A Star is Born is a retelling of a famous Judy Garland/James Mason film (itself a remake), only set in the decadent world of 70s rock ‘n roll. Kris Kristofferson plays John Norman Howard, an aging rocker whose career is in a steady decline thanks to creative burnout, endless touring and a constant stream of drugs and alcohol. Kristofferson was 40 at the time and certainly had the outlaw image and reputation to pull off such a role. Barbra Streisand plays Esther Hoffman, a young singer discovered by Howard and taken under his wing.
The two begin a torrid affair and fall in love. Howard nurtures Esther’s career, helping her record an album, putting her on stage in front of thousands of people and launching her superstar music career. Unfortunately, as her star begins to get brighter, Howard becomes less relevant. Pretty soon, the same people who used to worship Howard have shoved him aside in favor of the fresh new talent. The strain of being washed up and watching his lover attain great success eats away at Howard’s soul. The two grow farther apart until not even love can save them.
Featuring music sung by Streisand, Kristofferson and written by the likes of Paul Williams, Kenny Loggins, Leon Russell and Rupert Holmes, A Star is Born was a huge hit when released in 1976. It not only grossed top box office dollar, but spawned a number one selling soundtrack album. However, it’s almost laughable to watch now. The movie feels like what a generation removed from rock and roll must have thought rock and roll was like. They seemed to take a bunch of ideas of grit and decadence and threw it into a screenplay.
Early in the movie, Howard rides a Harley Davidson on stage during a concert (after some random biker just gave it to him). When Howard ends up crashing, it’s supposed to show how out of control he is, but you never feel that the singer is as drug addled and intoxicated as the filmmakers are implying. He just seems bored. Or rather, Kristofferson seems bored and wondering, “What the hell am I doing in this movie? Didn’t I just work with Scorsese?”
The film’s biggest detriment isn’t the tepid treatment of 70s rock, it’s the star of the movie, Streisand. At 30 years old, and already a seasoned actress, the actress brought too much experience to the role. Not once did she convincingly play the young ingénue who gets discovered. Instead she played the role as if she was a longtime singer whose big break had always eluded her. That would have been fine, except that isn’t how the role was written.
Making matters worse, the music is anything but the kind of rock music the film is supposed to be depicting. The songs reek of MOR, as opposed to the mainstream rock the world shown in A Star is Born is showing. The biggest hit from the album, , “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born)” never would have been heard alongside Frampton, the Eagles or Heart. Hell, it wouldn’t even have been heard alongside Kiss’ “Beth” on any major rock station. Yet we’re to believe that this song and Streisand’s character are peers with those same type of artists. I didn’t buy it.
But what the heck do I know? A Star is Born was an enormous success. It won Golden Globes and the theme won the Academy Award for Best Song. People loved this movie. And I imagine those same people will still love the movie once they get a look at this Blu-ray. The image quality is excellent, the soundtrack has been remastered in DTS Master Audio 5.1, and the extra features include feature commentary by Streisand, deleted scenes (with commentary by Streisand), wardrobe tests (with commentary by Streisand- man, this woman likes to talk) and a trailer gallery. For the Babs lovers in the world, this Blu-ray is a dream come true. For the rest of us who only watch her films with passing interest, I think that A Star is Born is one to pass up.