Wednesday, June 6, 2018

From Garland to Gaga, A STAR IS BORN

Folks first saw William Wellman's A STAR IS BORN in 1937.  The stars were Janet Gaynor and Fredric March.  When I was a kid watching TV shows about classic films, I learned that two dramatic scenes in the 1937 Hollywood-on-Hollywood love story were a couple of the most famous scenes in a classic film.  There was also the film's famous last line.  Then I learned that the 1954 remake, now a musical drama marking the sensational screen comeback of Judy Garland, was a rare case of a remake being just as good if not better than the acclaimed original. It's one of the best Hollywood films of the 1950s.  Garland, opposite the also outstanding James Mason, was at the height of her vocal and previously untapped dramatic powers.  For those of us into Oscars history, we know that Judy Garland was the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Actress of 1954 for A STAR IS BORN.  In an upset, the Oscar went to Grace Kelly for THE COUNTRY GIRL.  Kelly was really good.  But Judy should have won.
I like the Barbra Streisand 1976 rock music remake of A STAR IS BORN with Kris Kristofferson.  I like it. But I absolutely love Judy's version.  It's on my Top 10 favorite films of all-time list.
In the first two versions, we saw Norman Maine.  He's a Hollywood movie star who's popularity has started to slide at the box office mainly due to his drinking.  He sees and discovers a show biz hopeful, a young woman whose sincerity and warmth bring out the gentleman in him.  He sees in this anonymous performer more talent that she probably sees in herself.  He has faith in her.  He helps her get a break. During this, they start to fall in love.  Her break clicks.  As her star begins to rise, his continues to fall because of his drinking.  She's now a big star and she's willing to sacrifice her career to help the man she loves battle his alcoholism.
The newest remake with music gives us Lady Gaga with Bradley Cooper.  Cooper also directed this new version.  I pray that the finished product is as good as the trailer.  I dig it!

Director George Cukor gave the 1954 remake a deeper emotional darkness and grittiness.  Society had changed since Wellman's original 1937 version, attitudes had changed, and Cukor gave it a tone of the times.  He also gave the film a specific production design color motif, rich and symbolic, that seems to have influenced Cooper's remake. For Cukor's A STAR IS BORN, Sam Leavitt was cinematographer.  George Hoynigen-Huene was the special color design advisor.

As the non-famous bandsinger, Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) is wearing or in front of blue. That seems to become the color of the non-famous performer.  Norman Maine, the actor, finds her in an after hours club with the band.  The joint is closed and their having a jam session.  Esther sings "The Man That Got Away" and, as she sings, there's a rose blush color behind her.  In that number, we see what Norman Maine sees -- she has star quality.  She's galvanizing and majestic and full of feeling.  She's a great singer.  And she doesn't realize it.

The movie star surprises her with his appearance.  He takes her to the parking lot and tells her "You're a great singer" and that she's wasting her time with the band. She's flabbergasted.  It's taken her a long time to get that gig.  But he feels that she's meant for something bigger.
Notice that, as he tells her she's a great singer, red street lights flicker above her head signifying the approach of stardom for her.  With honorable intentions, he drives her to where she's staying and gives her advice.  She saved him from making a drunken fool of himself in public at a benefit where she was performing with the band.  He wants to know more about this singer.
He helps her get a job as a contract player at the studio where he works. Her name is changed to Vicki Lester.  A Broadway musical star, scheduled to do a movie, has contractual problems.  Norman coaxes the studio head to take a chance on an unknown singer employed on the studio lot -- Vicki Lester.  When we see Vicki's big number in the film, she's against a backdrop of red flowers.  Her film debut will be a hit. She's on her way to stardom and fame.
When Vicki and Norman marry, they're both wearing brown.  They're civilians, giving a justice of the peace their real names. Later, the studio drops Norman while Vicki's the biggest star on the lot. His drinking increases, gets ugly and takes a dark emotional toll on the marriage.  In a dressing room breakdown, as she reveals all her heartbreak to her boss. She's been shooting a big bright musical number for her new movie.  In the colors of her costume, we see that Vicki tries to balance the demands of fame (red) and be a devoted wife (brown) at the same time.
I'm eager to see the production design in this modern new version of A STAR IS BORN.  I'm rooting for Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  Their film opens this October.  If you've never seen Judy Garland introduce "The Man That Got Away" in the first musical remake of A STAR IS BORN, treat yourself and watch this clip.

2 comments:

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  2. Awesome post! Judy's version is my favorite so far, but I'm wholeheartedly excited for what Cooper and Gaga bring to the table. I never thought about the color scheme before in the film. That's something I'll have to revisit. Thanks for pointing that out!

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