Take Notes: Professor Streisand Is on Campus

Photograph: Director-actor Barbra Streisand on Low Plaza last week making location shots for her motion picture, "The Mirror Has Two Faces." Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

A film crew at Columbia is not remarkable. Film and journalism students often appear on College Walk with cameras.

But last week, there was something different: the camera was bigger than usual; there were more assistants talking on cellular phones, and the person behind the lens was Barbra Streisand.

It is no longer a secret that Streisand is directing a major motion picture set at Columbia. On one sunny morning last week she took location footage of the fountains on College Walk. In the afternoon she took aim at The Thinker in front of Philosophy Hall. And, on at least one occasion, she discussed medieval literature and Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher with students.

The film, The Mirror Has Two Faces, is a romantic comedy about a Columbia comparative literature professor, played by Streisand, who falls in love with a fellow professor who is a mathematician, played by Jeff Bridges. Lauren Bacall also will star. Columbia will be identified in the film.

"This has an enormous upside for Columbia," said President Rupp in an interview. "Many people who don't know us think Columbia is in a densely built urban area without a real campus. This film will help correct that and show the beauty and magnificence of our campus on screens across the country and beyond."

Robert Fitzpatrick, dean of the School of the Arts, said: "Producers and other executives for the film were astounded to discover the physical beauty of the campus and the amount of green space in the middle of a city."

The dean escorted Streisand and the others around campus on their first visit last month. He said the actress is planning to hold several seminars with students. The project is a valuable opportunity for film students to see a major filmmaker at work, he said. A location fee from the production company, Tri-Star, will be used primarily for campus beautification.

Full scale filming is expected to begin the end of next week and will continue intermittently into December. Locations will include Philosophy and Havemeyer halls, St. Paul's Chapel and the C.V. Starr Library. The movie will be released in December, 1996.

A remake of a 1959 French film of the same name, The Mirror Has Two Faces tells the story of an English professor, Rose, who falls for a mathematician, Gregory, who only wants a platonic relationship. Bacall plays Rose's mother, Hanna, who tries to keep her daughter under control.

"It's not a documentary about teaching at Columbia," said Fitzpatrick. "It's a fairy tale."

Last Tuesday, David Lipscomb, a doctoral student in the English department, was in the middle of a conference with General Studies student Brian Stuart in the graduate student lounge in Philosophy when Streisand, dressed in black, appeared.

"She just walked in with her film crew and they scouted things out for a bit," Lipscomb said. "Of course we continued to have our conference pretending we didn't notice. " They were discussing Stuart's paper on Edgar Allen Poe when Streisand approached.

"She was very interested in the paper," Lipscomb said. "She was charming. Initially, Brian was going to leave and she said, 'No, no don't leave, we want you in this.' She asked us what we were doing and asked questions about Poe, and after that she started to talk about her film and the part she's going to play. She said she plays a professor who teaches myths of various cultures, and the connections between love and death, eros and thanatos. And relationships between men and women. She said she wasn't sure how to classify her character as a professor, and she wondered whether it would fall under the province of comp. lit.

"She described her film as being about how love is a kind of infectious disease, and about the links between love and death. She asked questions about why all love stories end in death. We talked about that resolution. And I brought up the fact that in the novel tradition, you also have marriage as the resolution to a love story."

Then the unlikely trio discussed the novels of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. At one point, University Professor Edward Said stepped into the lounge. He, too, got involved in the discussion of comparative literature and ended up recommending a book or two to Streisand, including Marina Warner's Six Myths of Our Time.

Streisand also asked Lipscomb and Stuart whether the proper way to address a professor was "doctor" or "professor." The latter, Streisand was counseled. With this advice and a list of recommended reading, Streisand and her crew swept out of the lounge, leaving the amused students to pause for a moment before getting back to the business at hand.

The Streisand movie will join a list of well-known films shot in part at Columbia: Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman, Ghostbusters with Dan Ackroyd and Teacher's Pet with Clark Gable and Doris Day.

Columbia University Record -- October 13, 1995 -- Vol. 21, No. 6