It’s strange to think how much one movie can affect your life. A Star Is Born could easily be considered the mascot film of this blog. I’ve raved (and occasionally ranted) about A Star Is Born in all its versions. I re-started the blog reviewing all three adaptations, compared Liza to Judy in New York, New York, and used my favorite shot to trounce Tom Hooper’s silly claim that pre-recorded singing can’t be powerful. So, if you want to read my thoughts and worship at the altar of Judy, click any of the previous links. Today, instead of rehashing old memories, I’m going to tell you why this movie means so much to me. A Star Is Born might not be my favorite Judy Garland film (or it might be, I honestly spent all morning trying to rank my favorites but who can choose?). However, my personal feelings are irrelevant. The fact is, A Star Is Born inspired not only this blog, but my entire career.
It was Christmas 2009, and the theme was Movies About LA. Yes, my family does themed gift giving, but don’t judge us as those dorks wearing hand-knit ugly Christmas sweaters. (I mean, I have a Christmas sweater but I wear it ironically.) Think of what a great theme Movies About LA is for a movie geek living in LA. At the top of the pile was, of course, A Star Is Born, a film I had somehow overlooked despite being a self-identified Judy-phile. I cracked it open, and my mom and I settled in for a long winter’s viewing (with Dad napping on the couch). But halfway through the first act we hit on something neither of us had seen before – black and white stills! The movie soundtrack was as normal, but for some reason it was overlayed with some oddly photoshopped pictures of Judy. We were shocked. What the hell were production stills doing in the middle of our Warnercolor extravaganza?
As many of you have probably guessed, we were watching the famous Ronald Haver restoration of A Star Is Born, which returned the film as closely as possible to its original uncut glory. This included the offending production stills, which were placed in the scenes that had recovered soundtrack but no picture. This was my first run in with film restoration. I knew movies had to go through some kind of process to get from a vault to my DVD player, but I had no idea what that process might be. When I returned to school for my spring Junior semester, I did what any film studies geek would do with a newfound obsession: I wrote a paper about it. In retrospect, the paper was naive and bordered on hero worship. I imagined Haver and his team combing through dusty, cobweb-lined archives like real reel Indiana Joneses, except instead of ancient artifacts they were discovering hidden gems from Hollywood’s Golden Age. As I polished my final draft (most likely a little late; College Me was terrible at deadlines), I sighed to myself, “I wonder how one becomes a film archivist. Oh well.”
Fast forward a year and a half: I was a fresh-faced post-grad who had luckily landed herself a job as a production assistant for a TV series which shot on a major studio lot. Because PA schedules and LA traffic are infamously changeable (i.e. they suck), I tended to arrive at the studio an hour before my calltime. This gave me ample opportunity to explore, and I took advantage. Though I loved my job for the stories it gave me and the people I worked with, I realized quickly that production wasn’t for me. My favorite part of working on the TV show was hour or so I got to wander the lot, absorbing studio history through the soles of my shoes. Then one day, after getting completely lost in the biggest building on the lot, I saw it: A door with a sign reading “FILM VAULT.”
I wish I could say that moment was a revelation, my personal version of Dorothy opening the door to Oz. In reality, I paced outside the door and then rode the elevator up and down for thirty minutes because I was so terrified. Finally, I screwed my courage to the sticking point, walked in – and was confronted by an empty room. Those who have worked in production will know that PAs work an inhuman schedule, so I had actually missed the entire archive’s staff by about three hours. But I dug in my heels. I called the vault the next day, and the head of the vault cheerfully agreed to meet with me. Then I got my Dorothy-in-Oz moment the next week. That meeting led to another, which led to another, and eventually somebody decided to take a risk on the college kid with no practical experience but a lot of enthusiasm.
I’ve been working in film archiving and post-production for a year and a half, and it is perfect for a film geek like me. My job isn’t always easy; it’s very dirty, my clothes reek of vinegar, and despite claims to the contrary I’m not exactly Indiana Jones. Still, where else would an encyclopedic knowledge of Golden Age Hollywood come in handy (besides trivia night)? Most importantly, I get to to put my passion towards preserving our film history. And I owe it all to Judy.
One of Garland’s greatest performances, captured almost entirely in one shot. My favorite moment comes during the big crescendo, when she and the camera rush to meet each other, and the frame can barely contain the kinetic energy. Look at her exuberance. This is what she loves to do. This is what she was born to do. I can relate.