“On Streisand: An Opinionated Guide” by Ethan Mordden— Have Opinion, Will Voice

Mordden, Ethan. “On Streisand: An Opinionated Guide”, Oxford University Press, 2019.

Have Opinion, Will Voice

Amos Lassen

Barbra Streisand has said that the reason she became a singer is that she could not get a job as an actress. Imagine her surprise when she realized that she had done both. She actually revolutionized the two professions and changed forever the ideal of how a movie star chooses roles, going from musicals to dramas to comedies, “from period fare to ultra-modern tales, from “Funny Girl” to “The Way We Were” to “Yentl.”

In “On Streisand”, writer Ethan Mordden begins with a broad year-by-year outline of Streisand’s achievements and some of her more whimsical escapades, as when Rex Reed apologizes for an interview piece and she responds with “I had more respect for him when he hated me.” Mordden follows this a long essay on how “Streisand’s idiosyncratic self-realization marks her as a unique national treasure, an artist without limits.”

The  major part of the book is a work-by-work analysis that is broken down into separate chapters, each organized chronologically: the stage shows, then the television shows and concerts, then the movies, and last (because longest) the recordings. Mordden follows Streisand’s independence, which he sees as her central quality. Mordden shows how she was exercising individualistic control of her career from her very first audition, and how the rest of her professional life unfolded from. Streisand knows how to be in control.

Aside from the fascinating subject, Mordden’s elegant prose and sharp wit is beguiling.
If you are interested in a biography of Streisand than  this book is not for you. While it is filled with wonderful insights, it is basically an analysis of Streisand’s career.

This is a fascinating, perceptive and very concise overview of Barbra Streisand’s sixty year career and it  examines and evaluates what she has accomplished (she’s won 10 Grammys, two Oscars and five Emmy awards). We read about the motivation behind each project and see that she does nothing on impulse. “She makes considered–even excruciatingly interrogated–judgment calls, because her work is her identity.”

Mordden brings in Streisand’s personal life, her difficult reputation (sometimes earned, sometimes not) and how her genuine distinctiveness worked for and against her. Because she is an original, and many people dislike originals, she has suffered.
This is a thoughtful, perceptive and at times analytical look at Streisand’s creativity and working methods that celebrates and deepens an appreciation of Streisand and her body of work.

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