Wednesday, 3 February 2016

I've Just Seen: A Star is Born (1937)

A Star is Born (1937)

Director: William A. Wellman

The story of A Star is Born has turned into one of Hollywood's favourite myths, and has been officially remade twice and clearly influences almost any film about life as a star. I had not seen any official versions of the story, so decided to remedy that oversight. I also though it would be a good idea to watch them in chronological order, so as to see the changes made in each version.

Wellman's film casts Esther/ Vicki's character arc as a Cinderella-type story; the young woman who emerges out of nowhere and becomes the most famous actor in the whole industry. Her rise is comparable to Jennifer Lawrence's in recent years. Half way through her story meets Norman Maine, who is experiencing one of those downward trajectories which seem to often happen to stars who become flavours of the month. While the story could be seen as tragically romantic, there is something here more damning of the system as a whole. The sacrifices it demands on one's life and privacy are clearly painful, as demonstrated by the huge sacrifice Maine makes for his wife.

The copy I watched was an old DVD that had had no restoration work at all. As a result the film looked much older than many of the silent films I have seen. While it did lessen the viewing experience, it did not stop me from admiring the performances of the Gaynor and March. They have great chemistry together, and their honeymoon scene is note-perfect. The film is full of in-jokes for those who are well acquainted with early Hollywood, particularly some choice impressions of leading ladies.

I would happily watch this again, though only as long as it was a cleaned-up copy. The Judy Garland version is meant to be even better, so my hopes are high for it; this film is a very good start.

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