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My Lawyer Will Call Your Lawyer: A Star Is Born (1976)

The latest My Lawyer Will Call Your Lawyer revisits one of Hollywood’s perennials, the seventies remake of the yet again soon-to-be-remade A Star Is Born.

Category: Films

Reading time: 7 min

Writer: Astrid Swan, Nick Triani Photos: Juulia Niiniranta
A Star Is Born

Juulia Niiniranta: A Star Is Born (2)

Astrid

We went quickly from me asking about what is A Star is Born to watching its 1970s version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. After reading that Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are making the fourth version of A Star is Born, I just got fascinated by the movie, as it seems to tell such a compelling story that it needs to be retold by Hollywood every so often. I will definitely want to see the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and the 1954 one with Judy Garland. But since Nick and I are such 1970s lovers, it comes as no surprise that we went with Barbra and Kris first.

The question is: why haven’t I heard of this movie before? The storyline is pretty much right up my ally. Like Martin Scorsese’s New York New York, this one deals with a couple in a creative line of work, who fall in love and make a mess of things by mixing work and pleasure. That’s always fun! I’m telling you as a woman with experience. This version of A Star Is Born depicts the crossroads where a male artist is fading, jaded and confused by his fame (or just drugs?) and at that moment he meets and aids a woman who quickly becomes the successful artist in the relationship. Together they go from awe, to love, to support and then independence, separation and disaster. But this is not a Sylvia and Ted kind of story. Instead, in the end Barbra stands on stage alone – sad and strong – belting her heart out in an entertaining and strangely filmed way while Kris has given up the ghost. He remains a glamorous and vacuous rock star hippie until the end. She – I can’t quite figure out what her position is in the end.

 

The film itself is both super stylish and cheesy, and a mess narratively speaking. It makes for fabulous Pinterest posts, yet it is not so great as a script. Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson were probably pretty much being themselves, which is both uncomfortable and entertaining to watch. They were superstars making a movie. At times it feels like their characters are too heavily matched to their artist profiles. The music in the movie is odd, jumpy, and most of the time, simply bad. That’s a major disappointment, especially when there are many key scenes that consist of musical performances. Despite the flaws, I’m very glad to have seen this film. Hollywood stories about creative artists, gender and relationships rarely play out like this for the women characters. Still, variations on this theme have existed over the whole history of Hollywood. It is as if the structures that produce women as stars (and thus present women as creatives) like to reflect on this revolutionary phenomenon from time to time.

Hollywood stories about creative artists, gender and relationships rarely play out like this for the women characters. Still, variations on this theme have existed over the whole history of Hollywood.

A Star Is Born

Juulia Niiniranta: A Star Is Born (1)

Nick

A Star Is Born, the idea more than the various movies based on this one story, is perhaps indicative of Hollywood’s self-mythology. It’s a story that rhymes so much with our own aspirations of wanting to ‘make it’ and ‘be found’ – an improbable escape from our own mundane machinations. A Star Is Born‘s substance is certainly a fictional, more romanticized forerunner for Pop Idol. Yet, in 2016 this story of starlet discovery feels clichéd – even in these anything-goes-times. Still, with our penchant for heavy nostalgia, it’s no surprise to see that A Star Is Born will be returning to our silver screens in the not too distant future; re-make, re-boot, re-saddle – this is in some ways Hollywood’s own calling-card, an eternal franchise drip-fed to an ever desperate audience. What’s so interesting about the third remake from 1976 is how much of an absolute car-crash of a movie this is and yet how absolutely popular Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson’s rock n roll, rags to riches melodrama was. Just don’t mention the awful songs.

re-make, re-boot, re-saddle – this is in some ways Hollywood’s own calling-card, an eternal franchise drip-fed to an ever desperate audience.

Barbra Streisand fascinates me no end. An incredible singer as well as more than capable actress, her stardom – which remains high even in 2016 despite little attention – is one of the quirkiest in movie history. Signs of her famed absolute control freakery are present on A Star Is Born. She was made for the soft focus, although Streisand, not the most conventional beauty, remains stunning on screen throughout. She’s an original, unconventional star for sure. But someone should have put a tighter reign on the wardrobe designer for this, some outfits are laugh-out-loud funny. Streisand’s scenes with Kristofferson are very good, offering a naturalness and probable improvisational quality you don’t normally come across in your everyday box office candy. Kristofferson plays the out-of- control-past-it-rockstar very well, and I’d say A Star Is Born is worth watching purely to see this underrated actor in top form.

So why is this such a disaster? Apart from Streisand and Kristofferson’s sometimes uneasy alliance – the chemistry between them is weird – nothing lends itself to coherence. The music, excluding the film’s hit song “Evergreen”, is truly awful. Worse than that; tuneless rubbish. You can’t have a musical with no memorable tunes. The supporting cast are virtually non-existent and when called upon wooden. The basic plot is nonsensical at times, whilst the movie looks and feels cheap. There are long passages of Streisand on stage where not only is she belting out another useless number, but the screen is filled with endless close-ups, the director Frank Pierson having no sense of editing or screen presence. Yet still, amongst all this frankly terrible cinema, A Star Is Born feels very strange for a mainstream box office smash. Its amateurism and complete failure most of the time makes it an accidental, experimental curiosity.

How did this ever ram the punters into the cinema seats? Was Streisand’s star voltage so potent? Obviously. There is a tragedy amongst all the onscreen carnage, but the freakiness of the exercise is somehow enthralling. Bradley Cooper‘s forthcoming re-make, with Lady Gaga in the Streisand role, offers some hope. If Gaga is on top songwriting form (presuming she’s penning the songs), it could pass muster as a return for the musical. If Cooper has the sense to retain some of the quirkiness found here and lose the clichéd plot, it could be even more. Don’t hold your breath.

A Star Is Born

Juulia Niiniranta: A Star is Born (3)

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