US Release Date: 12/17/1976
Directed by:Frank Pierson
Barbra Streisand in A Star is Born.
Some times a remake of a movie makes improvements. Sometimes it does not. The 1976 version of A Star is Born does both.
John Norman is a middle-aged rock star who has seen better days. He finds a chance to recharge his creative karma when he discovers a talented singer, Esther. They fall in love and get married. John helps Esther start a singing career. Before you know it, her star is rising and his is fading.
The 1954 version is a superior film. Judy Garland gave the greatest performance of her career. Her Esther is unassuming and down to earth. She is so nervous at one point that she has to throw up. Barbra's Esther too often comes across as whiny and self-centered. 'I can take all the love you got.' She tells John on there first date. Her character complains constantly about the press and the lack of privacy. You feel sorry for Garland's Esther. You don't feel that sorry for Barbra's. Garland's Esther falls apart. Streisand's Esther becomes a bitch, screaming at a cameraman or snapping at a stagehand.
The one thing the 1976 version does better is the sexual heat. Streisand and Kristofferson are a bonfire of passion. They have sex in the tub and on the floor. Mason's love for Garland might as well be platonic. They have zero sexual chemistry.
The final scene of the movie is Barbra on stage. She is wearing some unflattering 70's clothes and she sings a song that starts out slow then builds to a rock beat. It is supposed to be a tribute to her dead husband. The lyrics of the songs repeat the line 'watch me now.' several times. So instead of being a tribute, it comes across as a rock version of 'The Greatest Star.' Luckily the movie ends then and Evergreen starts to play during the credits. It is one of Streisand's best pop ballads. It does not save the movie but it at least ends the movie on a good note.
Did you enjoy Eric's review? +7
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Barbra Streisand in AStar is Born.
One of the eternal questions of my life has always been, "Who's better, Judy or Barbra?" In the case of these 2 movies I agree that Judy is the winner. She is of course more vulnerable than Barbra and this works better for the role, but I will always admire Barbra's chutzpah. Whereas poor Judy doesn't even get to sing at the finale of her picture, Barbra ends hers' with an 8 or 9 minute unedited close-up. The camera never leaves her face. This is reportedly one of the longest unedited close-ups in Hollywood history. She then sings another song over the end credits. Barbra has big balls.
Like Eric, I also think the 1976 version did some things better. First of all, George Cukor or not, I don't think that the 1954 version is all that great a display of directing. What is brilliant about it, is any scene in which Garland opens her throat or dances a step. But, again agreeing with Eric, there is no chemistry between her and Mason. None. Barbra and Kris are hot together. The perfect 70's couple, with a hippie passion. They fight in one of Barbra's best scenes.
After she catches him in the sack with a groupie they have an argument. Barbra gets physical because he won't,"Fight damn you, fight you son of a bitch!" Barbra is very real here. For all her reputation as an over the top diva she has always been able to bring a believable emotion to a scene. Maybe she has trouble sustaining a character, but she has bursts of acting brilliance as well. This scene is one example.
Her inconsistency can be seen later. After Norman's death she is sitting in the rocker and she hears John's voice. She runs through the house calling, "Johnny? John Norman?" It turns out to be his tape recorder that one of the moving guys can't, for some inexplicable reason, shut off. Barbra has a scene where she cries and talks to Johnny. When she repeats the word, "Talk, talk, talk, talk." She sounds fake to me. But a second later when she goes into a full cry and wails out, "You lied to me, you lied!" She is magic.
This movie has 2 things in common with the 1954 version. They are both a bit long and they both are pure pleasure whenever Judy or Barbra sing. My favorite song that Barbra sings is "Woman in the Moon". She starts unsure and quiet and then builds to a full throated belt.
For purists there is always the non-singing 1937 original starring Janet Gaynor.
Did you enjoy Patrick's review? +18
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Streisand and Kristofferson have great chemistry together.
Eric, the "Watch Me Now" refrain in the final song isn't a "Me, Me, Me" moment for Streisand at all. She's singing a remixed version of John Norman's biggest hit, so yeah, it's a tribute to her dead husband. Unfortunately, it's also one of the weakest songs from the whole movie and in my mind a very lame ending. The biggest emotional climax is when Esther covers up John Norman's body at the accident site and is crying, saying to his dead body that she doesn't know what to do. I've always thought that the scene when the tape recorder is playing in the empty house to be a bit of over the top and I agree with you Patrick; how dumb is that moving guy who can't turn it off?
This is my least favorite kind of musical. I much prefer the sung-through musical where dialogue is sung and the songs actually advance the plot by revealing character's feelings and thoughts. A Star is Born is the other kind where songs are sung by characters who are singers and who only sing them on stage or in recording studios and the songs don't advance the plot, they stop it completely. For this kind of musical if you don't enjoy the songs you're going to be bored for 2 to 5 minutes multiple times throughout the movie. When the songs provide exposition, even if you don't really like the song, you have to pay attention to follow the story. There's only one or two good songs in this entire movie. The rest of them just drag out an already too long movie.
The best thing this movie has going for it is what you guys already said. Streisand and Kristofferson have great chemistry. We've all seen countless movies where the two leads are supposed to be in love, but we only know they're in love because we're told they are. In this movie it's palpable. And they actually show their relationship develop. He's charmed by her voice and the fact that she's real and doesn't fawn all over him when they first meet. She's awed by who he is, but is won over by his roguish charm. As the movie goes along you see their feelings mature into love. It's very well done.
What struck me while watching this time is that John Norman's sole problem is his alcoholism and his drug addiction and yet it's hardly mentioned in the movie at all. Esther asks him if he's an alcoholic once and he says, "Yeah, probably," but then that's it. Clearly all of his issues are tied to that. The story tries to make you feel bad for him because his band mates move on and his wife is successful and things like that, when all the time the real problem is he's hooked on booze and drugs. If he managed to kick both of those things, no way does he commit suicide at the end of the movie. But, since this was the 1970s, the drugs and booze are treated very casually.
Both of the leads also aren't very well developed beyond the time they're on screen. Except that Esther has only been on two planes we know very little about her past. She sounds like she's from Brooklyn, but we're never told that. And John Norman is a star who hates the star lifestyle. A singer who hates touring. And an outgoing people person who hates people. What in his background made him that way, we'll never know.
I've never seen the 1954 version and I've never spent a single nano-second considering who's better, Judy or Barbra, so I can't compare the two at all. I can say that after watching this version I have no great interest in rushing out and seeing the earlier version now.
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Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. (1976)