Magazine article The Spectator

'Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity and Power', by Neal Gabler - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity and Power', by Neal Gabler - Review

Article excerpt

This book is the latest in Yale's series of Jewish Lives -- though in this case Jewish Loves might be nearer the mark. Neal Gabler adores Barbra Streisand. He purports to have written a critical biography, but pretty much the only bad thing he has to say about Streisand's 50-odd-year career (and counting -- who would bet against her returning to the White House to carol the Clintons come next January?) is that Peter Bogdanovich's picture What's Up, Doc? is 'junk'.

Actually it's a work of genius, with Streisand at the top of her considerable comic game - though that's a judgment you mightn't want to trust any more than Gabler's. Because when it comes to movies and records I love Barbra too. I fancy this Cleopatra per viam Modigliani something rotten. Like Gabler, I'm knocked out by the sight of her in those 'tight satin shorts that hug her derriere' in the boxing romcom The Main Event . Every time I hear her sing I think she's the most beautiful woman in the world.

Certainly her voice is matchless. If you want to hear Cole Porter's 'You're the Top' do what it says on the tin, you have to hear her version. If you want the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman to sound as if they make sense you have to hear Streisand sing them. And don't get me started on 'Guilty', a duet with the Bee Gees's Barry Gibb that ought to be laughable but instead is turned into high comedy by the way Streisand's soaring mezzo spirals around his falsetto blur like a prick-teasing boa constrictor.

Reading about Streisand is more difficult, though. Not even the most worshipful of her biographers can disguise the fact that she's a pain in the ass, ready to take offence at the slightest slight. Gabler, who like Streisand can't see a top without going over it, gives it his best on the whitewash front. But not even his flattery and fawning can make her likeable. How could it? Streisand thrives on being disliked. She once said:

People look at me and say, 'Success has gone to her head.' But that's not true. I've always been this way. I'm no good at dealing with people or being tactful. I say whatever is on my mind.

Roseanne Arnold, herself no slouch in the ball-busting department, says that when she met her Streisand came on like the 'queen of the United States'.

In fact, she's a princess -- a Jewish princess, and one quick to see any disparaging remark as anti-Semitic at root. …

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