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A Star is Born: One More Look

A-star-is-born-movie-posterAashiqui 2 is the 2013 Bollywood version of A Star is Born. With subtitles in English, the musical is a lovely remake. It stars exceptionally handsome Aditya Roy Kapur, and the even more beautiful Shraddha Kapoor. The music is enchanting, and both conventional Bollywood cinematography and delightful chemistry between the two actors received much critical praise upon its release. Translated to the English “love makes one live,” the Hindi Indian film matches the 1976 musical closely – it is the intense and tragic story of two musicians, Rahul Jaykar (or R.J.) and Aarohi Keshav Shirke.

When Bradley Cooper took over the project as director, he hoped his fresh version of A Star is Born – of rising and descending stars – would be a box office success. Although Clint Eastwood had envisioned American songwriter and singer Beyoncé as the leading lady of the next remake, it was upon listening to pop singer Lady Gaga at a benefit concert that Cooper knew that he had found his star in Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, Lady Gaga’s real name.

The 2018 version of A Star is Born won’t disappoint those who will fall in love with the soundtrack of 17 original songs or music. Viewers won’t be turned away by the close-ups of either character – Jackson Maine (Cooper) or Abby (Lady Gaga.) For those of us who loved any of the A Star is Born versions, this is as good as the first time.

The foundation for all the versions of A Star is Born was laid in 1932 with the film What Price Hollywood, based on a novel by journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns. St. Johns had been detailing Hollywood’s legends for several decades, including the famous meteoric rises and painful, slow descents of its stars. Her exclusive look fuses details of the relationship of two Tinseltown notorieties (silent superstar Colleen Moore and alcoholic producer, John McCormick) and the tragedy of self-destruction of Hollywood producer Tom Forman. (Forman killed himself the night before his next film was set to begin production in November 1926.) Others claim that the film was based on the turbulent relationship of actors Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay, whose marriage slipped apart as Stanwyck’s career rose and Fay’s declined, due in most part to Fay’s alcoholism.

Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman star in this version, a black-and-white film directed by George Cukor and co-produced by David O. Selznick. Anyone who has seen any version of A Star is Born will acknowledge the story – an aspiring actress meets the man (in this version a director) who can open doors for her. The starlet (Mary Evans) rockets to the top, winning an Academy Award; the drunk (Max Carey) disrupts her acceptance speech, and eventually commits suicide.

Several years after What Price Hollywood was released, producer Selznick approached director Cukor and asked him to direct another version – the story that is now considered the original A Star is Born. Cukor speculated it would be seen as a plagiarized effort and stayed away. (Interestingly, no legal action was ever taken by the studio.)

This 1937 film, A Star is Born, was released in marvelous Technicolor and starred Janet Gaynor and Frederick March. A North Dakota farm girl is convinced by her grandmother to leave for Hollywood and the grandmother funds her dream. Girl meets guy with connections; girl shows talent; girl rises to the top. Guy then self-destructs, and in this version, and every other one, commits suicide.

In 1954, Cukor finally agreed to direct the first remake of the 1937 musical version in which Judy Garland and James Mason starred. Garland was back from a short retirement and was conveniently married to the film’s producer Sidney Luft. Controversy plagued production – Garland was typically difficult – it was just fifteen years before her suicide in 1969. Before its final release, 30 minutes of the film were cut to make it shorter so that more audiences could view it. The actual film was tragically destroyed when it was melted down for its silver content and was forever lost. A director’s cut version available on DVD includes the audio of the cut scenes while the viewer gazes upon unconvincing studio stills.

Garland and many others believed she would undoubtedly win the Academy Award for A Star is Born. The night of the Oscars, Garland was in the hospital having given birth to her son, Joseph Luft, and film crews were at her bedside for her acceptance speech. In the end, Garland lost to Grace Kelly (The Country Girl). The industry was shocked, and Groucho Marx called it the “biggest robbery since Brinks’.”

In her book, A Star is Born: Judy Garland and the Film That Got Away (September 2018), Judy Garland’s sixty-six-year-old daughter Lorna Luft explains that A Star is Born mimics much of the dark side of Garland’s life and the tumult of stardom and Hollywood. Luft describes the tragic loss – of both the film destroyed and of the award that Garland expected. (Although honored for Wizard of Oz, and nominated twice for A Star is Born and the Judgment at Nuremberg, she never won an Oscar.)

Two decades later, another husband-producer cast his wife in A Star is Born – this time a rock musical. In Jon Peter’s film, Streisand is the aspiring singer and Kris Kristofferson as the musician who discovers her. Kristofferson, as John Norman Howard, is just as risky and rowdy as his alcoholic predecessors played by Frederick March and James Mason. Notably, this Esther is just as talented and quirky as Gaynor and Garland. In the 1976 film, Streisand wins a Grammy – not an Oscar – but Johnny still shows up to ruin the night. He, too, eventually kills himself, this time in a risky car accident after traveling through the desert at 160 miles an hour.

Shortly before the 1954 version of A Star is Born begins AND ends, Norman Maine (James Mason) asks to take one more look at the love of his life, Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland.) From Frederick March to Bradley Cooper, “I just want to have one more look at you,” is like a ribbon that weaves through most, if not all, of this famous film story for nearly the past century.

Take one more look at A Star is Born. Copies of each of the past versions of A Star is Born (including What Price Hollywood) are available through the Minuteman Library Network catalog, as well as Lorna Luft’s biographical story of her mother.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the December 6, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


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