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We’ve mentioned Barbra Streisand before during Snark Week, and the costumes from her frock flick forays show up in our memes. And while I do enjoy some of her historical musicals, I fully admit they don’t hold up to a lot of scrutiny. Such is the case with On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), which is actually a contemporary movie with historical flashbacks. But those flashbacks are key to the story and yield plenty of material to snark…
Not that the rest of the movie holds together all that well. It’s a silly plot about a mousey New York gal, played by Babs, who seeks out a doctor to hypnotize her so she stops smoking. Under hypnosis, she starts recounting tales of her past life during the English Regency. I wanted more of these flashbacks because that part was faintly more interesting than the limp love story and mild ending of self-empowerment set in modern times. The songs weren’t memorable, and either Barbra hadn’t learned how to lip-sync well at the time or it’s just that these are very torch-song-y style songs that don’t fit into the narrative style here. Plus, since there’s no choreography, the singing is literally people just standing there and singing, which is even more awkward than musicals usually are.
The costume design job was split up and the modern stuff was done by fashion designer Arnold Scaasi, while Cecil Beaton did the period costumes. As I said in my write-up of his overall work, Cecil Beaton’s historical designs are often the Bridgerton costumes of their day. He takes period shapes and stylizes the hell out of them, using his own visual language to create a world that makes sense within itself. Sometimes this works well, as in My Fair Lady, where the costumes aren’t historically accurate but they work to create the story. But in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever‘s 1810s scenes, there’s a lot less of that internal consistency, and the result just looks like 1960s does 1810s. The colors make it a bit acid-trippy and the hair is all bouffant, all the time.
Streisand’s past-life incarnation, Lady Melinda Winifred Waine Tentrees, is first introduced at the trial where she’s convicted for treason and will be executed. You know she’s guilty because she’s wearing whore red!
Put it in a color found in nature, don’t be so matchy-matchy, and of course, fill in the cleavage:
Also, for some reason, a screamingly bright yellow version was made that doesn’t appear in the film.
The one good thing, IMO, about the Regency scenes is that they were filmed at the actual Brighton Pavilion, starting with the lawn outside, which was spiffed up for the occasion. Having recently visited myself, I’d love to see it with a historical party! But a better one, hah.
Here’s Lady Melinda’s version of a little white Regency dress (even though she’s a bad girl). So much cleavage, so much bouffant!
That outfit should look more like this:
The crowd is a mix of not-too-bad costumes and WTFrock … click the pix for the large view so you can see ’em all!
The party moves inside the Royal Pavillion, which again, is pretty damn cool because those rooms are fabulously over the top. Bummer that the costumes don’t match. Because this is where Streisand wears the sparkly white dress with the giant egg headdress.
According to Cecil Beaton:
“It was inspired — and both our ideas, really — to wrap the Streisand features in a glorious white turban to further accent her strong features. At the same time, she was totally feminine, beguiling, shamelessly sexual. In my designs, her look was soft, almost maternal, but very beautiful, as in a Raphael painting. I tried to stress the lushness of the fabrics, the intricate designs and motifs, in short, the physical if not spiritual splendor of the period we were dealing with.”
Was he high? Did people really find this “feminine” and “sexual”? She looks like an alien queen about to spawn.
Yes, turbans were popular during the English Regency, but they were not that massive! There are tons of fashion plates showing evening dresses with lovely turbans that hug the head, and if anything rises high above, that’d be a feather spray or flowers.
Even weirder, during this whole dinner, she’s mentally singing at her would-be lover while finger-fucking this wine glass. Her long nails are prominently displayed and so distractingly modern.
Lady Melinda isn’t the only one with wacky headgear …
Prinny! He’s hosting this dinner although he doesn’t really get any lines. His costume is fine, though that medal thing on his coat is ridiculously oversized. Do take a look at Mrs. Fitzherbert, on the left, wearing a ghastly shiny green dress of no discernible historical era and a hairstyle that’s more 1780s than 1810s.
While most of the egregious costumes are on the women, I noticed that Melinda’s love interest, Robert, has a feather collar on his coat.
Totally reminds me of these things you find on Amazon:
But hey, he does have that swept-forward hairstyle that fashionable Regency men wore, so proof that someone in this movie could do historical accuracy. They just chose not to most of the time. See?
Since Melinda meets her great love Robert while she’s already married to an old fogey, she has to get divorced. She wears this black and white outfit to court.
Not sure about the hanging feathers, but this is one case where the scale is accurate.
The ruffles at the neck and the sleeve cutouts are vaguely reminiscent of Regency styles, so I’ll give them this one. Minus the hair, of course.
Then Melinda realizes that Robert is a cheater and a spendthrift, and she confronts him in this scene at a casino. Her hair is particularly epic here, and like all her movie hairstyles, it was created by Frederick Glaser. No idea what he was thinking!
There’s slightly big hair in the Regency, but it’s not that big. Compare with these curls styled up in ribbons:
Or this braid wound on top of the head:
Of course, the whole casino is filed with whack-a-doodle looks:
Then there’s the final flashback where Streisand tries to channel the famous portrait of Madame Récamier…
You know what’s wrong here — it’s the hair. That’s the main thing, though the cut of the bodice is too modern as well.
Much like in My Fair Lady, Cecil Beaton designed a shitton of extra costumes that didn’t make the final cut. Beaton had some OPINIONS about this, as he wrote in his diaries:
“Now I see the film and see the appalling waste due to the fact that no one had prepared a proper script. One whole ballroom sequence with B.S. in dark red satin, and all the others in the specious stoned velvets, has been cut. B.S.’s best dress cut, many scenes cut, and the laying down of cobbles in Lansdowne Crescent (Brighton) and the hedges specially built, all unnecessary, all cut. If Alan Lerner had delivered a carefully considered script, many hundreds of thousands of dollars would have been saved. It may be said that I was paid well for the job and that is all I should worry about. But that isn’t the whole story. I really sweated to see that things were perfect, and that is the only way I can work.”
At least, like the earlier movie, there’s a few promo pix of Barbra Streisand wearing these things. Like this swingin’ ’60s purple outfit from a flashback where Melinda arrived at a building in a horse-drawn carriage.
That’s just a slinky 1960s caftan and a super-weird hat!
It’s a literal lampshade hat. But could it have historical precedent? Yeah, just horribly misconstrued!
Another scene on the cutting room floor was a whole bit inside the Royal Pavilion where Robert and Melinda are first introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tentrees. She wears this deep red velvet dress, and more details about it can be found on a listing at Antique Dress. I agree with Cecil Beaton it’s one of the better gowns in the film, being both flattering and a touch leaning towards Regency style.
But the hair kills it.
Have you braved any of Barbra Streisand’s frock flicks?