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A Star is Born(1937)
The classic story about the fragility of fame and the cost of stardom. A young woman arrives at Hollywood with dreams of stardom and with the help of a leading man achieves them, but his best days are behind him and she eclipses him.
For more about A Star is Born and the A Star is Born Blu-ray release, see A Star is Born Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on February 7, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, Lionel Stander, May Robson, Andy Devine
Director: William A. Wellman
» See full cast & crew
A Star is Born Blu-ray Review
One star in ascendance, the other in decline.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, February 7, 2012
William A. Wellman's 1937 classic A Star is Born is often thought of as the prototypical small-town-girl-gets- discovered-in-Hollywood story, a tale as old as Tinseltown itself. What gets forgotten is that the film bears an uncanny resemblance to an earlier movie by George Cukor, 1932's What Price Hollywood?, so much so that RKO Pictures threatened to sue producer David O. Selznick on grounds of plagiarism. But regardless of how it came to be, A Star is Born--with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March--is most definitely the better and more influential of the two. It inspired two direct remakes: the much-loved 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason--which, ironically, was directed by George Cukor--along with a shaky 1976 redux that features Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. There have also been persistent starts and stops on yet another revival over at Warner Brothers, with Beyonce Knowles in the lead. (The latest report is that Knowles' pregnancy pushed back production of the film, which is to be directed by Clint Eastwood sometime this year.) The enduring popularity and relevance of the story just goes to show that Hollywood hasn't really changed much over the years--it's still a place where dreams are made and broken and made again.
Janet Gaynor plays Esther Blodgett, a North Dakotan farmer's daughter who's obsessed with the movies. Her parents want her to find a good man and settle down, but Esther is determined to "be somebody." With money in her pocket from her kindly grandmother (May Robson)--who gives her a parting speech about "the difference between dreaming and doing"-- Esther takes the train to Hollywood, where she books a room in a $6-per-week flophouse, makes a pilgrimage to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and naively heads down to Central Casting, expecting to land a part in no time based on her sheer pluckiness. Of course, it's not that easy. In Hollywood, after all, it's all about who you know.
Esther's first "in" comes when she befriends Danny McGuire (Andy Devine), a bumbling assistant director who recommends her for a waitressing gig at a posh party for industry bigwigs. Her attempts at being noticed are comically pitiful--there's a wonderful scene where Gaynor imitates Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, and Mae West while serving hors d'oeuvres--but she eventually catches the eye of Norman Maine (Frederic March), an alcoholic actor whose stardom is waning due to the fact that his "working is interfering with his drinking." Maine falls quickly for Esther and gets her a screen test with producer Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou), who semi-reluctantly gives her a contract and a stage name: Vicky Lester. When a lead role opens up in Maine's latest film, the newly christened Vicky wows audiences and overshadows her co-star, who's now well on his way to has-been status.
When Esther and Maine elope in a cramped RV, their honeymoon phase is mercilessly brief; not only are they hounded by reporters and paparazzi and PR guys--including Lionel Stander as Matt Libby, a scheming press agent--but Maine's drinking picks up when it becomes clear his career is on the rocks. He's practically emasculated, staying home and going unnoticed while Esther enjoys her time in the spotlight.
A Star is Born is such a moving story precisely because of how perfectly it shows both sides of the Hollywood coin-- the promise of overnight fame and the potential for a steep fall out of the public's good graces. The film's proclamatory title suggests an unspoken counterpoint: for every star that's born, another must lose its luster. Or maybe even die. The script does indeed take some dark turns--denial, a stint in rehab, a dramatic Malibu suicide--and these might as well be ripped straight out of today's tabloid headlines. At one point, Maine even pulls a Kanye West and interrupts Esther's Oscar acceptance speech, drunkenly demanding that the Academy grant him multiple awards for worst performance. We feel for him--especially when he tries to downplay his troubles and lies about how he's got a big film lined up at a rival studio- -but our true sympathies lie with Esther, who chooses to put her husband's health before her own career.
Filmed in gorgeous Technicolor, which was still a relative rarity at the time outside of big budget musicals and historical epics, A Star is Born was a box office success and a critical favorite, winning the Best Original Story Oscar--some might say ironically, considering the plagiarism claim--and garnering six additional nominations in most of the main categories. Gaynor had previously won the first ever Best Actress prize at the inaugural Academy Awards ceremony in 1928, but she lost out to Luise Rainer in 1937. Nonetheless, her performance here is more than merely award-worthy, filled with heartbreaking compassion and inspiring go-get-'em-ness. March is great too; he excelled at these kinds of "broken man" roles--he won his first Oscar for the lead in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde--and he balances the inherent malaise of Maine's character with a kind of weary humor that makes him likable even when he's being a total ass. Andy Devine, Adolphe Manjou, and Lionel Stander are all fantastic in the supporting parts as well, especially Stander, who gets to angrily spit out some seriously acerbic dialogue in his role as the disingenuous press agent.
Like all Hollywood-reflecting-on-Hollywood stories, there's a certain meta-ness at work here, visible from the very first scene, as the beginning of Esther's own story is presented in screenplay form. Much in the same way as Sunset Boulevard, A Star is Born beautifully mythologizes the "tinsel and sawdust" qualities of the movie industry--revealing the sadness and strife beneath the glittery veneer--but at the same time, it's a very hopeful story about perseverance and second chances. If there's one thing Hollywood--and America at large--likes better than a tragic fall, it's a stirring comeback, which may explain why A Star is Born continues to be remade every few decades.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Video Quality
Like other films in the public domain, A Star is Born has been subjected to many sub-par home video releases over the years. While Image Entertainment's 2004 DVD was decent, Kino's Blu-ray release handily bests it in every category. Sourced from the best materials available at the George Eastman House's film preservation division, the disc's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer does justice to the film's Technicolor cinematography. As I've mentioned in other reviews, Kino doesn't have the resources to do extensive, frame-by-frame restorations, digitally removing every instance of dirt and debris. Instead, they find the cleanest prints possible, leaving the specks and scratches "as is" and focusing their restoration efforts on color and tonality issues, which are somewhat easier to deal with. So, yes, you'll notice some mild scratches and flecks and the occasional instance where the film emulsion looks worn away, but there are no major streaks, stains, or warping. I was actually quite surprised by the condition of the print. As usual with Kino titles, film grain is natural and untouched, and there are no signs of edge enhancement or other forms of digital boosting. Clarity all-around is much improved over prior standard definition releases--as you'd expect--but what will leave you gawking is the beautiful Technicolor photography, which is dense and vibrant without being gaudy. There are some minor and fleeting color fluctuations, but in all other regards--contrast, black levels--this transfer has rock solid stability. Another wonderful early Technicolor title from Kino.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Kino's Blu-ray release of A Star is Born comes equipped with an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 mono track. Though there are some understandable age-related quirks to deal with--frequent pops and crackles, along with a low but persistent hiss--none are particularly distracting. For the most part, this mix is balanced and easy on the ears. Dialogue is at the forefront, and it's always clear and easily understood. Of course, you can't talk about A Star is Born without mentioning its wonderful orchestral score from Max Steiner, one of the most influential composers in early sound cinema. The music sounds fantastic here, significantly richer and fuller than you might imagine, with no brashness or tinniness. Unfortunately, Kino hasn't provided any subtitles for those who might need or want them.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Continuing their series of David O. Selznick-produced films, Kino has another hit on their hands with the original 1937 version of A Star is Born, a Hollywood-in-the-mirror story of overnight stardom and a cautionary tale about the fleetingness of fame. It's a wonderful film--smart and funny and sad--and it looks terrific on Blu-ray, where its been given a handsome high definition overhaul. If you picked up last month's release of Nothing Sacred, A Star is Born deserves a place beside it on your shelf. Recommended!
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A Star is Born Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Scarlet Street and A Star is Born (1937) Headed to Blu-ray - December 2, 2011
On February 28th, Kino Video will release on Blu-ray Fritz Lang's (Metropolis, M) noir picture Scarlet Street (1945), starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Margaret Lindsay. A few weeks earlier, on February 7th, the independent distributors will also ...
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