Friday, 7 January 2011

Flashback: The Prince of Tides

With the news of Barbra Streisand’s potential return to acting and directing now is as good a time as any to dip back into her history as a director and I don’t think there’s any place better to do that than with her 1992 Best Picture nominee The Prince of Tides. Adapted from Pat Conroy’s novel – which I have not read – the film takes a look at Tom Wingo, a typical Southern man with a typically troubled Southern past. If forced to put it into a box, the genre of family drama would be most apt for the tale though such a hackneyed title would belie the earnestness with which the film plays out. As a book to film adaptation The Prince of Tides is notable for inciting criticism from fans of the novels who were not enthusiastic about the shifting of the main plot from younger Tom to older Tom – because, god forbid a novel take licenses with adaptation.
Barbra's Yentl is an auspicious musical of the eighties and her The Mirror Has Two Faces is amusing in its over-the-top ridiculousness but it’s this straight drama of Tides that really encapsulates her talents for direction. If you watch closely the three films on a loop you’d noticed her sensitivity to emotion but not histrionics. I smile at the almost dour browness of the mise en scène. Despite the lack of obvious beauty in the colour brown, there’s something soothing about how it blends it with everything and it’s the same with The Prince of Tides. It can never be accused of being especially inventive, but there’s a soothing nature about Streisand and company take the usual machinations of familial drama and makes it interesting to watch. At first glance it seems like something akin to nepotism having her as the lead (the role sort of screams out Sigourney Weaver) but Streisand is a strong actress and she shines especially bright in the latter half of the film.
If there’s one thing I’d praise Streisand for effusively in The Prince of Tides, although I’m not sure how much she’s responsible for it, it’s the uniform goodness of the performances. Nolte’s Oscar nominated performance is a treat, but it’s watching the supporting women on the side that’s the real prize. Kate Nelligan turns in a brilliant turn as Nolte’s mother, and Melinda Dillon’s fragility is acutely played but it’s Blythe Danner as the potentially estranged wife who I never forget. Her performance is so subtle, but lovely to watch and always makes me a bit sad that Danner never “made it” as a film actress. Watching Streisand elicit these type of performances without ever being insincere makes The Prince of Tides one more than worthy of estimation, and it’s a real shame she failed to garner an Oscar nod for Best Director – even if the film earned a picture nod. There’s no telling what, if anything, will become of Gypsy, but I have faith in Streisand – as a musician, as an actress, and as a director.
What did you think of Barbra's work in The Prince of Tides?


Jess said...

I love Streisand's chemistry with Nick Nolte, but Blythe Danner's performance always hits me.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Streisand's an incredibly underrated director and this has to be the pinnacle of her work (she surely did something to elicits those performances).

Can't wait to see her get behind a camera again.

TomS said...

I thought your description of her direction as "soothing" was interesting. It was as though Streisand knew that her reputation for being difficult would feed a hostile web of critics waiting for her to fail. So, she simply held back, and made her work as "invisible" as possible.

Of all the films she directed (unless you believed the legends that she, and not William Wyler, "directed" "Funny Girl"), I liked "Yentl" the was a subject very close to her heart and experience, and her obvious love for it pervaded the whole film.

I liked "Prince of Tides" the first time I saw it...although it didn't move me as deeply as the book (which I had read years before).

As I reflect back on "Tides", it does seem a vanity piece of sorts...notice how Streisand lights herself with golden halos...and I didn't care much for the handling of the flashback scenes...That said, it is still an entertaining example of good, classic filmmaking.

Streisand as director has had the benefit of great material and very skilled performers. I would have loved to be there for the possible fireworks between her and Lauren Bacall in "Mirror"!

I am looking forward to see how maturity has deepened her vision...

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

jess i agree with you on all counts.

runs like a gay yeah, i actually am excited to see her behind the camera again.

tom it's odd that you say that about tides, though. because one of the things that prevents me from loving yentl is how much barbra seems to rule it. i still can't quite forgive a musical film having mandy patinkin in it, and not having him sing. i like how you consider her "invisible" directing here, though. that's something to think on.