I think it says a lot for my commitment to this project that I actually sat through all of the terrible 1976 “A Star Is Born” starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. I almost gave up the project right here. However, thinking of you, dear readers, I persevered. Now I just have to write about the bloody thing.
First, the technical innovation. Like I said before, the 1937 movie was one of the first Technicolor movies, and the 1954 version was subject to one of the best-known restoration projects in history, so in comparison the technical achievement for this one is pretty lackluster. But on the whole, the film’s pretty lackluster, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. This was one of the first films released in Dolby Surround Sound, which I guess would be more impressive if I didn’t hate the songs so much.
If I have to suffer, so do you.
On to the movie. This version of the by-now classic tale transplants the story from Tinseltown to Rock n’ Roll. This was presumably done because by the time the ‘70s rolled around, the studio system had been effectively obliterated, but still one does question the choice. Somehow, the drug-fueled nosedive of Rock n’ Roller John Norman Howard doesn’t have the poignancy that his predecessors’ falls did, presumably because we’re completely used to our rock n’ roll legends taking drug-fueled nosedives, so in reality a sober rocker is the one considered outside the Norm (ha ha). I digress.
John Norman Howard is on his way out, missing concerts and taking the aforementioned nosedives when he meets pop-ballad-belter Esther Hoffman. Apparently deciding that his rock-loving fans want a genre change, one night he gives her the stage. She sings one of many pop ballads, and for some reason suddenly all of his fans love her. This is completely true of every Rolling Stones fanatic I have ever met; the minute I put on the Carpenters, they swoon.
Anyway, JNH and EH fall in love and have a series of several overlong and completely unnecessary scenes, including the lovebirds building a cabin in Santa Fe and having a lot of sex in candlelight, which I think must be a bad idea considering how much hairspray is in Streisand’s hair.
I digress again.
By now you’ve probably guessed that I’m not a big fan of the film. Here’s why: it’s completely one-dimensional melodrama. The Hollywood Dream of the first film and the human drama of the second are replaced by a schlocky melodrama about a rockstar who drinks too much (duh), parties too much (duh), and cheats on his wife (double duh). Kris Kristofferson’s death at the end could be read as a suicide or an accident, which really rounds out the list of rocker cliches that the movie piles sky-high.
The other problem with the movie is Barbra. Don’t get me wrong, I love Barbra in the right movie, but as Esther she basically alternates between yelling “I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR” and singing bad pop ballads. I think the point is supposed to be that JNH is ruined by fame because he is consumed by it, while Esther is strong enough to withstand it, but it really just comes off as one-dimensional posturing. Also, Barbra’s voice is incredible, but not even her amazing voice can save most of these songs.
I’ll leave you with the one moment of levity afforded to the movie. After Esther’s breakout performance, a reporter asks her if she’s planning to change her name (in the film’s nod to the previous name-changing Esther Blodgetts). This Esther’s response: “Why would I change my name? I’d have to get a new driver’s license, new stationary, a new Social Security number, I mean it really would be a bother.”