Up the Sandbox
Opened December 1972
Barbra Streisand’s sixth film, her first for her partner-owner company First Artists, would have the social significance she wanted to convey in her work. “I had wanted to have a little more input into the films I was making,” Barbra explained. “So becoming a producer, a production entity, one does have some say in what the movie looks like, what it sounds like, what it’s about and so forth. So it was a step beyond for me, rather than just being the actress ... It was the first film for my own production company, Barwood Films, Limited, and so I was able to have much more input into the content and style of this film.”
Sandbox was based on the 1970 novel by Anne Roiphe. “When Up the Sandbox came out and it was recognized as a feminist novel, I was rather surprised,” Roiphe told The New York Times. “It didn't come out of a political frame, it came out of an observational, deeply felt frame—which happened to be political.”
Producer Irwin Winkler purchased the novel rights for $60,000. “It wasn't a best-seller,” he said, “but I thought it would be, otherwise if I had waited I could have gotten it for a lot less.”
Streisand explained the movie version of the novel to writer Vernon Scott, “This is the first realistic picture I've ever done. It's not Hollywood. The female I play has no obvious charm. I hardly smile.” She continued: “I took some risks playing a character that may not be liked by audiences.”
As Margaret Reynolds, a New York housewife with two children who discovers she is pregnant with her third, Streisand plays a character who questions motherhood and being a housewife. “That's where all the fantasy scenes come in. It's great because Margaret—and me, too—is able to say everything in the fantasy that she should have said in reality.”
Streisand went on to explain that her role in Sandbox “is the first time in movies that I've ever really created another personality. I wanted to de-emphasize Streisand and have women of all classes relate to Margaret Reynolds and understand her.”
More succinctly, Streisand said: “I really want people to think of me as an actress.”
David Selby, who appeared off-Broadway in the Tony-winning play Stick and Bones, was cast as Streisand's husband, Paul Reynolds. He also appeared in the hit television show Dark Shadows. He told the New York Post, “Working with [Streisand] was a treat. She was charming, conscientious, and cared only about making a good film.”
The director of Sandbox, Irvin Kershner, toasted Streisand at the 2001 American Film Institute tribute. He recalled that he was warned about Streisand. “‘She’ll kill you, she’s a murderess.’ That’s what people told me before I directed Up the Sandbox. Of course, they were wrong. Because I discovered working with her that I had the most joyous time of my career. [Barbra is] beautiful in any light, at any angle, as a woman and as an artist.”
Kershner elaborated on how he assembled his team in his director’s commentary for the Sandbox DVD:
Before we started I took dozens of photographs of Barbra – different lighting conditions, different angles, trying to find where she looked glamorous, where she looked ‘house-wifely’, where she looked like a love object, where she looked like a mother who’d been up all night with her babies. Well, I think we found it. I had to talk [cinematographer] Gordon Willis into doing the picture because he had heard stories about how difficult Barbra Streisand was. Well, I was a bit worried myself. But I knew that I needed Gordon Willis. I’d done a film called Loving with him and he was the best that I had worked with so far. He loved the story, he was just afraid of Barbra. Well, I showed him all the photographs I had taken, introduced them. He liked her, of course, because she has a great personality — and made him laugh, which he of course enjoyed — and finally said he would do it. And that was my essential team.
Up the Sandbox was shot in Hollywood and New York. The maternity ward scenes at the end of the film were shot in Watts, Los Angeles; Paul Reynolds' school scenes were lensed at Columbia University, New York; The exterior of Margaret's apartment was at 601 West 112th Street, New York; and the playground scenes were filmed at Riverside Park in Manhattan.
Ironically, with the attacks of September 11th now many years behind us, the scene in which the Statue of Liberty was toppled by bombs was filmed on Liberty Island, with the just-opened World Trade Center towers visible in the distance.
Cinematographer Gordon Willis denied any difficulty working with Streisand, too. “I had a very good time with her. She’s very bright,” he said. “Harry Stradling [Funny Girl’s cinematographer] put cross hairs in front of a woman’s face and bang, that’s where the light went. Barbra would prefer the key light right between her eyes, but you can’t always get it that way. Harry Stradling lit a movie in a certain way — I don’t light that way. If I start lighting actors one way and the movie another it looks stupid. We worked it out very well. I thought Barbra looked great and she was helpful. She will work with you.”
Portraying Margaret's fantasies in the film was difficult to get right.
Streisand, in her commentary on the Sandbox DVD, discussed their approach to the fantasies in Up the Sandbox: “How do you do fantasies in movies that are very truthful and very real? We didn’t do a traditional cut or dissolve to a fantasy, and I think that confused people. Although to me, it was great—it was true. It was walking a fine line. It was dangerous ... they were so subtle and so realistic I found out the audience had a hard time knowing what was true and what was untrue. Which broke my heart because I thought they were so clever.”
Back in 1972, Streisand told columnist Robert Taylor that after she sneak-previewed the movie with test audiences, “The audience went in expecting another What's Up, Doc? They were confused. There were things in the movie that I wanted to change, and the audience confirmed them. For instance, they didn't like it when my husband—David Selby—yells at me. They didn't know it was a fantasy.”
“The changes we've made since the preview have not been in the basic structure, but in the content. We've used music to indicate where the fantasies begin. Now you can pretty much tell which is real and which is fantasy. It's less confusing.”
The family scene at the parents' home “was my idea,” Streisand said, “it was based on the last time my family had a reunion. Everybody has been to them, and everybody also has very mixed feelings about them.”
The woman singing “Beautiful Dreamer” in an operatic style was based on Streisand’s own mother who used to sing similar tunes. The man with the home movie camera was based on Sheldon Streisand (Barbra's brother) who also liked to photograph family events.
Asked by journalist William Nazzaro if she was happy with the final picture, Streisand replied: “Happy? No artist is ever completely happy with his work. The film has many flaws, but that's part of life. It would have been better if there had been more time, but there comes a time when you just have to let go.
“I felt we were dealing with important ideas—things that meant a great deal to me,” she said. “This film was a total experience, a team effort. Everbody pitched in and helped, from the script to the dubbing. I didn't get paid. I'm taking a big chance, but it's more exciting that way.”
Two music scores were written for the film. Dave Grusin began scoring Up the Sandbox but was let go. Billy Goldenberg was the second composer brought in for the film. Kershner wanted a smaller sound for the film—less Hollywood-esque. Goldenberg achieved this by using a toy piano over the opening credits. He told Time magazine that Streisand would call him as late as 2:30 a.m. after she’d finished shooting the picture for the day and ask him to “hum me the music for tomorrow” over the phone.
At one point, Streisand asked Goldenberg for an end title song by 4:00 p.m. the next day. “I wrote like mad,” Goldenberg recalled. “When she called, I hummed her the tune. She liked it, and the next day we got the word writers, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, to fit it out with a lyric.” The song became “If I Close My Eyes”, the movie’s single – although the song was not used in the final film. (It was released as a 45 rpm single in January 1973, backed with an instrumental version of the song).
Dave Grusin’s song “A Child is Born”, written for Up the Sandbox, was eventually rescued and used on Streisand’s 1975 album, Lazy Afternoon. The lyrics to “A Child is Born” are by Barbra’s friends, the Bergmans.
Filming In Africa
In June 1972, director Irvin Kershner took his crew on location to remote East Africa. “While I was shooting the film,” Kershner said, “Barbra said to me, ‘Where are we going to shoot the African scenes?’ And I said, ‘On a backlot at MGM. They have a very good jungle there.’ She says, ‘Will it look right? Will it look real?’ I said, ‘Well, it’ll look as real as we can make it. I’ll have to build the village for the tribe.’ She said, “Why don’t we go to Africa?’ I said, ‘You’d want to go to Africa to shoot it?’ She said, ‘Well, yeah. It’ll be so much better for the film.’ So I said, ‘Let’s talk to the producers. They’ll have to talk to the studio. It’ll be quite a bit more expensive.’ The next thing I know, a few days later, we’re going to Africa.”
Kershner used Samburu tribesmen as extras, portraying the fabled Masai tribe. Streisand remembered Kenya as “quite beautiful ... I remember it being so hot. We had no air conditioner or anything, so I had a little, dinky trailer filled with flies. Flies everywhere. But I loved the people, the Samburu people, and I made very good friends with a woman of the tribe. We didn’t speak the same language, obviously, but she understood what I was trying to say to her. She showed me how to dress. Everything was held together with safety pins so nobody had to sew anything. I had the greatest outfits. You rip the fabric and you safety pin in where you want it. And then jewelry made out of telephone wires, little beads. She taught me how they put makeup on their eyes with the ground stone, blue ...”
In 1972, Streisand was proud of the film. “I know a lot of women who are feeling guilty about leaving children at home with a sitter, or at a child care center, and going out and doing other things. At the same time there are women who want to stay home with their children and their husbands, and they shouldn't feel guilty either.
[Up the Sandbox] has been a great experience, a very rewarding experience. Even if it fails. I'd rather be more responsible for something that fails, than less responsible for something that succeeds.”
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