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A Star is Born(1976)
The tempestuous love affair between two rock singers, whose careers are on opposite trajectories.
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 Michael Reuben on February 3, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Kris Kristofferson, Barbra Streisand, Gary Busey, Marta Heflin, Sally Kirkland, Paul Mazursky
Director: Frank Pierson
» See full cast & crew
A Star is Born Blu-ray Review
Third Time's the Charm?
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, February 3, 2013
"The hairdresser did good!" That phrase, spoken by a low-level publicist around a luncheon table at a Southern California restaurant where I happened to be sitting over the Christmas holidays in 1976, will forever define for me the third version of A Star Is Born, which starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson as star-crossed music superstars. In just four words, this effusive gossip had summed up the controversy, the bad pre-release press and the favorable outcome of what became one of the year's biggest hits. Allow me to explain. Streisand was already a huge star, with bestselling record albums and box office successes like Funny Girl (for which she won an Oscar), What's Up, Doc? and The Way We Were. Her significant other at the time was her former hairdresser, Jon Peters, who aspired to become a producer. Although Streisand didn't care for remakes, Peters sold her on A Star Is Born, whose previous two incarnations had dealt with romance between two Hollywood actors, instead of musicians, because Peters had the advantage of simply not knowing that it was a remake. He just liked the script about rock musicians by veteran screenwriters John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion. Streisand agreed to fund the film through First Artists Corporation, a modern version of United Artists founded by her, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Peters would get his shot at producing, with Streisand as executive producer. They hired yet another veteran screenwriter Frank Pierson (Dog Day Afternoon) to direct. Pierson substantially rewrote the script, and so eventually did many others, including Streisand herself. (She also reshot some of Pierson's scenes behind his back.) Songwriters Rupert Holmes, Paul Williams and Leon Russell were pulled into the mix to contribute, and Streisand made her first effort at writing her own songs. Holmes quickly gave up on the project, and Williams complained that Streisand kept interfering with his work, though his feelings were assuaged when their joint composition, "Evergreen", won the Oscar for best song (the film's only win). To play the part of the rock star whose plunging career trajectory demonstrates the dark side of success, the power couple first tried to recruit Elvis Presley, then Marlon Brando and, according to rumor, Mick Jagger. Eventually they cast Kris Krisofferson, who would later be quoted as saying that the experience "may have cured me of the movies". Shortly before the film opened on December 17, 1976, director Pierson, who apparently couldn't contain himself, boiled over in an exposé published in New West magazine airing every behind-the-scenes dispute from the film's production in excruciating detail. Peters was a bully and Streisand an indecisive control freak. They weren't in charge, and they wouldn't let anyone else be. But the last laugh was on Pierson. Streisand's fans turned out in droves to see the film. Even Peters' detractors grudgingly acknowledged that, novice though he was, he'd put together a decent piece of entertainment. Peters would go on to produce or executive produce such films as Flashdance, The Color Purple, Rain Man and, of course, his greatest success, Tim Burton's Batman, which cemented his reputation as a major Hollywood player. For all the carping and complaining, the hairdresser did good.
The tragic hero of A Star Is Born is John Norman Howard (Kristofferson), a fading rock star whose fans still scream for him, but who is so weary of the road and the lack of any private life that he's lost even the joy of making music. "Are you a figment of my imagination, or am I one of yours?" is John Norman's signature line, and one gets the sense that he means it literally. It's like he's waiting for someone to blink and make everything go away. After another in a string of disappointing concerts, John Norman disregards the advice of his perpetually agitated manager, Bobbie (Gary Busey, who used to be a fine screen actor), to get some rest. Instead, he goes out on the town. At a club, he encounters a girl group called "The Oreos", so named because they're a trio composed of two black girls surrounding one white singer named Esther Hoffman (Streisand). Naturally Esther is the standout. Especially in films where she's exercised creative control, Streisand has often erred by letting her characters glow too much against the background, but in A Star Is Born that quality is essential to Esther. She must have the innate presence and star power to rouse John Norman from his stupor and then to explain her rapid rise after he gives her an opportunity. John Norman doesn't make a star; he simply recognizes one when she appears before him. The scene of their first meeting is one of the best in the film, because patrons keep interrupting Esther's act by accosting John Norman—look for Robert Englund, the future Freddie Krueger, as the most obnoxious of the interlopers—and eventually a fight breaks out. John Norman seizes the moment to grab Esther and flee the place in his limo, and a relationship begins. A central element of the romance in all three versions of A Star Is Born is that personal life and show business are inseparable. Here, as Esther and John Norman fall for each other—the turning point occurs while they're writing a song—there's no distinction between their love affair and John Norman's assistance to her career. In the romantic and uncynical bubble in which, for a while, they manage to exist, neither of them "uses" the other. Esther isn't a groupie or a climber and never asks to be mentored. John Norman expects nothing in return for helping her, because he's really doing it for himself. Through Esther, he rediscovers the joy he once felt from playing music, before the whole experience turned sour. In Esther, he sees what he once was, and he passes the torch freely. Of course, John Norman's entourage doesn't see it that way, especially his long-time producer played by director Paul Mazursky. For them, Esther is a distraction—that is, until the moment when John Norman forces her onto the stage in front of a huge concert crowd, and she knocks them over with her singing. From then on, his own downward slide accelerates, as everyone rapidly abandons him for new talent. Despite all the script rewrites, the film retains the critical moment that occurs in the previous two films, where someone refers to John Norman as "Mr. Hoffman". It's a turning point. A Star Is Born has its flaws. Esther and John Norman are meant to be a tempestuous couple, but occasionally their relationship strains credibility, as his behavior reaches extremes from which it's hard to imagine any pair recovering. (The Grammy Awards scene is especially hard to swallow.) And the film goes on for too long, with a final number performed in concert by Streisand that would have worked better over the closing credits. But taken as a whole, the film effectively captures the feel of the American concert scene and its inhabitants in the era of the 8-track tape (which John Norman is shown playing in his car). For that alone, it's worth watching.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Video Quality
Three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Surtees (Ben-Hur, The Bad and the Beautiful and King Solomon's Mines) shot A Star Is Born, for which his photography netted him another Oscar nomination. Films of the Seventies are often noted for their "in your face" grit, but Surtees cast an old-school sheen of studio glamor over the whole of A Star Is Born, imbuing every frame with the romance of show biz success, even when the events happening on screen were less than ennobling. An obvious measure of Surtees' achievement is the number of times that Streisand, recording her commentary thirty years later, exclaims over how good he made everything look. Warner is in top form with their 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray. The source material is in pristine condition (or flawlessly restored), and the resolution of fine detail is some of the best I have seen. In the various concert performances, the ability to distinguish individual faces in the massive crowds is especially impressive. Fine details of clothing and hair styles (for better or worse, the Seventies not having been a great era for fashion or style) are readily identifiable. Black levels are excellent, and colors are beautifully delineated, ranging from the garish lighting of the concerts to the earth tones of John Norman's ranch. I can't recall a single frame where I thought, "This doesn't look right." The film has a fine, natural-looking grain pattern, and nothing about it looks digital or artificially manipulated. Compression errors were not an issue, with an average bitrate of 25.96 Mbps.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Audio Quality
A Star Is Born is reputedly the first film released in Dolby Surround (though not the first in "surround"). The Blu-ray's DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is presumably based on the original mix. However, until the success of Star Wars initiated a push for theaters to upgrade their audio capabilities, sound designers remained conservative in their use of rear channels, except for big-budget extravaganzas (which this was not). The mix is front-centered, with the rear channels largely limited to providing a sense of a spaciousness for the musical performances, many of which were sung live on camera, at Streisand's insistence. (It was as much a novelty then as it is today, when director Tom Hooper employed it on Les Misérables.) Mixed by Phil Ramone and differing, often considerably so, from the enormously successful soundtrack album released simultaneously with the film, the musical numbers sound excellent on this Blu-ray's track, with clarity and dynamic range that convey the sense of a live performance without blurring into the kind of aural mud into which so many overamplified concerts often degenerate. The dialogue is generally clear, except occasionally when Kristofferson swallows a word here and there.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The extras have been ported over from the 2006 DVD edition released by Warner, which was also a digibook.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
In her commentary, Streisand noted that A Star Is Born had been remade every twenty years or so and that another version was past due. When she recorded her comments, there were rumors of a new version, but so far none has been confirmed. Perhaps no one has been able to figure out how to recast the story for an age in which stardom has been radically transformed by the internet, social media and reality TV. Fame now has a much shorter half-life than when any of the three Star movies were made, and the desire for privacy that informs all of them has far less resonance in a world where people gladly fling it away just for the opportunity to appear on television or get a million hits on YouTube. Would a modern audience relate to John Norman's desire to withdraw to the solitude of his ranch and shut out the world? Or would they be screaming at him to negotiate a contract for his own reality show on Bravo called "Mr. Hoffman's World"? We do need a new Star Is Born, but it wouldn't look anything like the previous three. In the meantime, Warner's Blu-ray of the 1976 version is highly recommended for its technical quality, with due regard for its limitations as a film.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: A Star is Born (1976) - January 31, 2013
Blu-ray.com and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment are offering three members an opportunity to win a DigiBook copy of director Frank Pierson's A Star is Born, the 1976 remake of the 1937 Janet Gaynor/Fredric March and 1954 Judy Garland/James Mason classics of the ...
• A Star is Born Blu-ray - October 12, 2012
Warner Brothers is putting together a Blu-ray DigiBook version of A Star is Born for release early next year. Starring Barbra Streisand (Streisand: Live in Concert 2006), Kris Kristofferson (Blade), and Gary Busey (Lethal Weapon), the 1976 musical won 5 Golden ...
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