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A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born(1976)

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teaser A Star Is Born (1976)

It is a classic Hollywood story: a talented female newcomer and a washed-up, hard-drinking male star fall in love. He helps her achieve her dreams, but while her star ascends, his career plummets as he descends into alcoholism and despair. The first A Star is Born, directed by William Wellman and written by Dorothy Parker (and others), came out in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March playing the star-crossed lovers. It was remade in 1954 by George Cukor and starred Judy Garland and James Mason. By the early 1970s, the iconic Hollywood tale was ripe for a new version, when husband and wife writers John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion came up with the idea of a remake set in the rock music world. They called their script Rainbow Road and pitched it to director Peter Bogdanovich and his then-girlfriend, actress Cybill Shepherd. When they turned it down, the writers tried to interest Liza Minnelli, Carly Simon and James Taylor, and Diana Ross. Finally, Barbra Streisand got involved, thanks to her then-boyfriend, hairdresser to the stars Jon Peters. They approached Elvis Presley's manager Colonel Tom Parker about having the rock legend co-star, but Parker refused to allow Presley to play a drunken has-been.

According to news stories of the era, Streisand at different times wanted Peters to direct and/or co-star with her. Peters eventually ended up as producer (with Streisand credited as Executive Producer), and brought in Frank Pierson, who had won an Oscar for his script for Dog Day Afternoon (1975), to make the screenplay edgier. Pierson rewrote A Star is Born (1976) and also ended up directing the film, his first feature as director. Kris Kristofferson was cast as the self-destructive rock star who discovers Streisand singing with a girl group.

With Peters's support, Streisand was able to take more control than she'd ever had on one of her films, and she was involved in every detail of production, from the most complex to the smallest. The rock concert footage was shot before a crowd of 47,000 at Sun Devil Stadium in Arizona, with Streisand and Kristofferson headlining, and included other acts such as Peter Frampton and Santana, booked by famed concert promoter Bill Graham. One of the film's credits is "Musical Concepts by Barbra Streisand." She co-wrote two of the film's songs, "Evergreen," which earned her and lyricist Paul Williams an Oscar for best original song, and "Lost Inside of You." Another credit reads "Ms. Streisand's clothes from...her closet," since everything she wore came from her own extensive wardrobe.

Streisand was on the set even when she wasn't in the scenes, looking through the viewfinder and second-guessing Pierson. They clashed constantly, and when she was dissatisfied with his work on some scenes, she reportedly took over and directed them herself. When asked later about those stories, she claimed she "had to," because of his incompetence. Pierson told his version of the story in a scathing New West magazine article, "My Battles with Barbra and Jon." According to People magazine, Kristofferson stayed above the fray by arriving on the set "at 5 a.m. with a couple of six-packs to chase his daily quart-and-a-half ration of tequila."

In spite of all the squabbling, the tinkering, the he-said, she-said, the problems with A Star is Born may well have been insurmountable. Streisand didn't have the small-town girl naivete of Gaynor, nor the tremulous vulnerability of Garland. From the start, Streisand's Esther is strong and confident, even when her character is supposed to be insecure. Transposing the story to the rock world doesn't really work. Although Kristofferson is the epitome of the drinking, drugging rocker, there is nothing rock and roll about Streisand. As dynamic as she is, she's a pop singer, a Broadway superstar, and appeals to a different audience. There is little chemistry between the stars. The reviews reflected these problems, and many critics blamed Streisand. In the New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote that Streisand "plays an unknown singer as if she were the wolf disguised as Red Riding Hood's grandmother." the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert wrote, "What possessed her to remake A Star is Born?" but admitted, "I thought Miss Streisand was strikingly miscast in the role, and yet I forgave her everything when she sang." One review was headlined "A Bore is Starred."

But even though many critics were scathing, the public -- or at least Streisand's fans -- loved it. In an article headlined, "Despite Bad Press, Streisand Triumphs," written a month after the film's premiere, veteran Hollywood reporter Bob Thomas called it "The surprise hit of the movie season," and quoted a gleeful Streisand as saying, "No picture ever had such bad talk about it...everybody jumped on the thing that the star hired a producer who was her boyfriend and had been a hairdresser." A Star is Born was a big hit, and became the second-highest grossing film of 1976.

Director: Frank Pierson
Producer: Jon Peters
Screenplay: Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, Frank Pierson, based on a story by William Wellman and Robert Carson
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Editor: Peter Zinner
Production Design: Polly Platt
Music: Barbra Streisand, Paul Williams, Leon Russell, Rupert Holmes, Kenny Ascher, Roger Kellaway
Principal Cast: Barbra Streisand (Esther Hoffman), Kris Kristofferson (John Norman Howard), Gary Busey (Bobbie Ritchie), Paul Mazursky (Brian Wexler), Joanne Linville (Freddie Lowenstein), Oliver Clark (Gary Danziger), Venetta Fields, Clydie King (The Oreos), Sally Kirkland (photographer), Marta Heflin (Quentin, a reporter), M.G. Kelly (DJ Baby Jesus)(
140 minutes

by Margarita Landazuri

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