How does new A Star Is Born com­pare with past ver­sions?

Gulf Times Community - - FRONT PAGE - By Cyn­thia Dick­i­son

It must be an un­writ­ten rule that each gen­er­a­tion gets its own ver­sion of A Star Is Born, that time­less tale of a young up-and-comer in­ex­tri­ca­bly bound to a self-de­struc­tive has-been — of two peo­ple who love and, above all, des­per­ately need each other. With Fri­day’s open­ing of the lat­est in the oeu­vre, we take a look at the four films, whose sim­i­lar­i­ties ul­ti­mately out­weigh their dif­fer­ences.

1937 Janet Gaynor & Fredric March Him: Nor­man Maine.

Her: Es­ther Blod­gett/Vicki Lester. Screen­play: Co-writ­ten by leg­endary wit Dorothy Parker.

High point: Vicki’s de­but film, af­ter which the words of the ti­tle are whis­pered in her ear.

Low point: Nor­man ru­ins Vicki’s big night on a na­tional stage.

Anal­y­sis: The orig­i­nal sets the tem­plate. A shy girl from North Dakota (ap­par­ently as far as you could get from Hol­ly­wood) dreams of movie star­dom. Af­ter a chance en­counter with her idol, a no­to­ri­ous sot whose “work is in­ter­fer­ing with his drink­ing” (pure Parker), Es­ther is trans­formed into Vicki and finds her­self on a me­te­oric rise to fame. Gaynor is more con­vinc­ing as a striv­ing coun­try mouse than as a star; we never do see any ev­i­dence of what makes her so pop­u­lar. March is more suc­cess­ful as a tor­tured man de­stroy­ing ev­ery­thing he loves.

Rat­ing: Three stars

1954 Judy Gar­land & James Ma­son Him: Nor­man Maine.

Her: Es­ther Blod­gett/Vicki Lester. Screen­play: Adapted by cel­e­brated play­wright Moss Hart.

High point: The gor­geous, if over­long, movie-within-a-movie that puts Vicki’s name in lights.

Low point: Nor­man ru­ins Vicki’s big night on a na­tional stage.

Anal­y­sis: When you’ve got a star with the ex­trav­a­gant tal­ent of Judy Gar­land, you show­case her. Pro­ducer Sid Luft (Gar­land’s hus­band) in­sisted on the elab­o­rate pro­duc­tion num­bers that stretch the run time to al­most three hours, but they cer­tainly sell the cen­tral con­ceit. Gar­land’s Es­ther/Vicki is more con­fi­dent and less needy than Gaynor’s (she has a singing ca­reer of sorts when she meets Nor­man), which al­ters the power dy­namic. As for Ma­son, he just can’t get past that pa­tri­cian ex­te­rior to prop­erly wal­low in de­prav­ity. No mat­ter; this is Gar­land’s film all the way.

Rat­ing: 3-1/2 stars

1976 Bar­bra Streisand & Kris Kristof­fer­son

Him: John Nor­man Howard. Her: Es­ther Hoff­man.

Screen­play: Adapted by hus­band/wife au­thors John Gre­gory Dunne and Joan Did­ion.

High point: Es­ther’s ren­di­tion of the wed­ding sta­ple Ever­green, which some­how still man­ages to sound fresh.

Low point: John Nor­man ru­ins Es­ther’s big night on a na­tional stage.

Anal­y­sis: This ver­sion com­pletes the shift from movies to mu­sic, with John Nor­man as a rock star who can fill a sta­dium and Es­ther (no name change here) as a night­club singer with the big voice of, well, Bar­bra Streisand. The hir­sute Kristof­fer­son, strut­ting sans shirt, looks and sounds the part, but he’s just too pretty to ever get truly down and dirty. Yet this is the first of the films to show how big a star the male lead is, let­ting us feel more acutely his fall from grace. Pro­ducer Jon Pe­ters fills the screen with his ex-sweet­heart; in­deed, at the end John Nor­man is all but for­got­ten as Es­ther belts out one fi­nal song that’s all about Es­ther, or, rather, Babs.

Rat­ing: Two stars 2018 Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper Him: Jack­son Maine.

Her: Ally. Just Ally. Screen­play: Co-adapted by Cooper, who also di­rected.

High point: Jack­son pulls Ally onto the stage to sing her own com­po­si­tion.

Low point: Jack­son ru­ins Ally’s big night on a na­tional stage.

Anal­y­sis: Did they fi­nally get it right? All the pieces come to­gether in this one, start­ing with the enor­mously ap­peal­ing Lady Gaga, who chan­nels Gaynor’s pluck, Gar­land’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity and Streisand’s com­mand of the stage. A (movie) star truly is born. Cooper, mean­while, is the first of the men to re­ally con­vince us he’s hit rock bot­tom. Sweaty, greasy, needy, dis­so­lute, he be­trays no van­ity and fit­tingly cedes the screen to his co-star. The one line of di­a­logue that is ut­tered in all four films seems to sum up the plot that never gets old: “I just wanted to take an­other look at you.” This one is worth the look. – Star Tri­bune (Min­neapo­lis)/TNS

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