The Prince of Tides
For her acclaimed second feature as a director, Barbra Streisand crafted a sumptuous, emotionally wrenching adaptation of Pat Conroy’s best-selling novel—which she also produced and starred in. Summoned to New York after his sister attempts suicide, Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte) must serve as her memory, reckoning with the traumas of their southern childhood so that her psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein (Streisand), can help her recover. But Tom’s sessions with Lowenstein will plunge him into the depths of his own long-repressed pain—and reawaken the possibility of love within him. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best actor for Nolte’s soulful performance, The Prince of Tides is a life-affirming tale of healing and renewal from a triple-threat filmmaker with a keen and humane insight into her characters’ sorrows, joys, and yearnings.
Previously releasing the film on LaserDisc, The Criterion Collection gives Barbra Streisand’s The Prince of Tides a new Blu-ray edition, featuring the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The presentation has been encoded in 1080p/24hz high-definition and comes from a new 4K restoration conducted by Sony Pictures Entertainment. It was scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
The film isn’t that old, so in reality I shouldn’t be all that surprised with the end results, but this has still turned out far better than I would have ever expected! The opening shots and moments of the film are incredibly striking, thanks to the rich oranges of the sunsets, and despite a dreamlike haze that makes an appearance the image still manages to come off unbelievably crisp and clean. The rest of the film looks just as good, sharp and crisp, outside of a few shots where filters have been applied, and the image handles the finer details just fine, right down to sand on a beach or stray hairs on a head. Black levels are very deep and pure, but a handful of low lit shots closer to the end are weak in delivering shadow detail.
I was surprised by how grainy the picture is but the grain looks exceptional, rendered cleanly with no sign of noise or blocky patterns. And the restoration has cleaned up all damage, outside of footage that is supposed to represent home movies. It looks exceptional.
The film comes with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround presentation. James Newton Howard’s 90s score swells and rises appropriately and is mixed well enough to the other speakers, but outside of that it’s not a showy soundtrack. Most of the film’s audio is focused to the fronts, with only some background and ambient effects spreading out (like the scene in Grand Central). But range is pretty wide, dialogue is easy to hear (though I admit I had trouble with Nolte’s drawl on occasion), and the tack is clean and free of distortion.
I have never come across a copy of Criterion’s LaserDisc edition for the film (either one) but looking over the specifications for that disc it does appear they have carried over everything from that edition, though are presenting it all in a different fashion for this edition. The supplements all together are an examination of Streisand’s process in constructing a film, right from early screenplay stages to the final edit. This is all launched with her audio commentary, recorded for that 1994 LaserDisc release, with additional content she recorded in 2019 edited in. The tone and flow of this director track is very different from others, having more of a stream-of-conscience feel to it, with Streisand popping in and out over the film to talk about it, which has the unfortunate side effect of leading to a number of dead spots, but in an odd way that suits the vibe of the track and of the film. Throughout the track Streisand simply explains her reasoning behind just about every choice she made for the film, right from why she opened the film the way she did, why she chose certain colours, why she chose certain costumes and outfits, why she made an edit where she did, why she set a scene in a certain location, why she altered a detail from the book, so on and so forth. And it’s not at all in defensive way, I should stress, it’s just her explaining why she felt these chocides were the best way to tell the 500+ page book in a more visual manner (in an appropriate time limit) while retaining the novel’s impact. Streisand also likes to talk about the various versions of the film she would create at every step of the process, even during filming, which led to her having to do many takes for scenes so she would have more options to play with while editing. This was aided, in part, by a pre-Avid editing hack where she had a video recorder tapped into the film cameras so she could have instant “dailies” of sorts that she could look at immediately, even edit quickly and make decisions on the fly, eventually editing scenes on video and passing them on to the editor, who would then edit the negative directly.
Rumours are abound that the initial version of Criterion’s LaserDisc, set to be released in 1992, was pulled last minute because Streisand was disappointed with the commentary and some of the features and text notes. These issues were then addressed and the disc came out a couple of years later. I haven’t seen either LaserDisc edition, so can’t say what is different between the two, or how either compares to the commentary found here. But she has had Criterion alter the commentary for this release, Streisand recording some new inserts for the track. Since I never listened to the original commentary on the LaserDisc I can’t get into any real detail about differences, but it is actually easy to tell where Streisand has inserted new material because during these moments her voice has noticeably aged in comparison to her voice throughout the majority of the track. No comments really stick out, except for one where she mentions “devices,” referring to tablets and phones and using them to watch films.
It’s a good track, probably one of the better director tracks I’ve listened to (at least where a director is talking about their own film) and what’s great about it is that it nicely leads into the rest of the features on the disc, where you actually get to see what Streisand was talking about in her track when she talks about “version” and such. Unfortunately, since Criterion is obviously porting these features from their LaserDisc, which was developed with the structure of a LaserDisc’s chapter system in mind, getting through them on this edition is a bit hokey.
Again, I’ll stress that I have not seen Criterion’s LaserDisc edition, but I’ve been through enough LaserDisc feature set-ups to know how Criterion more than likely had everything set up on there. Since it’s labeled as an “interactive documentary” on the LaserDisc’s specifications, the features were probably presented in a section of the disc where you would have used your remote to navigate through a collection of text notes one page at a time (like a still gallery you would find on a Blu-ray or DVD), before you came across a photo or a short video example presenting what was just explained to you in those text notes, the videos usually only running a minute or two, rarely longer. Then, after the video stopped playing, you would then be taken to another text screen and you would continue navigating through until you came across another. Sometimes you might even get a screen showing you a chapter index for various videos, and you’d make a selection by hitting the appropriate number on your remote.
What Criterion has done here is they have tried to recreate a similar structure but it’s through the Blu-ray menus and for whatever reason I found this a little frustrating. Criterion has divided the menus into three primary sections after a text note about the film’s versions (explaining how Streisand likes to call herself “the version queen”): Preproduction, Production, and Postproduction, and I imagine the LaserDisc was probably structured similar. Each of these sections then have their own subsections featuring related material. What you end up doing is clicking on each feature and getting an extensive, in-menu text note about the material before playing said video (obviously from a video source since we’re talking LaserDisc). This wouldn’t be too bad (I mean, it is how features are laid out on Blu-ray anyways) except there is a lot of stuff and the videos, for the most part, run a minute or two. So, you navigate, click, read, click, watch short video, navigate again, and then keep repeating until you’ve made your way through everything. In all honesty I probably would have preferred a constructed video essay of some sort for each section rather than the constant going back-and-forth.
At any rate, I’ll quickly make my way through the material, and while it may look like a lot is here, I need to stress there really isn’t because most of the footage is so short. All of it, though, is usually related to comments Streisand made in her commentary. Under Preproduction you will find children’s casting (around 5-minutes), 4 sequences featuring rehearsal footage (one runs over 2-minutes, the others about a minute each), 24-seconds’ worth of costume and makeup tests for Streisand, and then 55-seconds of footage around tests for Kate Nelligan’s makeup. Since we’re talking kids the casting footage is cute, presenting footage around the casting of Nolte’s character’s three daughters, and then the flashback versions of his character’s siblings. The rehearsal footage also isn’t too bad, again it’s just short and you have to navigate through each one. The longest sequence shows Nolte and the young actresses playing his daughters working on getting the father/daughter relationships right (and the youngest one is pretty funny), and one of the shorter bits of footage revolves around the planning that went into making it look like Jeroen Krabbe is actually playing the violin (he tried to learn but couldn’t get the fingering right). Another looks at Nolte and Streisand rehearsing one sequence to get the blocking appropriate (which is also accompanied by a minute’s worth of archival interview footage featuring Streisand and Nolte separately complimenting the other), and the final one offers a split screen presentation of the “dog food” scene. On the left side is the rehearsal footage and on the right is the finished scene (you can also switch the audio between each), to show how the comic aspect of the scene was developed in terms of timing.
The other two short videos (Streisand’s make-up/costume tests, and Nelligan’s old-age make-up test) are fine but just really short. Over footage of Streisand’s tests, Streisand herself provides a commentary explaining how she wanted the character’s look to evolve, and during the footage of Nelligan having make-up applied (Streisand looking over), Streisand and Nelligan explain both of their concerns why this particular version of the make-up isn’t working. It’s obvious the make-up artist listened at least, since the make-up in the film is closer to what Streisand and Nelligan speak of in this video.
Production aims to show how Streisand uses her video dailies when planning her edits/versions, and also how she hid problems that arose. Siblings Underwater presents a 38-second video of Streisand setting up and shooting the opening moments that lead up to the underwater sequence at the beginning of the film, along with 49-seconds’ worth of the video tap footage recorded for the actual underwater sequence, which she then edited together. There’s also about 10-minutes’ worth of Alternate Scenes, showing the initial construction of a handful of sequences from the film. The most interesting portion, though, has to do around the ending, showing three different versions, each building on the previous before she got to the one in the finished film.
Also in the Production section is a section called Making Music, running about 3-minutes. The video footage here shows violinist Pinchas Zukerman playing for both Krabbe and her son, Jason Gould (playing her son in the film) off screen, with the bonus of some behind-the-scenes footage from the Grand Central Station scene. There is also footage of Zukerman recording in a studio, which is amusing since Streisand compliments him on making a small mistake while playing, figuring he was thinking about the character not being perfect, and it turns out it actually wasn’t intentional on his part (he chuckles a bit at it). Criterion also includes a photo gallery in this section, presenting roughly 60 photos covering the production and designs for the film.
Postproduction starts things off with 7-minutes’ worth of deleted scenes, the most interesting being a scene showing Tom and Savannah talking earlier than they do in the finished film, and another where Tom tells his father off (there’s also a cut “love montage”). Criterion also includes the alternate end credits, running about 4-minutes, presenting the end credits (from the new restoration) with Streisand’s “Places That Belong to You” playing over them. She also provides an optional commentary explaining all of the reasons behind her decision to drop the song from the credits and place in a section of the film that is completely forgettable.
In a short 1-minute section featuring footage from a test screening (showcasing the “dog food” scene) Streisand explains a lesson she learned about comedy and timing, leading to a negative cut revision, which freaked some people out. Audiences were laughing so hard at the scene that they carried on through to the next scene and missed dialogue, so she realized she had to drag the scene out a bit longer. This is then followed by a 2-minute gag reel that was, much to my surprise, funny, showing a lighter side of Nolte I’m not used to (the best centers around the scene with Nolte holding Krabbe’s character’s priceless Stradivarius over the balcony, and I love that Krabbe actually plays along with it).
So the material, ultimately, is good, I was just annoyed by the presentation, as actively going through each feature drags it all out longer. Again, it’s a byproduct of Criterion’s original LaserDisc structure, but video essays of some sort probably would have been an improvement.
Thankfully the features don’t end there, and Criterion adds on some other material, primarily through interviews. In a section devoted to author Pat Conroy, Criterion first presents a 7-minute interview with the author from 1992, talking about working with Streisand and praising the film, despite the fact Streisand drastically changed his script (which she does cover to an extent in the commentary). There is also 54-seconds’ worth of video footage showing Conroy and Streisand together at her home (the two spent two weeks together hashing out ideas for the film), with this footage showing Conroy teaching her how to do a dance called the Shag, which she wanted to use for a flashback. Streisand provides a commentary over the footage talking about those two weeks and how she based her film version of Tom on Conroy.
Criterion also presents a gallery showcasing letters Conroy wrote to Streisand, explaining the impact the experience of working with her had on him, while also sharing with her a book of poems by one of his teachers (the book was James Dickey Poems, 1957 ~ 1967).
There are then two interviews with Streisand. The first is a 35-minute interview from 1992 for the British show Aspel and Company (with host Michael Aspel) and the other is an 11-minute 2018 interview with Robert Rodriguez from his The Director’s Chair for El Ray Network. The Aspel interview is a good overview of her music and film career, with most of the focus on the then-recent The Prince of Tides. In this interview, though, there is a hint of the sexism she had to face at the time around the film when the two start talking about how the media represented her around the time of the film’s production and release, with Streisand stating it wasn’t true and she believes she was targeted because then because she was a woman. In the 2018 interview, though, she expands on this, and explains in more detail the difficulties she experienced as a woman director on The Prince of Tides and how she was up against a “boy’s club” mentality with her crew, who would make things purposely difficult for her (Nolte, she says, fell into this mentality at first but realized his error and apologized during the production). She also explains why she felt she couldn’t fire her crew. Though I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise today, I guess I was still shocked that Streisand, who I just assumed would have all doors open to her, would have experienced such a thing. Both are great and I’m thrilled Criterion dug them up.
Criterion then includes a production featurette from the time, running 7-minutes, along with the film’s teaser trailer and theatrical trailer, which all appear to have been on the LaserDisc. Criterion also puts Bruce Eder’s essay from that edition into the included insert. His essay gets into more detail about the history of the project (which jumped around for years) and how Streisand saw a bigger, more impactful film in what the studios were dismissing as more of a smaller film.
And that covers it. Overall, the material is actually good, with the commentary being a pleasant surprise. Any fan of the film should be happy with what’s here. My one big annoyance, though, is just how Criterion ported over their LaserDisc structure to a Blu-ray menu system, which really didn’t work. Video essays of some sort probably would have been better.
The LaserDisc feel to the bulk of the features makes it a bit frustrating to navigate through, especially when you keep clicking through stuff just to get a video running less than a minute. But the material is at least good, and the new restoration looks sharp.