“Yentl” finally released on DVD in the U.S.

 
 

I’m not sure how to describe the feelings I had when I first saw Yentl.

For one thing, I completely related to the character. Although I didn’t have to pretend to be male to study theology, I would’ve been a lot more accepted if I had. I was one of three women in the theology program at the seminary I attended. The rest were either going to be youth directors (that’s Southern Baptist code for lesbian) or were looking for husbands. When Yentl was released, I had quit seminary in a fit of yet-to-be-realized feminism. Yentl’s struggle was my own.

In addition, something about Barbra Streisand playing a boy made me feel all funny inside. I wasn’t out, having tried to get rid of my attraction for women again and again, but I couldn’t deny the thrill I got when Yentl and Hadass (Amy Irving) courted and got married. The fact that Streisand didn’t look like a boy at all just made it all the more exciting.

Now, 25 years later, I’ll be able to experience those feelings over and over because, finally, Yentl has been released on DVD in the U.S. as a two-disc set that includes the director’s edition, commentary and rehearsal footage.

Yentl was important in the film world because when it was released in 1983, it was one of the very few movies directed by women. At the height of her popularity as a performer as well as actress, Streisand took a big career risk when she made Yentl. Studio heads simply did not believe that a woman could star, direct, write and produce the film. Yentl’s Golden Globe awards and Oscar nominations proved them wrong (although Streisand herself was not recognized with a nomination).

Streisand’s willingness to bring lesbian subtext to the story made the film even more remarkable to the Sapphic community. In a Pop Matters article in 2007, Marci Windsheimer wrote that Yentl went a long way toward making Streisand a true lesbian icon:

Streisand didn’t express discomfort with the role or play dumb about its lesbian undertones, like any number of starlets who immediately disclaim their on-screen dalliances with women. (Consider Terry Farrell, who — even though Star Trek fans are not exactly going to balk at “abnormal” characters — said of her on-screen kiss, "I didn’t find it easy.”) What’s more, as producer and director of Yentl, Streisand didn’t just play the part. She brought the subtext (and main text) into being, and didn’t sidestep the references to lesbianism or transgenderism. As usual, she had her vociferous critics, but Yentl made her gay-friendliness part of the cultural landscape and cemented her lesbian icon status.

Needless to say, Yentl is on my list of must-see movies for lesbians. I’m so happy that now I can see it anytime I want.

Is Yentl one of your film favorites? How did you feel when you watched it for the first time?

 
 

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