The Jurassic Streisand Effect

Nowadays, the term “The Streisand Effect” is a popular Internet meme to describe the blowback that occurs when a person with an enormous – and often self-destructive – ego uses his or her power vindictively. (You can read about in Wikipedia, and then read how they’ve suffered from their own Streisand Effect.) In a 1976 New Yorker article, Academy Award Winning writer/director Frank Pierson described the nightmare of working with Streisand and her boyfriend Jon Peters, whose improbable career arc took him from being Streisand’s hairdresser to producing the original Michael Keaton Batman movie for Warner Brothers, to running Columbia Pictures:


“What about the cameraman? Who is he? What has he done?” [Streisand] asks.

“Bob Surtees? He won three Oscars, thirteen nominations.” I say.

“He’s old. We should have someone young on this picture. What does he know about backlight? Did he sign his contract’?” asks Barbra. Yes, I say. She lets it go.

* * * * * * * *

A movie set, as Orson Welles was the first to say, is the most wonderful electric train a boy was ever given to play with. What he failed to add was that most of the time it doesn’t work. You tinker, wheedle, stick in bent pins, tape it up with Band-Aids and spit, and it runs in fits and starts when it damn well pleases. Actors can’t, won’t, never will be able to say crucial lines; lights fail, time runs out, cameras break, tempers flare. I approach it with detachment, watching carefully the direction in which the flow of errors and accidents, improvisations and corrections is taking us. Barbra resents it terribly: It is a limitation of power, beyond the reach of her desperate need for control.

There is a moment for writers when their characters seem to assume a life of their own, beyond the will of the writer: we have reached the equivalent moment for a director, when the actors become one with their roles. It is a moment, in Bertolucci’s words, to “throw away the script and set sail on a sea of improvisation.” I would not go so far, being a writer myself, and because this script is unusually carefully crafted. And because Barbra in many ways is more loyal to the script and the words than I. She feels I am too permissive, “too nice” to actors. “You have to be hard on them,” she says. “They’ll walk all over you!”

* * * * * * * *

In dailies, Barbra’s mood swoops and plunges with every nuance of light on her cheekbone or unexpected camera move. “There! My God, look at her she’s beautiful!” we shout. Or a bit of staging she doesn’t like plunges her into a despair and rage that is vomited back in a savage attack: “This is shit! God what are we going to do! I told you not to do that, why did you do it? It’s wrong!” Everything is seen in terms of right or wrong: there is no personal preference, nuance or shading. The crew and staff drop out of screenings as the critical battles escalate, and even Surtees no longer comes.

* * * * * * *

Kris, uptight about press, worried over his music, is tense, angry over her interference. His new record has just come out and been panned by Rolling Stone and most everyone else. He’s drinking tequila washed down with cold beer.

Barbra rehearses with the band on her numbers and uses up Kris’s time, so he has no rehearsal. Coldly furious, he refuses to come out of his trailer. “Goddamnit!” he says. “I’ve got to go out and play it in front of 60.000 people, but she doesn’t give a damn.”

Barbra and I are trying to explain a minor change; we agree for once, but Kris has had all he can handle. He doesn’t want to be told what to do with his music. He explodes. Barbra explodes. The mikes are open: they are screaming at each other over a sound system that draws complaints from five miles away. The press is delighted. This is what they came for. Sulks in trailers. Jon Peters threatening Kris. Kris talking tougher. The director knocking on trailer doors, playing Kissinger. Notable quotes. Quotable notables. You read about it in Time.


Read about it here, and read the whole schadenfreude-laced thing.



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