She has one of the most famous noses in the world: a honker, a schnoz, an unmistakeable profile that provokes love/hate reactions from her fans and detractors. But Barbra Streisand was surely in on the big nasal joke when she took on the role of Hillary Kramer in the 1979 comedy romance film ‘The Main Event’.
The story of a ‘nose’, director of her own successful perfume house, the film begins with Kramer ecstatically inhaling a new team-effort formula created by her in-house perfumers, a revolutionary unisex number that she is convinced will be a super-hit, the camera honing in woozily on that proud Cleopatran nez as she swoons heartily with approval:
” Smooth…….high quality….
There is an orgy going on right here in my nose!!”
Soon though, despite my delight that here at last there was a movie about a perfumer (I had had no idea that the film was going to touch on this theme : this was just a DVD I picked up for next to nothing knowing zilch about it in advance: I had never even heard of it, just fancied some easeful trash for a Saturday night at home), although the groaning pun of the tagline ” ….a glove story” should have nevertheless told me what the film is actually about : boxing. Yes, to her great chagrin, and ours, very soon the perfumer is unfortunately forced to abandon the beloved fragrance house she has spent so many years building up due to the fact that her rascal accountant has gone off and absconded with all of her money. Facing financial ruin she is forced to resort to……umm, training up a boxer (????!!!); get him off his lazy ass, and turn him into a champion in order to make them both some dough and save the day. Which, Barbra being Barbra with her barking, Nu Yoik chutzpah, she obviously manages to do, while just happening simultaneously to fall in love with her handsome scoundrel boxing protegé to boot.
It is a pretty awful film, to be honest – nigh unwatchable ( I got through it, eventually, in two or three sittings – Duncan refusing to join me), full of zany, unfunny clunkers and entirely unconvincing dialogue; zero chemistry between her and the hunky Ryan O Neal (maybe that’s what made me buy it come to think of it, the thought of our Ryan in his boxing shorts……) Nevertheless, I must admit that it did provide some amusement: the woman is an icon, and I suppose I have always had a bit of a soft spot for her.
Yes, Barbra Streisand is an icon of the highest order for deviants of the western hemisphere: we all had mothers who blasted out The Way We Were, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, and Evergreen in the 70’s and 80’s, felt the dark surging drama of A Woman In Love as it stormed to the top of the charts at the start of the decade…………. Duncan, in fact, along with his brother and dad, was compelled by his mother to listen to the Guilty album so many times, hundreds – even thousands he swears – several times on practically a daily basis, that he now has a strange Pavlovian response whenever he happens to hear a song from that Barry Gibb-produced opus; you can see something happening internally; his features twitching in traumatized recognition, the eyes going a bit distant, rich and strange, for he knows every single bit of instrumentation on that record, every last strum of wah wah and drum, every last curlicue of backing vocal; all details in such painstaking intensity, the album having permeated the walls of his parents’ home for so many years, that it practically constituted a form of head-mangling, pop-record brainwashing.
Duncan can’t stand Barbra Streisand, actually, and I can understand why after having undergone such auditory torture (although I must say that I did do exactly the same thing to my own family with Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ single, which I bought at the age of 9, and which I twirled and gyrated endlessly to upstairs in my room, all day, every day, on full blast until the point when my parents could tolerate no more and literally confiscated the single). But in our household too, Streisand, that warbling, high-pitched songstress was beloved by my mother too, though to a lesser degree; she wasn’t liked by my father, and, unsurprisingly was hated by Duncan’s dad as well (” ……that bloody, beaky woman…”), but in any case, she formed such a towering and undeniable diva-drenched presence though our childhoods, that just seeing that face, that nose (especially when it is inhaling perfume!) gives me a certain, calming, nostalgic pleasure.
Watching her also recently in 1975’s Funny Lady, which I also picked up at a Tokyo secondhand DVD shop for a dime (perhaps I am drawn to her more than I am letting on? I do find her beautiful)I realize that as an actress, Streisand’s comic timing is spot on; she has the saucy, finger-snapping repartee of Mae West; the full, screen-eating presence that only stars of the highest calibre can muster. In essence, as much as you may want to, you can’t take your eyes off her.
I must say that the singer/actress is a quite believable perfumer in The Main Event. Just look at the way she inhales; the concentration; the exaggerated, eye-rolling, facial expressions of indulgent olfactory orgasm we are all prone to. Seeing that same expression on screen, in a film, I must say was a pleasing, and amusing, parody of we crazed perfumistas. You know you have also made that same face in the presence of olfactory greatness, gone a touch doolally, on more than one occasion.
In The Main Event, the character that Barbra Streisand plays really knows her stuff; oh she sure does love the excitement of a good perfume. But the woman, now semi-retired, in real life, also clearly has good scent taste. Barbra Streisand’s signature scent is said to be Guerlain’s profound and quizzical masterpiece Vol De Nuit, a green, narcissus, spiced oriental perfume I also adore; a scent that hovers about you like deep, soft intrigue, that keeps you at civilized distance while simultaneously drawing you in like a moth to the flame. The woman’s nose (oh, that nose!) is obviously as good off-screen as it is on, because, you know, perfume, in my opinion, really doesn’t get much better than that.