I wanted to escape reality,” she said, also confessing an adolescent crush on Marlon Brando and a fascination with singer Johnny Mathis. “I wasn’t a happy kid. I used to go to movies a lot on Saturday afternoons… I loved to escape.”
Despite her success, Streisand isn’t without angst. “I have fear, but I do it anyway,” she said. “I think that fear is like an engine to create.”