The Prince of Tides

The Prince of Tides

In the time-honored tradition of directors ruining good books (see Steven Spielberg and THE COLOR PURPLE), producer/director/star Barbra Streisand insults the audience’s collective intelligence with the 1991 soap opera dud, THE PRINCE OF TIDES. Based on Pat Conroy’s engrossing bestseller, Nick Nolte stars as an unemployed teacher and football coach who travels from South Carolina to Manhattan after his sister (Melinda Dillon) commits suicide.  In the process of exposing his family’s buried skeletons to Savannah’s psychiatrist (Streisand), Tom heals his wounds and falls in love with the good doctor in the process.

By basically throwing out most of the characters and glossing over many of the most painful and dramatic situations in the book (much as Spielberg did), Streisand was able to feed her own already inflated ego and beef up her role in the process, turning a truly moving narrative into a third-rate love story, complete with the “Hubbell face touch” at the end of the film that she ripped off from her own THE WAY WE WERE.

Not one word of dialogue rings true and I’ve seen Lifetime movies and cable access programs with more honest emotional depth. Somewhere amid all the color-coordinated hair, nails and furniture, James Newton Howard‘s (who was a frequent writer and producer on Streisand’s albums) music finds the lush, romantic center that escapes the rest of the film.

At the beginning of the film, the camera zooms over the Carolina marshes as an oboe melody gives way to soaring strings whose three-note figure accompanies childhood reflections of the Wingo family. It’s hard to deny the beauty of the music and it’s early enough in the film so that Streisand hasn’t yet robbed us of any emotion that Howard is forced to supply since her characters cannot.

“Main Title”
“The Hallway (Love Theme)”

The love theme belongs to a song that was recorded for the soundtrack (“Places That Belong To You,” with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman) that Streisand wisely chose not to use in the film. Unfortunately, some of the contemporary cues place the music firmly in the early ’90s, but these are relatively short and don’t really detract from the overall quality of the rest of the score.

At nomination time, the big scandal was Streisand’s lack of an Oscar nod for Best Director. It had happened in 1983 for YENTL, but this time her fans were in an even bigger uproar, questioning (as many did in 1985 with Spielberg) how the film could get so many major nominations (including an undeserving nod for Best Picture) and not one for Babs. The bigger question is why this piece of Southern-fried dreck deserved any nominations (outside of the cinematography and score) in the first place.

I don’t think I’ve listened to Howard’s score all the way through in nearly 20 years. The music dredges up such horrifying memories of the film (that still rankle to this day), that I can’t stomach it. It’s too bad that such lovely music was wasted on such down-home drivel.

  1. Jim, I haven’t seen the movie because I have a total aversion to all things Streisand. I just can’t seem to ever get past her huge ego. I might have liked to have checked out JNH’s music, but hearing it in the context of the sickeningly over-earnest and over-sweet trailer may make them inseparable for me. I think I get what you mean from just watching the trailer!

      1. I just watched the film the prince of tides I cried at it but I just love the sound track do you know where I can get it as it lifts my very soul

  2. This is a contemporary score that I’ve always liked, especially the main theme and the way it complements this particular story.
    I agree this was the wrong project for Striesand; she really made all the dysfunction laughable, although Conroy’s book wasn’t all that much to begin with. I think PRINCE OF TIDES would have been more enjoyable approached as a turgid, trashy, old-school melodrama – like Otto Preminger did with K.B. Gilden’s HURRY SUNDOWN – or can you imagine what Douglas Sirk or Vincente Minnelli might have done with this material – with Elmer Bernstein or Alex North lending their musical touch?

    1. I actually liked Conroy’s book, in a pop fiction kind of way. But you’re right, the film is laughable. Sirk or Minnelli would have been perfect for this! Elmer probably would have gone down much of the same road that Howard did, I think. But Alex is an interesting idea. Ah well. It is what it is.

  3. I saw the move when it came out but have no memory of it. Wow was it that bad? No matter, I am glad you brought the score to our attention. I wonder if you like Howard’s Restoration. One of my very favorite scores and an example which you might want to use to generate a list theme: Movies where you were so blinded by the beauty of the score you cannot really evaluate the movie fairly. Clearly that did not happen in the case of Tides!

    1. Roger, yes, the movie was that bad…at least for me. :) I don’t remember the RESTORATION score but I enjoyed the movie. It was slow and ponderous, but absolutely beautiful. I’ll have to check out the score.

      Interesting idea for a post!

  4. Hello, Jim. Indeed, what a terrible movie. I am not a fan of JNH, who tends to write routine scores, yet this is one of his works that I enjoy. I guess the opening melody helps a great deal — it is gorgeous, and you rightfully singled it out. I only wish he would compose themes like that one more often.

    1. The only score that I really like of JNH is THE VILLAGE. That one is a masterpiece. There may be a couple of others here and there that I appreciate. I just wish this particular score wasn’t attached to such dreck.

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