Yentl [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (10th August 2020).
The Film

"Yentl" (1983)

Yentl (played by Barbra Streisand) lives in a small Polish village at the turn of the twentieth century. 28 years old and unmarried, she takes care of her scholarly father (played by Nehemiah Persoff) who teaches the holy text of the Talmud to the youth. Though reading and studying the Talmud is forbidden for women, Yentl was taught by her father over the years in secret, and therefore her knowledge and actions are more independent than other Jewish women of her village. But after her father's death, she makes the bold decision to leave town for good, and to make way to enter a Yeshiva to further her studies. As women cannot be accepted, she cuts her hair, dresses as a man, and chooses the name "Anshel" to disguise herself. Along the way, she meets Avigdor (played by Mandy Patinkin), a fellow student that has the same drive of learning the holy text as she does. He is the first male that Yentl has encountered that made her have strong feelings of love, but there is no way that she can reveal her secret to him...

Barbra Streisand looked into adapting the short story "Yentl, the Yashiva Boy" by Isaac Bashevis Singer after her Oscar winning turn in 1968's "Funny Girl", but the transition to the screen would take much longer than expected. Although the screen rights were gained in 1969, there were many issues getting the film made. From Streisand being much older than the teenage year old main character, reluctance of studios financing a crossdressing period film, and clashing opinions with prospective directors. It took more than a decade for Orion Pictures/United Artists to give a greenlight to the project, and it took a gamble with having Streisand not only star as the main character, but also direct herself behind the camera. Though it was scheduled for production in 1980, United Artists' massive box office bomb of the overbudget "Heaven's Gate" put a kibosh on all expensive future projects including "Yentl".

After more rewrites including a decision to make the film into a musical with Streisand singing the newly written lyrics of Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, the film was to be produced by the newly formed Polygram Pictures with a start date of April 1982 in Czechoslovakia and England. Though Streisand would have a challenge in directing for the first time while also performing at the same time, she was surrounded by incredibly talented staff, including David Watkin as the cinematographer, production design by Roy Walker, and a score composed by Michel Legrand to name a few.

"Yentl" takes a look at what some might consider absurd about religion - the treatment of females, and turns it into an objective learning tool about past conceptions, gender roles, and the issues of reeducating the conservative moment. It might seem crazy to think there were rules of not letting women read religious Jewish text a little over one hundred years ago, but there are still some orthodox groups that hold the tradition of men only even in 2020, and this tradition does not stop at Judaism. There was the 2018 Indian Supreme Court ruling that women of all ages may enter the Lord Ayyappa temple, which had been forbidden for most women. In June of 2019, women were allowed to drive in the Muslim country of Saudi Arabia. Many leadership roles in major religions are relegated to men only. Women are considered lower than men in almost every aspect in many religious texts including the Talmud, so what makes the character of Yentl want to continue studying it? With many religious text studies, they are not to just read and learn verbatim what is on the page, but seeing what the text can offer. From learning about history, gaining moral judgment, there are a lot of positive elements to be gained and it is a way for comments, arguments, and in-depth discussion can take place. This is what Yentl yearns for - to have the opportunity to read, think for herself, and engage in intelligent conversation with others, and the only way that could be done in her time was to disguise herself as a boy. Religious text is made to inevitably control people, and there have been many in history to use the text for personal gain and even for evil purposes by controlling the weak and uneducated. Yentl's strive is an example of a positive attitude in immersion. She knows what the text and society says about women being secondary and basically being baby-makers and servants for husbands, but that is something she defies and is smart enough to disregard it as absurd. But even if one person sees it that way, it will take much more for society to reach the same level of maturity.

It's hard to see "Yentl" without seeing the controlling Streisand taking it on as a deeply personal project. Not only that but it can be seen as a huge vanity project. It is a musical film, but in an unusual twist, only one person performs every single song in the entire piece. Every performance is by Streisand. There are no background dancers or background vocalists. Every song takes place within the character of Yentl's mind, but in essence it is hard not to think they are just thoughts in Streisand's mind herself expressing the character. There has never been a written rule stating a musical must be performed by multiple people, but for audiences expecting a large scale musical, it might seem slightly egotistical for the star who is also the director to take the microphone spotlight entirely. While she may take the spotlight by playing two roles of Yentl as a woman and Yentl pretending to be a man, the supporting cast also give strong performances. Mandy Patinkin as Avigdor is excellent, as a very likable soul who has his weaknesses and even shows towards the end a very forceful aspect as well in the powerful confrontation scene. The character of Hadass (played by Amy Irving) must also be mentioned. The fiancee of Avigdor who starts as a pure Jewish beauty and later becomes interested in reading the Talmud and critically thinking for herself is an interesting role, showing that Yentl the former student can become a teacher herself. Not only does Hadass have a spiritual awakening, but a sexual awakening as well, which causes quite a few issues when she starts falling for Yentl and away from Avigdor. Feminism and religious awakening are key points in "Yentl", and from the various confrontations the truths eventually unfold.

The storytelling itself falls towards the conventional side, and visually it may seem to be the same. But what seems easy was apparently quite difficult to accomplish. Long takes were frequently made with multiple cameras crisscrossing. Crane shots were used frequently and an incredible helicopter shot that closes the film is a wonder considering it was done before the days that CGI. (Yes, that was a real ocean liner with her singing on it and literally a boatload of extras in period costume on the decks and shot exactly at the twilight hour.) Since lighting of interiors had to be faithful to the time period, candles and lamps had to be used, breakaway walls were utilized to accommodate camera movement, and many other techniques to look incredibly smooth. The score by Michel Legrand is a glorious one, accentuating the mood and the period with beauty, and it is hard to think of anyone else that could have matched it better. The production may have been Streisand's directorial debut, but with the help from talented craftsworkers and an excellent cast was able to make quite an epic around herself. It might seem vain for her at the center, but there were many surrounding elements to create the bold work.

"Yentl" opened in the United States on November 16th, 1983 and became one of the highest grossing films of the year, with over $40 million in the theatrical gross. The soundtrack album produced two hits with "The Way He Makes Me Feel" and "Papa, Can You Hear Me?", selling over 1 million copies in two months. Critics were slightly mixed, with some highly praising the auteur quality of the film. Others saw it as a pretentious piece only highlighting Streisand herself. The original short story's writer Isaac Bashevis Singer criticized the film as well. Even though there were detractors, the film did quite well with awards. Streisand and Patinkin won Golden Globes for their performances. It also picked up the Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) Golden Globe, and Streisand became the first (and so far only) female to win the Best Director Golden Globe. The music was also nominated but did not win. Ironically at the Oscars, it won Best Music as the only win. Streiand was completely shut out, not even being nominated. In addition, Irving was nominate for Best Supporting Actress, and it also scored a nomination for Best Art Direction. On the opposing side, The Razzie Awards gave nominations for Worst Actress for Streisand, Worst Supporting Actress for Irving, and surprisingly Worst Musical Score for Legrand and the Bergmans.

For the film's 25th anniversary, Streisand created a new "Director's Extended Edition", restoring about three minutes of deleted scenes and releasing the new cut alongside the theatrical cut on DVD released in 2009. A Blu-ray followed in the United States in 2014 by Twilight Time, and five years later, the BFI released the Blu-ray in the UK for the first time.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray

Video

The BFI presents both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The HD transfer has a vibrant golden hue, bringing out the browns and yellows all throughout. Daylight scenes are bright and beautiful while darker scenes indoors or at night still look wonderful using natural lighting, not crushing black and darker notes. Damage has been removed while still retaining a healthy amount of film grain, keeping a filmlike quality in this digital transfer. As for the additional scenes reinserted in the director's cut, they are noticeably weaker, coming from unrestored cutting room elements. During these brief scenes there are scratch marks, cuts, dust, color bleeding, and other sorts of damage. While color correction has been applied to make for a smoother transition, they are nowhere near the quality of the rest of the film. Between the time of 88 minute mark to the 99 minute mark are about three minutes of added scenes intercut with the theatrical scenes. This is done with seamless branching and there is no hiccup during the transition.

The theatrical cut has a runtime of 133:20 and the extended cut has a runtime of 136:41.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English LPCM 2.0 stereo

The original stereo soundtrack and a remixed 5.1 track are both included for both cuts of the film. The original stereo track sounds excellent having separation in the left and right channels especially during the musical sequences and for various effects and background noises. The 5.1 remix sounds excellent as well, having the dialogue centered and the surrounds to accentuate the music. Though when it gets to the added scenes in the extended cut, the dialogue goes from being centered to being spread across all the front speakers due to the source material not being mixed for 5.1. But then when the film returns to the theatrical cut scenes, the audio stays this way, spreading the dialogue all front channels. This happens between the 88 minute mark all the way to the 99 minute mark during the time in which there are a few deleted scenes reinstated as explained above. Choosing the theatrical cut will have well balanced and correct 5.1 audio during these sequences. So for the theatrical cut, the 5.1 track and 2.0 tracks both sound excellent. On the extended cut, it is better to avoid the 5.1 and stick to the 2.0 track. On other better notes, there are no issues of hisses, pops, or other trouble with the audio, though in the extended cut the sound is a bit weaker in the added scenes.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the film in a white font for both cuts.

Extras

This is a Blu-ray+DVD set with both cuts of the film and some extras on the Blu-ray and the rest of the extras on a region 2 NTSC DVD.


DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

Audio commentary with Barbra Streisand and Rusty Lemorande

Recorded for the 25th anniversary DVD from MGM/Fox, Streisand dominates this track with some occasional questions and comments coming from Lemonrande. Discussed are recreating 1904 Poland in Czechoslovakia and England, the changes made from the original source material, the subtle and effective special effects used, the lighting and shooting, the hardships of getting the project off the ground and the directorial process, and much more. A lot of great information is given throughout especially from Streisand. Note that clicking on the commentary from the extras will play the theatrical version, but the commentary is also available on the extended cut as well, if you press the audio key to the third track during playback. But note that during the added sequences there is no commentary available and comments are missing entirely between the 88 and 99 minute marks, as mentioned in the audio section above.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Special Features (with Play All) (28:47)
The rest of the extras on the Blu-ray can be viewed individually or through a "Play All" option.

Deleted Scenes (16:46)
Barbra Streisand gives an introduction to the first deleted scene discussing about using long takes, while the rest of the deleted scenes have title cards with some having notes by Streisand. Included are sequences showcasing Yentl avoiding matchmaking, scenes with Avidgor, and more. Some of the scenes included here have been reinstated in the extended director’s cut. The scenes were transferred from the original film so they do look sharp and detailed, though they have damage marks throughout with cuts, scratches, and some fading of colors as these scenes have not been remastered.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Theatrical Trailer (3:17)
The original theatrical trailer showcasing the musical moments and a deep voiced narrator to guide the viewer along.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Gallery (8:44)
A silent slideshow gallery with behind the scenes photos, posters, and pamphlets.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4


DISC TWO (DVD)

Special Features (with Play All) (65:33)

The DVD also has a "Play All" function for all the extras. Though note that in this option, the "8mm Concept Film" will only play with the commentary track. Note that it can be changed with the audio key during playback in the Play All option.

Introduction (Part One) (1:50)
Introduction (Part Two) (3:03)

These two introductions were made for the special edition DVD release for the 25th anniversary, with Streisand giving some quick insights into the production and how happy she is the film can finally be seen on the glorious DVD format. The shorter introduction was made to be an introduction to the film itself and on the MGM/Fox DVDs and Twilight Time Blu-ray, this was presented to play optionally before the film starts. The second introduction was one made to introduce the special features. It's a little odd that these are on the second disc on the BFI release rather than on the first.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"The Director's Reel" featurette (6:53)
Streisand gives a short introduction to these outtakes of Streisand directing while performing at the same time. Some have flubs, laughs, and others have Streisand giving direct comments when necessary. Some F-bombs are dropped by Patinkin in the final section which were obviously not in the final film.
in anamorphic 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"The Rehearsal Process" (with Play All) (28:52)
-- Introduction (1:39)
-- "Where Is It Written?"
--- Original Rehearsal Concept (5:36)
--- Rehearsal/Feature Compared (5:07)
-- "No Wonder" (Reprise)
--- Pre-rehearsal/Feature Compared (3:24)
-- "Tomorrow Night"
--- "Pre-rehearsal Concept (5:00)
--- "Pre-rehearsal/Feature Compared (5:33)
-- "Will Someone Ever Look at Me That Way?"
--- Rehearsal/Feature Compared (2:28)

Rehearsals of the sequences shot on videotape are followed by crossfading comparisons of the finished versions seen in the film. Streisand performs in all the rehearsal scenes herself though others in the scenes are stand-ins rather than the film’s final cast. This is preceded by an introduction by Streisand giving a short explanation of the rehearsals.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Deleted Songs - Storyboard Sequences (with Play All) (7:31)
-- "The Moon and I" Storyboard Montage (3:48)
-- "Several Sins a Day" Original VHS Storyboard Montage (3:42)

Two songs that were cut before the filming are presented here with storyboards.
in anamorphic 1.78:1/1.33:1 (windowboxed), in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Barbra's 8mm Concept Film"
-- Play with Narration (8:35)
-- Play without Narration (8:35)

Streisand and Rusty Lemorande shot a reel of locations in Eastern Europe for a proof of concept, with Streisand dressed in appropriate clothing. This can be seen with narrated commentary by Streisand or with the musical score only.
in non-anamorphic 1.33:1/1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Teaser Trailer (1:26)
A cut down version of the final trailer.
in anamorphic 1.66:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"My Wonderful Cast and Crew" featurette (7:19)
A reel of outtakes and behind the scenes footage of the film with credits for the cast and crew.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


Booklet
The release includes a booklet in the first pressing, containing essays by So Mayer, the BFI’s Heather Osborn, and Dr Nicholas Pillai, notes on the extras, cast and credits.


The film was first released on DVD by MGM in the early 2000s with a subpar non-anamorphic transfer without extras. It was finally released in America in 2009 on DVD as a 2-disc "25th Anniversary Director's Extended Edition" (released on the 26th anniversary), which had both the original theatrical cut and the newly created extended cut, and newly curated extras. Both cuts and all of these extras were ported over to the film's Blu-ray debut from Twilight Time released in 2014 on a single disc. This BFI release has all of the same content, except with the extras split across two discs rather than all on a single disc. It's very unusual for the BFI to release a film without some exclusive content. Vintage documentaries on Jewish life, a vintage interview with Streisand, scholarly interviews about religion or feminism, etc. Most likely this is due to Streisand herself having some sort of control over her content, as also seen with the Criterion release of "Prince of Tides" on Laserdisc having issues after release from Streisand herself. It makes one wonder why she hasn't produced any extras or an updated release of her third film as director, "The Mirror Has Two Faces". Some interesting clips have surfaced over the years, including this lengthy interview with Streisand by Brian Linehan for the Canadian show "City Lights", discussing about "Yentl".

Overall

"Yentl" is a marvelously entertaining and educational piece of work about feminism and the negatives of gender roles, while also being a critical piece on some of the absurdities of religion and tradition. It is also a huge vanity project for Streisand at her peak, but there is quite a lot of high value to be seen. The BFI release has great technical merits, though there is the issue with the 5.1 sound on the added scenes. It still comes as recommended.

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A- Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


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