When I started getting into old Hollywood musicals, the first one my Dad highly recommended to me (after Easter Parade (Walters, 1948)) was Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born (Cukor, 1954). For years I’ve always admired the ‘Born In A Trunk’ sequence, and in the end… it still remains on my watchlist and I ended up watching the newest version starring Lady Gaga directed by Bradley Cooper. Even the ’76 (Pierson) version with Barbara Streisand could’ve made more sense with how this series was being written given that I did Funny Girl (Wyler, 1969)for the last entry. ‘Shallow’ was the one song I had caught from this most recent version before watching it, and I did have a good idea of what happened at the end, but aside from that I was going in blind as to what happened throughout the story of this, the 4th version of a much-loved classic, that still holds its own spectacularly.
What’s particularly fascinated me about the A Star Is Born versions throughout the years, was its takes on the entertainment business. The 1937 (Wellman) version focuses pretty much entirely on film, in ’54 the musical element is brought in, for ’76 the music element becomes the primary element (with the Grammy’s now replacing the Academy Awards) and the most recent adaptation following similar. We start off with a concert scene for Jack Maine (and already the contrasts between his and Ally’s first performance become evident). The shaky camera work in the former versus the slow-controlled movements in comparison already give signs towards the fates of the two leads’ careers as the film’s plot goes on. Particularly a detail which stuck with me as the film progressed on was a scene towards the beginning of the film, whereby Jack is in a car trying to find a bar to drink at, and a billboard in the background highlights mental health awareness (with the image of a noose being shown), a dark foreshadowing to the subsequent events at the end of the film. On the music aspect of the film, there were many stellar songs, however I could possibly argue (and this may just be me really nit-picky and fussy), there were possibly too many songs? Considering musicals like Hamilton (2015)are able to have next to no words of spoken dialogue and pull it off exceptionally, this then feels like a contradiction. However, the fact that Hamilton, for example, has every song representing something specific in the plot is what makes it shine. ASIB however, achieves the atmosphere well of a constantly evolving and packed music world that the film is set in, with many different songs preceding and following the more impactful moments. However, for me, this is where some songs start to feel flat for me, and their ‘sticking factor’ (whatever stays in my head after having finished a watch) doesn’t hold up against other, more notable and famous songs. One exception at least in my watch though, was the opening performance of ‘La Vie En Rose’ by Ally when she and Jack first make contact. The song is an old classic, and no doubt, Ally’s bigger burst onto the scene is with ‘Shallow’, but for some reason this song works absolutely perfectly for Ally. It implicitly targets straight away the struggles that Ally faces, but strays away ever so slightly from the plethora of ‘up and coming stars’ stories and how they would tackle this point of the plot. Ally’s biggest roadblock into breaking into the music scene is that she is told that she has a big nose, nothing to do with her performance skills. So, for her first performance scene, Ally showcases these exceptional qualities, with her vocals receiving a full spotlight later. I do like the way this is formed, as typically many hopeful artists are told that they don’t have that ‘star’ quality purely due to their looks and ‘La Vie En Rose’ just throws up the middle finger to those comments. Overall, for the first version of such a popular fame story like A Star Is Born, I connected more so with the deteriorating state of Jack and his heart-breaking end (due to that agent that I still hold an intense grudge towards), with the music taking more of a backseat for me (still remaining important though). This was a stellar musical with only some minor personal problems that I had with it. This doesn’t take away though from the vast array of elements that this film does so well.
I do think I will need to do a re-watch though, especially after having watched the previous 3 versions, in order to see how my opinion changes (for better or worse).
04 – High School Musical (Ortega, 2006)
References (in order of mention):
A Star Is Born (2018) Directed by B. Cooper. [Feature film]. Los Angeles, CA: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Easter Parade (1948) Directed by C. Walters. [Feature film]. New York City, NY: Loew’s, Inc.
A Star Is Born (1954) Directed by G. Cukor. [Feature film]. Los Angeles, CA: Warner Bros.
A Star Is Born (1976) Directed by F. Pierson. [Feature film]. Los Angeles, CA: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Funny Girl (1969) Directed by W. Wyler. [Feature film]. New York City, NY: Columbia Pictures.
A Star Is Born (1937) Directed by W. A. Wellman. [Feature film]. Los Angeles, CA: United Artists.
Miranda, L. M. (2015) Hamilton. Lyrics by L. M. Miranda; choreography by A. Blankenbuehler; directed by T. Kail. [The Public Theatre, New York City].
Patrick Byron – MTS Vice President