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Amsel's Lost Art: YENTL

I’ve previously shared a few posts highlighting some of Richard Amsel's unused and rarely seen works. I wanted to share just a small handful of sketches Amsel created for the 1983 film YENTL.

Amsel had a unique talent for capturing iconic, larger than life personalities, while imbuing them with sensitivity. This was especially true with his portraits of women -- Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Lucille Ball, and Liza Minelli among them. Yet I don't think it's an overstatement to suggest that Barbra Streisand was the biggest personality (be it man or woman) Amsel ever did a portrait of.

Streisand was the subject of a number of Amsel illustrations over the years, for films such as HELLO DOLLY, FUNNY LADY, UP THE SANDBOX, WHAT'S UP DOC, and ALL NIGHT LONG. Unfortunately, many of these were never used for one reason or another. I must have several dozen images of Streisand alone within my collection of Amsel art.

That Amsel's work for YENTL did not go beyond preliminary stages was a shame. There is a soft, delicate quality to his sketches. The final poster would feature Streisand in closeup, her face illuminated by a single candle. One can't dismiss the effectiveness of that image, but when it comes to photographs vs. illustration, I'm obviously biased.

YENTL was Streisand's passion project, and she struggled for many years to get it made. She would go on to star, sing, direct, and produce the film and its soundtrack. While Streisand's detractors have often nitpicked, cheekily, about her age at the time vs. that of the young character she played, one can't help but admire her determination, drive, chutzpah...and her undeniably magnificent voice.

A number of interviews I've filmed mention Amsel's fondness for Streisand, and describe a few of their interactions. I don't know if Amsel was as close friends with her as, say, Midler or Tomlin, but I don't think it's a stretch to image the admiration between them was reciprocal.

Many passion projects have failed with critics and audiences (HEAVEN'S GATE, made around the same time, was especially infamous). Yet YENTL was a box office success, won several awards (including a first for a female director), and was warmly received by many critics.


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