I could have just as well called this, “THE personal triumph of the illustrious and incomparable Barbra Streisand” review, but I went with “film with music,” because that is what Barbra called her film, YENTL. PLEASE NOTE: I am a HUGE Barbra Streisand fan so if you’re expecting me to say anything bad about Barbra and/or YENTL, you might want to stop reading this film review NOW! 😉
YENTL is simply ALL STREISAND! She is the actress (and actor, as she plays a boy), director, producer, and sings every song in the film. Some might say this about Barbra for YENTL: “What an ego!!!!” I say this about Barbra for YENTL: “What a talent!!!!” Barbra worked on this film for five years before she took to standing behind and in front of the camera for filming. When the filming of YENTL was completed, Barbra showed it to Steven Spielberg and after watching it, he said, “Don’t change one frame of this film. It’s the greatest directorial accomplishment of a film since Orson Welle’s CITIZEN KANE.” What a compliment, as many consider CITIZEN KANE one of the greatest films ever made! And Barbra deserved this comparison, because this is all very, VERY true about YENTL.
Before I begin the review, on a more personal note, when YENTL made it to the theatre in my hometown (I was 16 or 17 years old), I asked my mom to pick me up from high school for the 4:30pm show and not to bother picking me up until after 10, because I knew I would stay for two showings back to back. It was the best 6-7 hours I have ever spent in a theatre watching any film. I had bought the film soundtrack before the movie made it to the theatre, so I knew every song in YENTL by heart, and that coupled with the “heart” of YENTL (and my heart for Barbra) made these 6-7 hours a breathtaking and unparalleled movie-going experience for me.
For those not in the know about the plot of the film, YENTL is about Yentl, a girl who has this boundless thirst for the mysteries of the universe at the turn of the 20th century but because this is forbidden to women of this time, she can’t thirst for these mysteries. That is until Yentl’s father dies, when Yentl disguises herself as a boy to study the Talmud in a Yeshiva school. Then, Avigdor, her male study partner, shows up and love shows up and then it gets pretty messy, as is often the case when love is felt and pursued. It’s precisely that this kind of love is so important that it is often pretty messy. Barbra, in concert, called YENTL, “a love story about boy meets girl, girl loves boy, girl loses boy, girl marries girl because girl loves boy, and if you want to see how all that turns out, you need to rent the movie. It’s just an old-fashioned love story….very 90s.” Love that!!!! I agree. And you’ll have to rent the DVD to see how it all turns out, as Barbra states, and I promise you it all turns out so very lovely!
Anyone who would say Barbra Streisand can’t sing, I absolutely would have no idea what they are talking about. Yes, Barbra CAN sing and she sings beautifully in this film, more so than any other time I’ve heard Barbra sing (and I’ve heard Barbra sing beautifully SO MANY TIMES!). Barbra calling YENTL, “a film with music,” took the film out of traditional musicals because although Barbra sings in the film, she only sings when others are not around. It’s a musical inner monologue that Barbra was going for here. Some critics said she sang too much but, once again, if one sings as beautifully and angelically as Barbra Streisand, please don’t complain about her singing too much, okay? Especially when doing so in this film only serves to further the plot. Now, this might be because I’m a HUGE fan, but check this out: I saw YENTL again after that first movie-going experience with many friends, and at exactly the same moment in the film when Barbra was singing, my friends almost unanimously word-for-word said, “Boy, she sure can sing!” Yes, indeed! And check this out: Just as I typed all of this, YENTL playing on my TV (hence, writing this review) just played the very exact moment my friends commented on. Thank you, God, and thank you, Barbra! Oh! That means the part where Yentl tells Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin) that her name is not actually Anshel (her deceased brother’s name she took to study) but instead Yentl, and that she loves him, and then he tells her he couldn’t figure out why he always wanted to touch her so much, is coming up! And then there’s that sharing of their “hushed” feelings for each other that is filmed by Barbra in glorious close-ups, sweet tenderness and exquisite longing for real, true love. I am such a happy camper right now!
“Dear Barbra: Thank you so much for making YENTL. You just won my heart with this film, as you have won my heart in everything you have done. I simply LOVE you, simply Streisand! Thanks for inspiring me to create fearlessly (as you always did and do) and helping me to see that, “yes, indeed, you, Barbra Streisand, are certainly somebody special….and that means certainly so am I” (Check this out yet again: Just as I typed “so am I,” Barbra just sang this exact same wording in the film. Okay, God, now I MOST definitely hear you talking to me!).
YENTL is Barbra Streisand and ONLY Barbra Streisand and for this Barbra Streisand fan writing this YENTL film review, I apply the Grace of God to say, “this is more than sufficient enough for me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Barbra is, in fact, a sort of grace for me.
(a “journey on a beach….and beyond” TV series review by Timothy J. Verret)
Four seasons? Four years? That’s only as long as CHINA BEACH ran on TV! Well, being my spiritual number is “4,” I feel very prepared and very eager to review this TV series, paying particular attention to the 4th and final and most brilliantly “BOTH” (“the pain and the beauty”) season of this Emmy- and Peabody-winning TV show.
CHINA BEACH is the baby of William Broyles Jr. and John Sacret Young, a TV series that detailed the humanity and horror of the Vietnam War at the 510th Evacuation Hospital in the city of Đà Nẵng on “China Beach” (nicknamed in English by American and Australian soldiers). Side note: I must admit when I started watching this TV series when it first aired, I was like, “What’s going on? I thought this was about Vietnam? What does China have to do with anything?” To bring this TV series in a little bit closer, it centered primarily on the women at “China Beach,” and even more centered on First Lieutenant Colleen McMurphy, a once Catholic girl and then Army nurse from Lawrence, Kansas. This role was played by the supremely talented and incomparable Dana Delany who won two Emmy Awards for Best Actress for CHINA BEACH (watch the entire TV series, and you can easily conclude that she should have won the award for all 4 seasons!). The entire cast was, in fact, brilliant and what the writers did for CHINA BEACH was give each main character a storyline and, most importantly, a journey to take. It started long before Vietnam, it zigzagged hardcore during Vietnam, and it ended long after Vietnam, only truly beginning for the characters in having to come face-to-face with their war scars, physically and emotionally, and healing those scars, physically and emotionally.
As mentioned, I really want to explore that 4th and final season of CHINA BEACH. What the creators of the TV series did for the characters was allow them to “go home.” They got home, only to be brought back to the beach where they saved lives, took lives, lived to tell about those lives, and lived onward to repair their own damaged lives. I have never quite seen a TV series in the history of TV do this kind of journeying. It was gutsy, for sure, but what a payoff! We, as viewers, got to witness horrors and nightmares that just wouldn’t go away for these characters in the form of flashbacks (PTSD) and flashforwards (PTSD), but we also got to witness the very final episode, where the characters journeyed to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., for closure. That final episode alone will bring the entire war back to you, whether you were there or not. You won’t want to remember it, but you owe it to these characters to remember it. You also won’t want to forget it, but you owe it to these characters to forget it. Remembering and forgetting, BOTH, is the true definition of anyone’s journey. You remember your past but you journey on. You forget your past but you journey on. “Journeying on” is everyone’s journey. When the characters looked into the Wall in that final episode, the TV cameras were keen on reflecting the names of the killed soldiers back on the faces of the show’s characters. This “mirroring effect” crowned CHINA BEACH as true work-of-art TV! Some of the characters tried to help save those dead ones on the Wall, so it makes sense that the characters would have these dead ones mirrored back on them. It shows how we are all connected in life and death. Some characters stood saluting the wall, while their partners saluted them back. Some characters held so tight to each other that we expected the Wall to actually crumble from the hurt and painful memories. All of the characters wept….ALL OF THEM! They wept for what they did and could not do. As McMurphy says at the end of the episode, “I couldn’t save them all, but I saved some.” Speaking of weeping, as I just finished typing that line, I started weeping.
Once again, if you don’t think you can serve all your tour-of-duty watching the 4 seasons of CHINA BEACH, I want to highly recommend three episodes, which ironically are the final three episodes of the series:
“Through and Through” – this episode is about Colleen McMurphy and her struggles with alcoholism and PTSD. This episode alone is probably why Delany won the Emmy that year. She gives a remarkable, “lifetime” performance in only one hour of TV!
“Rewind” – One of the TV characters had a daughter, who was abandoned by her mother, so the daughter makes a video project about Vietnam to understand what happened and hopefully find healing from her mother’s estrangement. This episode is just heart-wrenching and ends as so many of the CHINA BEACH episodes ended; a delivered line that, for me, was spiritually steeped and spoken as, “Is this ever gonna stop?” or “This isn’t finished, is it?”
“Hello….Goodbye” – This is the final, two-hour episode of CHINA BEACH that starts with a reunion and ends at the Wall. Pay particular attention to “the boy in the pants.” This was the man McMurphy tried to save but couldn’t. He said to her before he died, “You’re gonna remember me.” She replied, laughingly, “No, I won’t.” He said, “You will.” At the wall, McMurphy remembered. He said she would.
I’ll end this review with the song, “You Can Let Go Now,” by singer/songwriter Michael McDonald, that was played on the soundtrack at the Wall in CHINA BEACH‘s final episode. I guess I don’t want to stop a “good cry,” as this song gets me every time. Truthfully, it is the absolutely most perfect song to have played to “close down” CHINA BEACH. All the words in the song are spot-on for the aftermath of the Vietnam Warm, especially the line, “It was so right….it was so wrong.” I suppose our own personal journeys in life can feel very much like this. But, most importantly about the journeys of the characters of CHINA BEACH and all our journeys, “you can let go now.”
(a “SPECIAL FEATURES DVD interview with the film’s director, Klaus Härö” review by Timothy J. Verret)
Truth be told, I was not prepared to write a review of THE FENCER (2015), as I was ever so slightly underwhelmed at this film’s conclusion, but after watching the SPECIAL FEATURES DVD interview with the film’s director, Klaus Härö, I knew I had no other choice. I seek to bridge that interview with the actual film in this review, as coupled together I can now see how they wonderfully and spiritually feed off each other. Yes, BOTH!
THE FENCER (2015) is a Finnish/an Estonian film adapted from the real-life story of Endel Nelis, an accomplished Estonian fencer and coach who is basically on the run from the Soviet Police. What “fences” Endel in, as does most, is his sordid yet “did I have a choice?” past and how that comes back to haunt him, maybe for good. When films go the political or war route, I’m typically going for the hills unless same is in the background, lingering but not protruding, which is the case in this film. And this should be in the background because THE FENCER is a “triumphant human” story, a story about relationships, and a story about professional and personal triumph, all things that can easily get hijacked when politics and war in a film predominate. Endel teaches fencing to some wide-eyed and cute-as-a-button little ones, but alas he teaches them much more. He teaches them about focus, technique, and responsibility when fencing (and not) but, above all, Endel plays a hugely patriarchal role in these children’s impressionable minds and hearts. Not to bring up the “war” stuff too much that I just discounted, but many of these children had fathers who abandoned them because of the war or the affiliation therein, so the last thing Endel wants to do is abandon them one more time. He, in fact, puts all his cards on the table (I know, wrong game!) to NOT abandon them for fear of crushing what little hope they have left in someone, a father figure, to believe in them and never leave them. In this respect, THE FENCER is a VERY spiritual film (as you will see below in Klaus Härö’s interview), because I’m reminded of one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). Endel is a “Father God” figure to these children, and he backs up this Bible verse with his great love and devotion to these “fencing” children. What I think had slightly underwhelmed me about THE FENCER is that when Endel and the children head off to a fencing tournament, as THE KARATE KID exciting as this part of the film was, it was hard to get too excited because the film did not explain the fencing techniques and rules all that well. Of course, that could just be me as someone who is VERY “un-sports-inclined.”
Now, I get to talk about the SPECIAL FEATURES DVD interview with the film’s director, Klaus Härö, most definitely my favorite part of this review of THE FENCER. Director Härö is a very handsome fellow, so let me just get that out of the way. But handsome or not, Härö is very intelligent, very honest, and very spiritual. Those traits right there put in the background, ironically like the war and politics I mentioned above, his good looks. The interviewer asks Härö some really probing questions in this interview that the director handles effortlessly. What is revealed along the way is how completely “human” Härö is and why he probably chooses only projects that are “human,” as well, i.e., films about the triumph of the human spirit (with the word, “spirit” in BOLD). One question the interviewer asks Härö is, “What films influenced you to be a film director?” Now, this might have been wishful thinking on my part, but I just knew at that question Häröh was going to mention an Ingmar Bergman film….and he did! He actually mentioned the Swedish film, THE BEST INTENTIONS (1992), that was NOT directed by Bergman (Bille August sat in the director’s chair), though Bergman wrote the screenplay to this film, and the film was about Ingmar Bergman’s parents. Maybe Bergman chose not to direct this film because it “hit too close to home.” I’m embarrassed to say I don’t believe I saw this film (though I will now, of course), probably because it was not directed by Ingmar Bergman. What Härö says about the influence of this film is that it had such a simple premise and storyline and yet tackled with such great drive and fire the complexity of human relationships and human emotions. Härö even coined a recovery term when he said he likes films, like these, that “keep it simple.” The other film that Härö mentioned as an influence, and this really blew me away maybe because it was an American film, was E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL (1982). Härö described how he saw this film as a youngster (I take it) at an IMAX theatre in Helsinki, Finland, and when Elliot and his friends on “simple” bikes escaped the police by flying into the air because of E.T.’s powers, Härö knew that he could become and desperately wanted to become a film director. He clearly saw the impossible in that scene and knew that all things would be possible for him with that movie magic! Restated (and I don’t think Härö would mind), “all things are possible to those who believe” (Mark 9:23). This prayerful insight on my part also makes Klaus Härö a VERY spiritual film director.
And keeping this review on the spiritual plane and even personalizing it a bit, I searched all my life for a “father,” like Endel Nelis, who would never leave me nor forsake me. I found that in Father God, and I’m so happy these children in THE FENCER found a father in Endel. And going back to this very handsome film director, did I fail to mention that Märt Avandi, the actor who plays Endel, is also very handsome? Okay, Timothy, enough! End the review….NOW! 😉
When I was in college, I went to see my advisor in his office and noticed he had a poster on his wall of a play (I can’t remember the name of the play) directed by Ingmar Bergman. When I saw it, I told my advisor, “I LOVE Ingmar Bergman’s films.” My advisor said, “If you love Ingmar Bergman’s films, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen his direction of theatrical plays.” As this review will point out, the advisor wasn’t kidding!
Some time back, I wrote a review of Ingmar Bergman’s production of August Strindberg’s THE GHOST SONATA I watched on YouTube (https://timothyjverret.blog/2020/07/18/august-strindbergs-the-ghost-sonata-directed-by-ingmar-bergman/). In that review, I talked about my emotional reaction to the production which often left me utterly speechless. Ingmar Bergman’s MADAME DE SADE, another gem of a find on YouTube, also left me utterly speechless. I honestly (and that’s a key word) do not know how Bergman is able to direct with such authority and authenticity, leaving the viewer this way. I think it has a lot to do with said authenticity and deep truth, especially as far as the human condition is concerned.
MADAME DE SADE is a play written by Mishima Yukio that was published in 1965. It is a play with nothing but women and if I know Ingmar Bergman as I think I know Ingmar Bergman, this is his specialty. Bergman knows women intimately and has been quoted as saying he likes to work with actresses because they are more emotionally available. The actresses in MADAME DE SADE are flat-out brilliant. The play centers on Marquise de Sade (a man, so he ever makes an appearance in this play), who was a French nobleman, revolutionary politician, philosopher, and writer, famous for his libertine sexuality. His sexual desires and perversity ran the gamut of both women and men. The characters in MADAME DE SADE include Marquise’s wife, the wife’s mother, and some other highly strong-willed yet highly self-destructive women. The settings in this theatrical production are to the bare minimum which works beautifully at centering on the women’s emotions (or lack thereof) and a whole lot of words. This, indeed, is a VERY wordy play, but this works beautifully, as well, because when there is some physical action in the production, boy is it ever physical!
In this review, I primarily want to focus on one main thing of Ingmar Bergman’s MADAME DE SADE, and this is something that multiple women speak throughout the play. It’s when these words are uttered: “The Marquise is myself.” Wow! These women are sexually perverted? Well, maybe not all sexually perverted, but they are most definitely perverted. “Perverted” is defined as “the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.” The women characters are perverted in that sense, because they cannot see that their need for control and power is distorted and corrupted from what has never been intended. I guess you can call this an “ego perversion.” It simply boils down to this: “The Marquise is myself!” It’s the “mirror thing.” “You spot it, you got it!” When these women are so quick to judge the Marquise de Sade for his sexual perversion, they are not so quick to see their own perversion of unnatural instincts for power and defined class status and control. They are the Bible’s Pharisees! And we, as viewers, take great note of this dynamic being worked out in this play. If dialogue is what you want, and MADAME DE SADE is mostly dialogue, the “mirror thing” goes like this:
WE: “What’s wrong with him or her?”
WE: “What’s wrong with me?”
“The Marquise is myself!” The wife says it first, I believe, and the rest of the women join in (mostly against their will) for this dreaded merriment. And even if they don’t necessarily join in, it’s right there, staring them right in the face, and they will have to join in eventually. We as viewers join in, too, because life is filled with this “speck in your eye while I have a plank in mine” (Matthew 7:3). “I’m not like him or her!” Oh, yeah, you are! And you better believe you are or else everyone you meet will shine light on what you try to shadow.
And I’d be certainly remiss if I didn’t comment on the direction of Ingmar Bergman in MADAME DE SADE. And let me just say it is often quite difficult to comment on the genius of director Ingmar Bergman, because I honestly (there’s that key word again!) don’t know how he is able to direct as effectively as he does. I can only hopefully emulate Bergman’s style in my own direction (onstage and offstage), which is about a character facing the audience while the other characters face away from the audience, as well as the character. I think for Bergman, this is about directing “shame.” When Bergman meticulously arranges actors onstage in this way, he is conveying “shame.” For dialogue not uttered in this play, the character facing the audience is saying, “I have shame. Please look at me,” while the other characters looking away are saying, “I have shame. Please DON’T look at me.” But when all the characters are on the same “playing field,” no pun intended, either all looking out at the audience or looking at one another, they are connecting, they are sharing their hurts and pains, and they are ripe to heal one another in a sacred bond of the shared frailty of the human condition. Bergman is famous for his film’s closeups and in MADAME DE SADE, which was actually filmed for Swedish television, Bergman did get a chance to use his closeups that he loves so much, but he also had a large stage to do his trickery of distances, spatially and internally, present between these female characters.
Often while watching MADAME DE SADE, I had cardiac arrests, much as I did while watching THE GHOST SONATA. I held my breath, my heart was beating very, very fast, and, once again, I was utterly speechless. This is a testament not only to Bergman’s sublime direction but also because Bergman chooses plays like these to silence us as viewers so he can get us to the heart of the matter. Bergman doesn’t want to direct “fluffy” and “silly” plays that are about buffoonery and slapstick (not that there is anything wrong with that). Bergman is a “heart” director. He is way more interested in words, feelings, dilemmas, and conflicts of characters played out through the heart of the human condition. And for this reviewer, that is of great (and often grave) interest to me. Bergman is a deep thinker, obviously, and he “gets me” this way. “Deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42.7), and no one “gets me” this way quite like Ingmar Bergman or anyone willing to be “got” quite that deep to the heart of the human condition. If you’re willing to be “got” quite that deep, Ingmar Bergman’s MADAME DE SADE is a must-see for you!