7.8/10
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Barbra Streisand and Other Musical Instruments (1973)

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Won 5 Primetime Emmys. Another 2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Barbra Streisand... and Other Musical Instruments  »

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Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma
Written by Melanie
Performed by Ray Charles and Barbra Streisand
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the world is a concerto
31 January 2003 | by (Sydney, Australia) – See all my reviews

Barbra Streisand's 5th special for television presents her voice as another musical instrument, in tandem with an orchestra, international music, and appliances; and shows her range in singing standards, gospel, faux-classical, and songs associated with her movies.

Streisand here has the tanned look and long grey-blonde hair she adopted in her 1972 feature What's Up Doc?, where her smooth skin is exposed, notably as she sensually undulates hanging from a rope during One Note Samba. A pink outfit she wears for Glad to be Unhappy pre-empts the dress Rose Morgan would wear at the wedding of her sister in her 1996 film The Mirror Has Two Faces, and Streisand's expressive face as she sings is juxtaposed with the Kabuki make-up of the Japanese player. I Got Rhythm is used the way I'm Late was used in her 1965 My Name is Barbra special, as a frame for other songs, and as in that show's sequence at Sak's Fifth Avenue, Streisand again shows what a clothes horse she is. This time she is seen as an Arabian belly dancer for People, Spanish flamenco for Second Hand Rose, in a sheer slip as a Indian American dinner in a pot for Don't Rain on My Parade, and as an African tribeswoman. (The sight of the Jewish shiksa pretending to be an Arab would have enraged zionists). These sequences, as well as her Sweet Inspiration/Where You Lead where she leads a chorus of African American's pre-empting the Great Day number in the 1975 feature Funny Lady, also display Streisand's underrated ability to dance.

Although the pre-recorded track Streisand mimes too is acceptable in I Got Rhythm because she is moving in a way that would stop her from singing live (though it dates detract from her long-held note of ‘more' at the end), it does upstage her Come Back to Me number and lessens the comic element of her fluster over the echo-chamber machines. She also fights to be heard against the orchestra in I Never Has Seen Snow and The World is a Concerto. The attention to the way she is lit in the Glad to be Unhappy number and The Sweetest Sound where she is back-lit with white gossamer, is in opposition to the fact that Streisand is seen in few close-ups.

The inclusion of Ray Charles as a guest star is a more conventional decision. From My Name is Barbra, Streisand had deliberately altered the norm of variety specials, by refusing to have guest stars. I966's Color Me Barbra got her out of the studio and into an art museum for the use of its paintings, and 1967's The Belle of 14th Street presented a vaudeville show, where Jason Robards and Lee Allen were co-stars, and as a filmed stage show conceit, we also had a cast audience. In this special, Charles is primarily used as an intro to her gospel singing, where she duets with him on Cryin' Time, after his remarkably long solo of Look What They've Done. This represents her shift in prefered music, in an attempt to give her a more youthful appeal. However perhaps the Charles factor also represents Streisand's realisation of the exhaustion factor inherent in the audience only having her, as well as her awareness that because of her success in film by this time, she no longer needed television as much as she did before.


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