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Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand, Mandy Patinkin, Amy Irving, Nehemiah Persoff, Steven Hill, Allan Corduner, Ruth Goring, David de Keyser
Writing Credits:
Jack Rosenthal, Barbra Streisand, Isaac Bashevis Singer (story "Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy")

Nothing's Impossible.

A young woman (Barbra Streisand) charms her bearded roommate (Mandy Patinkin) and a merchant's daughter (Amy Irving) while posing as a Talmudic schoolboy in circa-1900 Poland.

Box Office:
$12 million.
Opening Weekend
$341.768 thousand on 13 screens.
Domestic Gross
$8.068 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.66:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Stereo
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 137 min. (Director’s Extended Cut)
133 min. (Theatrical Version)
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 2/3/2009

Disc One:
• Audio Commentary with Director/Actor/Co-Writer Barbra Streisand and Co-Producer Rusty Lemorande
• Introduction by Barbra Streisand
• 11 Deleted Scenes
Disc Two:
• Introduction by Barbra Streisand
• “The Director’s Reel”
• “The Rehearsal Process”
• “Deleted Songs – Storyboard Sequences
• “Barbra’s 8mm Concept Film”
• “My Wonderful Cast and Crew” Featurette
• Trailers
• Galleries

• Four-Page Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Yentl: Director's Extended Edition (1983)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 12, 2009)

Plenty of actors play characters who are substantially younger than themselves, but in 1983, Barbra Streisand topped them all. In Yentl, not only did the then-41-year-old diva portray a 28-year-old character, but also she played someone who pretended to be a teen boy through much of the movie!

I suppose it should come as some kind of accomplishment that audiences didn’t simply laugh Streisand off the screen. Set in Eastern Europe circa 1904, Streisand plays Yentl, a woman of whose lack of a husband at her “advanced age” causes controversy in the community. Yentl’s intellectual curiosity also gets her into hot water. Only men are allowed to read “sacred books”, but she desires to study them as well. This doesn’t sit well with the locals – or Yentl’s dad (Nehemiah Persoff), for that matter, though he grudgingly teaches her.

When her pop passes away, Yentl takes a drastic step. She chops off her long locks and leaves town to study at a yeshiva as a teen boy named “Anshel”. She meets Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin), an older student who takes “him” under his wing. This starts a relationship complicated by Yentl’s growing romantic love for Avigdor as well as a complication with his fiancée Hadass (Amy Irving). In a bizarre twist, Hadass breaks up with Avigdor and “Anshel” ends up as her prospective mate!

This 2009 DVD offered my first viewing of Yentl. I was 16 when it hit the screens in 1983, so I wasn’t exactly part of its target audience. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t just see teen flicks back then. I usually saw the various Oscar nominees and enjoyed more “sophisticated” fare.

Yentl, however, just looked like it’d offer an ego-fueled disaster. Not only did Streisand star as a much younger character – and a male, to boot – but also she co-wrote and directed the flick. Some movies look like they exist for little reason other than to garner acclaim and awards; in my opinion, Yentl fell into that category.

That’s how I felt before I saw it, and I can’t say that my viewing of it changed my preconceived notion. Actually, I’d not thought about the flick in so long that I’m not sure what I expected at this point. I mustered some guarded optimism, as I figured maybe it’d be worthwhile and the feelings I encountered at 16 wouldn’t hold true at the age of 41.

Apparently I boasted occasional moments of insight as a teen. Yentl doesn’t seem pointless, but it’s darned dull. To its credit, it beats us with its theme in a less annoying manner than I anticipated. I figured it’d give us its notions of female equality with relentless frequency, but it doesn’t nail us with that concept as much as I feared. Sure, that remains the movie’s ultimate message, but it doesn’t overwhelm us with it.

Instead, Yentl mostly pursues its character elements, with the freaky love triangle at its core. At times you might wonder if you stumbled across a Jewish version of Three’s Company. One minute Yentl’s falling for Avigdor and faster than you can say “that’s the wrong hole, Jack”, “Anshel” is set up with Hadass.

That’s weird, wacky stuff, and it goes nowhere. The movie fails to explore its characters well, and it feels like a series of gimmicks. Woman becomes boy to study religion. Boy woman falls for man. Woman pursues marriage with boy woman. Boy woman admits his/her love for man.

Reviewer tries hard to keep down his lunch. Actually, Yentl doesn’t nauseate as much as it bores. Even with all those crazy character twists, it remains relentlessly dull. It simply feels like little ever happens, and none of the characters become interesting. They’re general cartoons without much to endear them to us.

It doesn’t help that Streisand is wholly unconvincing as a male. It’s never clear how old “Anshel” is supposed to be, but I’m guessing 15 or 16. Or maybe “he’s” supposed to be older; it wouldn’t make much sense for 20-something Hadass to marry a kid, would it?

Or is Hadass supposed to be in her twenties? Irving was 29 at the time, but in this film, you can’t take anyone’s real age at face value. She’s clearly supposed to be considerably younger, so then-30-year-old Patinkin was probably the only one who played his actual age – or close to it, at least. If Yentl is 28 and “over the hill” in terms of life as a single woman, then it’s probably Hadass is intended to be no more than 20 or so.

In any case, Streisand fails to impress as Yentl, Anshel or whoever. It’s tough enough to accept her as a 28-year-old woman, but when the movie asks us to believe her as a teen boy, that’s when it goes too far. This seems especially true since absolutely no one in the movie ever suspect that Anshel is a female despite all his/her bizarre behavior – and the fact he/she doesn’t look remotely male.

But that’s the world of Streisand for you. We’re supposed to accept whatever she gives to us because she’s Streisand. Who else would dare to ask us to accept that both men and women fall in love with her despite her weird gender bending? It seems like all Streisand movies come back to the same point: Barbra’s character is always the best of the best. She’s the most beautiful, the smartest, the wisest. And everyone’s drawn to her.

Streisand’s decision to make Yentl something of a musical doesn’t help. It doesn’t embrace the broadest aspects of the genre, so don’t expect dancing and big production numbers. Indeed, no one other than Streisand ever sings.

Even with that modest scale, though, it’s a bad choice. The story is already on shaky ground in terms of believability; adding the sight of a character who suddenly breaks into song doesn’t add a sense of verisimilitude to the proceedings. Streisand should’ve portrayed the story as a straight drama and left it at that.

Though I doubt Yentl would’ve succeeded even without the songs. The movie’s problems go far beyond its musical numbers, as it offers a silly tale told in a dull, unconvincing manner. I had the good sense to skip this clunker 25 years ago; I wish I’d trusted my instincts and avoided it for another few decades.

Note that this release of Yentl includes both the film’s 133-minute theatrical version as well as a 137-minute “Director’s Extended Cut”. Since the DVD represented my first viewing of Yentl, I can’t detail the changes – at least not in a perfect manner. Some additions became clear due to a change in image quality. For instance, a short addition around the 1:37:00 mark suffered from a degraded presentation; it showed many marks as well as softness. The added bits I detected seemed minor, so don’t expect them to change the film in a substantial way.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Yentl appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While usually reasonably attractive, the transfer wasn’t as consistent as I’d like.

Sharpness generally seemed good, but I thought the movie could become a little iffy at times. Though I suspect some of the mild softness was intentional to suit the movie’s period roots, I still felt the image was a little too ill-defined on occasion, especially in wide shots. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge enhancement seemed to be mild.

I noticed only a few source defects, at least during the shots from the theatrical version. Scenes added to the director’s cut tended to be notably dirtier. However, these only constituted a small portion of the film’s running time, so they weren’t a substantial distraction. The shots from the theatrical edition usually looked fine; I noticed a handful of specks and marks, but nothing major.

As for the colors of Yentl, the flick went with a golden, sun-dappled look. I felt the hues offered fairly good delineation. They could seem a little flat at times, but they usually came across with positive clarity. Blacks were reasonably dense, but shadows seemed lackluster. Low-light shots tended to appear somewhat thick and tough to discern. Overall, the image was good enough for a “B-“, but it could’ve been more consistent.

Don’t expect much from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Yentl, as it provided the kind of low-key material that made sense for a period drama. The soundfield remained pretty subdued. The score and songs showed good stereo delineation, while effects emphasized general ambience. This wasn’t a movie with any slam-bang sequences, so environmental elements carried the day. These occasionally added some minor life to the flick, but not much.

No issues with audio quality materialized. Speech always remained natural and concise, as the lines were easily intelligible and free from edginess. Effects were quite subdued but they seemed fine. Since Yentl was a musical, the songs and score became more important, and they sounded quite good. Those elements provided nice clarity and range. The music became the main reason I thought Yentl deserved an age-adjusted “B”; it wasn’t memorable, but it worked fine.

This two-disc edition of Yentl includes a fair number of extras. On DVD One, we start with an introduction by Barbra Streisand. In this one-minute and 50-second clip, Streisand discusses the DVD as well as what it was like to direct and act at the same time. She tells us little in the way of insight, but she offers a decent launch to the flick.

For more info about the film, we get an audio commentary from actor/director/co-writer Streisand and co-producer Rusty Lemorande. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at the source story and its adaptation, story and character issues, musical elements, production design and costumes, sets and locations, cast and performances, lighting and cinematography, and a few other topics.

My only prior experience with a Streisand commentary came from A Star Is Born, and it was an erratic affair; Streisand provided some good insights but also tended to whine a lot about the pressures of fame. It was a decent commentary but it became awfully frustrating.

Happily, her discussion of Yentl proves to be more consistently satisfying. And I do mean her discussion; while Lemorande chimes in occasionally, Streisand dominates. And that’s fine, as she gives us a nice glimpse of the production. The track occasionally sags just a bit, but overall the commentary provides an enjoyable and informative chat.

11 Deleted Scenes run a total of 16 minutes, 44 seconds. That total includes a one-minute, 32-second introduction from Streisand during which she tells us a little about shooting the sequences as well as editing. As for the scenes themselves, they flesh out various character elements but they don’t provide anything noteworthy.

DVD Two opens with another Introduction by Barbra Streisand. This one lasts three minutes, three seconds. The co-writer/director/actor talks about aspects of the production and symbolism in the movie. She offers some interesting thoughts, though she mostly repeats notes from the commentary.

DVD Two provides The Director’s Reel. In this six-minute and 55-second piece, we see raw footage from the set. It gives us minor insights to how Streisand acted and directed at the same time, so it’s fun to see.

For the disc’s longest component, we find the 29-minute and 33-second The Rehearsal Process. After another intro from Streisand, we see footage of the film’s rehearsals; these emphasize musical numbers. In addition to the raw material, we can compare the rehearsals to the final film shots. I like this feature, as it lets us get a nice feel for the pre-shoot work put into the sequences.

Two Deleted Songs – Storyboard Sequences appear next. These include “The Moon and I” (3:49) and “Several Sins a Day” (3:43). We see storyboards and hear the songs on top of the visuals. Fans will enjoy the chance to check out planned but unused songs and sequences.

During the commentary, Streisand alludes to Barbra’s 8mm Concept Film, and we get to see it here. It runs eight minutes, 36 seconds and can be viewed with or without narration from Streisand. She tells us that she created the reel to tout her potential as a director. (Yentl was her first flick behind the camera.) “Concept” shows various locations scouted for Yentl and also occasionally features Streisand in costume.

If you choose to watch “Concept”, it makes sense to stick with the narration version. Without it, you get no audio other than film score, so there’s nothing you lose if you select the one with narration. The reel itself isn’t particularly fascinating, but Streisand’s comments add value, and it’s good to get “Concept” as a historical artifact.

My Wonderful Cast and Crew goes for seven minutes, 29 seconds and provides a video look at the film’s participants. It shows behind the scenes footage and identifies the various folks by name. Oddly, it doesn’t explain their jobs on the film, which seems like a strange omission.

In addition to the movie’s teaser and theatrical trailers, DVD Two ends with some Still Galleries. These cover “Production” (63 shots), “Portraits” (38), “Behind the Scenes” (72) and “The Recording Studio” (19). These offer a mix of decent images.

Finally, the DVD’s case includes a four-page booklet. Two of the pages offer praise from the movie critics, while another shows a letter signed by cast and crew to laud Streisand. Frankly, the booklet feels like another ego boost for Streisand.

I won’t state that I feel Yentl exists solely in that self-inflating vein, as I think Streisand had something she really wanted to say with the project. Unfortunately, it still comes across like an ode to her own greatness, and it proves to be rather dull and silly affair. The DVD offers generally good picture and audio as well as a fairly nice roster of extras. Fans will enjoy this release, but I can’t recommend it to new viewers.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2 Stars Number of Votes: 15
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