A Star is Born: The Enduring Message of All Four Versions

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ALL WRITTEN AND ARTWORK ARE THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OF PSG LOPES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2018.

I know people hate remakes and get sick and tired of Hollywood always redoing perfectly made classics, but I kind of like them and I will tell you why. I like the idea that our generation is being preserved in film form. I am a huge fan of old sitcoms and the reason I have such a soft spot for them is that they are time capsules of my youth. An example would be Full House. This brings me right back to my youth from the clothes they wore, the movie and television references, and the music they played. Having a movie redone to your own generation provides comfort and a level of familiarity that will be memorialized in film form for a lifetime.

I absolutely adore and admire Lady Gaga quite a bit. When I heard that she was going to be in a movie with Bradley Cooper as the director and male lead, I was on board. I had been aware of the Barbra Streisand version of A Star is Born but hadn’t realized that the 2018 rendition would be the fourth iteration of the film. I decided that if I was going to embark upon this adventure the correct way, the best possible way to do it was to watch all four films and break down the story and highlight the importance of the underlying message of each.

The original A Star is Born film that came out in 1937. I really loved this version for so many reasons. The actors who portrayed Esther/Vicki and Norman were phenomenal. They had such amazing chemistry on screen and their love was apparent in every scene together.

The lead character, Esther Blodgett, was so relatable in that so many people, even today, wish to head to Hollywood and fight so hard to make it there. Esther’s family did not believe in her, except for her grandmother. There were so many wonderful quotes, too, in this film. Her grandmother gave Esther her blessing and told her “Don’t let anyone break your heart. Break it yourself. That’s your right.” Esther heads to Hollywood and finds the cemented footprints of one of her favorite actors, Norman Maine, who she places her feet on top of. The message in which he wrote in cement was “Good luck.” Esther was so full of hope, but that quickly crashed down on her. She was disheartened when she attempted to find an acting gig and the lady she spoke with told her only one in 100,000 made it as an actor. Esther said encouragingly, “Maybe I am that one.” Her grandmother sent her money to help her stay afloat, but things were looking grim, so she took a job as a waitress at some Hollywood hotshot shindig and came across Norman Maine. He instantly took a liking to her and decided to drive her home. He urged her to take a screen test, they had her sign a movie contract and is magically reinvented as Vicki Lester. She is an instant hit and placed in a movie alongside Norman Maine. To the surprise of all involved, everyone becomes enamored by Vicki Lester and Norman Maine is quickly forgotten due to his alcoholism and unpredictable behavior.

Esther and Norman end up getting married. The public relations man, Libby is the one responsible for really catapulting Esther’s career. He also hates Norman and would do anything to see him in ruins. Norman had some good moments when he was first married to Esther. The scenes with them during their honeymoon in their RV were endearing and sweet, but that rosy cloud of happiness didn’t last long when Vicki’s success continued, and Norman’s career further declined. During Vicki’s awards ceremony, Norman showed up and ruined her moment. His downward spiral makes Vicki consider leaving Hollywood altogether to take care of Norman full time.

Norman finally realizes that he can’t keep doing this to Vicki, and the last time he sees her, he repeats the same line he told her that first night when she got out of his car, “Do you mind if I take just one more look?” He then jumps in the ocean and drowns. After a huge spectacle with the media, Esther settles into life without Norman. She is visited by her beloved grandmother who tells her that “Tragedy is a test of courage.” This piece of advice convinces Esther to remain in Hollywood. In a radio interview at the end, Esther proudly announces, “Hello, everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine” and the movie ends just like that. I really enjoyed the version immensely. The acting was superb, the story was told well, and even so many years later, the film is relatable and heartbreaking.

The second rendition of the film came several years later in 1954 and starred Judy Garland. This was by far my least favorite of these films. I found several issues with it. First of all, the movie was three hours long. Completely unnecessary. Adding that extra time did nothing for its storytelling and really watered down and destroyed the heart of the romance and agony of Esther and Norman. I also felt no palpable chemistry between Judy Garland and her leading man. There were some similarities and some lines that were exactly preserved as the original including the line, “I just want to take another look at you.” There were many changes including the addition to music in the film. This version became a musical. Esther was already established in the entertainment industry. She was part of a band and traveled and toured. This version of Esther was much more confident. She was very talented, very capable and Norman was more of an accessory than a necessity. Norman was less charming, needier and more demanding of Esther and truly yanked her from her band and ushered her by force into stardom. He also ruins her moment when she wins an award. He dies the same way at the end of the film, by drowning after hearing Esther mention quitting Hollywood to take care of the self-destructing Norman. She also ends the movie by announcing “Hello, I’m Mrs. Norman Maine.” It was agony watching this version. Also, another thing that really got to me was the film was so degraded that it has several scenes replaced with photo stills with dialogue placed over. It was distracting and ruined the whole movie experience for me.

The third rendition came in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. There were several changes, yet again, but that same message endured. Esther Blodgett became Esther Hoffman and she didn’t have a stage name. The only slight difference was when she married the lead, which was John Norman Howard, she then became known professionally as Esther Hoffman Howard. Music was also a very big part of this movie. The movie highlighted the big influence of rock and roll in this era. Enamored by singer Esther, John strove to make Esther a star. Esther became a sensation, leaving John to struggle with maintaining any sort of momentum within his own life. One enduring line in the film, which came from one of John’s songs, that I found to be quite haunting, was “Are you a figment of my imagination or am I one of yours?” The role of Libby was replaced by a man referred to as Bebe Jesus who is hellbent on providing the worst publicity for John. John’s character died at the end by racing his car through the desert where he and Esther shared their second home. This final scene was by far the most heartbreaking of all the films. The scene where he says to her “Just looking, babe,” before he leaves her in bed and took off in his car brought tears to my eyes. You can see how damaged and destroyed John is and feel that bitter realization that not even true, passionate love can get you out of the giant hole you’ve dug for yourself. How desperately sad the male character is in all of these films. How he felt that death was the only way that they could truly save his beloved from being dragged down by his destructiveness. Instead of her announcing her name at the end, an announcer states her name as Esther Hoffman Howard as she sings her final song of the film. This was one of the strongest versions of this film by far, in my own humble opinion.

The final rendition, for now (haha), was just released last weekend and features Lady Gaga as Ally and Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, a nod to Norman Maine.

There were many differences in the story, but the overall message of this version was the same. The story starts off with Ally, a working-class woman who just so happens to sing and aspires to become an established singer. Jackson Maine is an already established musician who is afflicted with crippling alcoholism. The pair meets serendipitously at a drag bar. She sings La Vie en Rose. I thought this was such a remarkable scene and it happened so early on in the film. The way that Bradley Cooper looks genuinely enamored by Lady Gaga singing—you just cannot fake that look of admiration. The two of them get acquainted and after he gets to know her a little better, he reveals to Ally, “I think you might be a songwriter.” They become involved and are instantaneously smitten by one another and the classic line that carries over each of the four films gets spoken aloud by Jackson to Ally, “I just want to take another look at you.”

After being told she was late again to work, she finally gains the courage to quit her dead-end job and takes Jackson’s advice and attempts to pursue singing full-time. She watches him perform live and Jackson coaxes her to go up and sing with him. Thus, begins her career as a musician. Just as Ally scores a record deal and gains momentum as a star, Jackson then begins to resent her. Every song screams Lady Gaga. As always, she is beautiful and effortless. Jackson’s alcoholism gets the best of him. Jackson decides to propose to Ally at his friend’s home and they decide to get married right away.

She is changing with stardom and Jackson falls deeper into his alcoholism. He hits more than rock bottom with a particularly horrible argument where he calls her ugly, which was a low blow to Ally because of a conversation they had when they met where she told him of her insecurities with her looks, especially her nose and how she felt it held her back creatively. They soon make amends and Ally ends up winning an award for her music. Jackson ends up collapsing and embarrasses both himself and Ally at the awards show. He finally accepts that he must go to rehab. After he comes home sober, Ally agrees to stop touring so they can spend time together after one last show. His final words to her were the same timeless words, “I just want to take another look at you.” While she is performing her last show, he overdoses and hangs himself. Jackson’s brother, Bobby consoles Ally and tries to help her accept that the decision was Jackson’s and it was no one’s fault, but his. She then performs one of Jackson’s songs as she introduces herself as Ally Maine.

There were so many wonderful actors in this film, notably Andrew Dice Clay (yeah, the little Miss Muffett sat on her Tuffet guy! He was amazing!!), Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott, Anthony Ramos, Greg Grunberg, Ron Rifkin, and others. As a product of this generation, I felt most moved by this version. This version had a lot of positives. The movie had a strong director, cast, and strong music.  The story itself is timeless and was told in a relatable and modern fashion with hints of an age-old story of a romance that is achingly painful, but strong and all-consuming. Norman and Esther, John and Esther, and Jackson and Ally’s love was a toxic and jealous love, but not one that easy to walk away from in the end.

Some people are so ruined that they cannot be fixed. No amount of therapy or pills can help. Suicide is a real problem, especially in today’s world. It is an enormous tragedy and it is important to highlight what a real issue it is and to aid those who need it the most. In a fast-paced world, so many of us are consumed by our own lives and our own struggles, that it is hard to recognize when others are struggling and need a helping hand. It is always such a shock when we hear about individuals taking their own lives. It feels sudden, we feel powerless and feel like we are to blame. It is a horrible burden to those left behind. I wish peace and comfort from those who have experienced this within their own families and social circles.

Those who are still lucky to be alive and breathing please know that help is out there, you are certainly not alone, and sometimes the help you need is from an outside source if you feel like your immediate circle might not understand you or understand where you’re coming from. I always remember Eric Draven’s quote in The Crow when I think of my own struggles, “It can’t rain all the time,” which conveniently is coupled well with Little Orphan Annie’s “the sun will come out tomorrow.” As hokey and cheesy as it sounds, these are the mantras that I often repeat, and they work for me during dark times. I am comforted by the thought that bad times don’t last forever and there will be happier moments again. You must cling to those moments. Grasp onto them with all your might. Those are the moments to remember: the warm sun shining on your face, those jokes told at the dinner table that make you laugh so hard that they literally take your breath away, or the way your significant other looks at you when he tells you he loves you. Cling to that. Please cling to that. Those are the reasons among so many others that truly matter the most.

 

Anyone else out there who did the same and watched all four movies like I did? What did you think of all four? Which one was your favorite? Did Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga do the character’s justice? I am curious to know your thoughts. Positive and nurturing comments only, please.

 

Thanks so much for your continued support!