Saturday, 28 June 2008

A Star is Born (1954)

I can't remember when I saw A Star is Born for the first time. My guess is that it was in the early 1990s, and I must have been around 15. I recorded it and I do remember I didn't like it, but not why. It is a Hollywood fairy tale gone wrong, a twisted version of Pygmalion and Galatea, where a famous actor discovers a new talent, and as her star rises, his fades. It stars Judy Garland and James Mason, and it's one of Oscar's great idiocities that she didn't win Best Actress for this.

At the time I first saw it, I wasn't aware of the history of the cuts and different versions of the film, and I didn't like the stills which I thought were an "artistic" decision (they are not!). By then, I also had seen Cukor's other version of the same story, which I thought much better (sadly never recorded that one because I still do think it better) and I avoided the Garland version completely ever since, including a screening at the NFT during the Cukor's complete retrospective in 2004 (which I regret as I write this). Meanwhile, I bought the DVD probably cause it was cheap.

Recently I got curious to see the film again as a result of some comments I read in a web forum. And I was by turns disappointed and marvelled. Disappointed because it really isn't the great film that could have been - most musical numbers are way too long, in particular the "Born in a Trunk" sequence which I realised was one of the reasons I disliked the film in the first place. But I saw many things I enjoyed, great and small. The performances of Judy Garland, James Mason and Jack Carson are absolutely fantastic. About two hours into the film there is a scene where she confesses she has moments where she hates her husband, followed by a cheerful musical scene she has to finish shooting. Amazing. The drama is really good, but slowed down by the songs which often are in the way. The bright red of the colour scheme. "The man that got away", which is one of her best songs. The Oscar sequence, the James Mason/Jack Carson sequence at the races, the ending (despite quoting Humoresque), all great.

Will I ever see the film again? Probably not unless a complete print is recovered or I get a chance to see it on the big screen - and this is one of those films which should be seen in a cinema. But I am quite happy to have seen it again.

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