“When all the people is a hopeless jumble,And the raindrops tumble all around,Heaven opens a magic lane.When all the clouds darken increase the skyway,There"s a rainbow highway to be found…”

This prelude to Harold Arlen and also Yip Harburg’s ageless ballad, “Over the Rainbow,” unused in “The sorcerer’s of Oz,” is sung by allied (Stefani joanne Angelina Germanotta, a.k.a. Lady Gaga) close to the start of Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born.” as she walks down an alley, still dressed in her waitress uniform, the film’s location materializes in huge red letters, harkening back to the ruby hue that the words when they attach George Cukor’s 1954 version of the film, starring Dorothy herself, Judy Garland. Cooper’s snapshot is, in fact, the fifth screen version of the story, and also just might rank 2nd only to the indelible Garland vehicle, many thanks in no small part to just how it both channels and also reinvents various elements of Cukor’s masterwork. 


Garland and also Gaga to be both 32 as soon as their corresponding “Star Is Born” movies received an October release in theaters, and also the actresses each sought to have actually the desire titular role launch—or in Garland’s case, relaunch—their career as a major movie star. However what now stands together the crowning success of Garland’s legacy ironically marked the end of she career as a marquee surname in Hollywood. The pangs that longing the characterize she two many memorable numbers in cinema, “Over the Rainbow” and “The guy That gained Away,” mirror the loss that she endured throughout her life. During a Q&A in ~ the 1967 Chicago international Film Festival, attended by i get it Ebert, Cukor noted, “People that aren"t facility in actual life come through as quite bland on the screen. Most an excellent performers room not very happy and also well adjusted. Probably that"s the price they pay because that being originals.”

According come the illuminating publication released critical fall, A Star Is Born: Judy Garland and also the film that acquired Away, coauthored by Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft, in addition to Jeffrey Vance, the actress associated deeply come the script since of her very own unresolved connection with her father, who passed away when she was a teenager, as well as the father number she discovered in she husband, Sid Luft, who created the film. Garland dram Esther Blodgett, a singer unaware of she star power till she is discovered by Norman Maine (James Mason), a well-known film actor through an unslakable thirst because that alcohol. Her revolution from Blodgett to she studio-assigned persona together Vicki Lester is no all that much removed indigenous Garland’s own change to celebrity, once she actors off the less-appealing surname of Francis Gumm (vaudeville star George Jessel joked that it sounded choose “Glum”). Just as the romance the blossomed between Lester and Maine was doomed for tragedy due to addiction, so to be Garland’s marital relationship to Sid, together he provided into his compulsion for gambling.

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The package Garland brought to the job was dubbed in Luft and Vance’s book as “a vulnerable constitution, suspended on prescription medication, behavior of lateness and also volatility, and also unmanaged manic depression.” how poignant the the very symptoms contributing come the multiple delays that plagued Cukor’s movie stemmed directly from a drug regiment imposed by MGM head luigi B. Mayer. Believing his new contract player come be too overweight, Mayer had actually studio physicians prescribe Garland Benzedrine merged with a phenobarbital come suppress she appetite if doubling she energy. 


Paved through self-serving intentions, this erratic brick road led straight to Garland’s untimely fatality at age 47 of a barbiturate overdose—whether or not it was accidental is beside the point. The actress’s most notorious alleged suicide attempt arisen after MGM suspended her contract, following the repetitive delays she resulted in for 1950’s “Summer Stock,” featuring she iconic song, “Get Happy,” that resulted in the studio shedding money. The “slashed throat” sensationalized by the press was an quickly remedied reduced on her neck that freed Garland from Mayer’s studio, giving her through the necessary an are to prepare because that the greatest work of she career.

It to be Cukor, of course, who need to be attributed with the earliest and also least recognized iteration the “A Star Is Born,” which likewise happened to it is in his first significant directorial effort. 1932’s “What Price Hollywood” centers top top waitress mary Evans (Constance Bennett, cary Grant’s fellow ghost in “Topper”), a most established heroine with a Hollywood-ready name who provides a deliberate impression on drunk director, Max Carey (owl-eyed Lowell Sherman), while playing hard-to-get v Lonny (Neil Hamilton), the boorish male who lusts after her. It’s interesting how the Oscar-nominated screenplay, based on a story by Adela Rogers St. Johns, splits the father figure and also lover later embodied by Norman Maine into two, finishing in Mary’s happy reunion with Lonny after ~ Max’s death. We’re not exactly rooting for the pair to be together, due to the fact that their very first date consisted of Lonny shattering in she glass door, dragging her to his house and also force-feeding she caviar. 

William A. Wellman’s unofficial work again, please again from 1937, the an initial to carry the title, “A Star Is Born,” is an improvement in numerous respects, providing the rundown for Cukor’s version released 17 years later. Though Moss Hart rewrote the very first half the the 1937 screenplay (which oddly earned the Oscar for initial Story), countless stretches in the 2nd act of the 1954 picture are almost word-for-word replicas. It’s easy to overlook that fact, however, due to the fact that the peerless actors assembled by Cukor revitalize their lines with newfound life. One sentimental personality from the 1937 film who never shows up in subsequent versions is Esther’s grandmother, who likens the young woman’s desires of stardom with the inhabitants who conquered the American wilderness, elevating her granddaughter’s trip to supernatural proportions. In contrast, Cukor’s work again, please again feels bracingly modern-day in that is visceral portrayal of studio-bred dysphoria, signified in ~ the beginning by the Lynchian buzzing of floodlights and also a Scorsese-esque use of epilepsy-inducing flashbulbs. 


Just together the 1954 “Star Is Born” is better than its 1937 predecessor, Cooper’s 2018 awards contender is a premium version of open minded Pierson’s 1976 remake (both were created by Jon Peters), certification Barbra Streisand and also Kris Kristofferson. This was the very first picture to take the story out of Hollywood and place it in the music industry. Gaga’s ally is as lot a nod to Steisand’s Esther Hoffman as she is come Garland’s Blodgett/Lester. Cooper’s pill-popping absent star Jackson Maine speaks in a gravely voice evocative the Kristofferson’s troubled rocker john Norman Howard—two heartrending alpha male personalities whose eyes fine up long prior to their mrs counterparts break down. Streisand sought to break timeless gender duties by having Esther stay men’s suits, do the first move by suggest marriage and also inject the previously sexless yarn with frank if compelled eroticism. “I think there’s a best of both worlds, mix old and new,” sings Esther, thereby justifying the objective of a remake, together does Jackson’s long-suffering sibling, Bobby (Sam Elliott), as soon as he recalls just how his brother believed that music was “essentially 12 note between any octave. 12 notes and also the octave repeats. The the exact same story said over and also over, forever. All any kind of artist can offer the world is exactly how they see those 12 notes.”

It’s only ideal that Gaga is planning come portray Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” ~ above Broadway, due to the fact that that not just happens to it is in Streisand’s debut movie role—the one that made she tie through Katharine Hepburn for best Actress—but it also highly informed Streisand’s approach to “Star Is Born,” with its an in similar way bittersweet love story. The last long take it on Esther’s challenge as she performs onstage ends in a freeze frame that aims to burn her visage into the viewer’s minds, just as the critical shot of Cooper’s film does, and the finale the “Funny Girl,” for the matter. John renders a failed beforehand attempt at having Esther sign up with him onstage, easing she nerves with the promise that “Trust me,” yet in Cooper’s version, ally goes v with it, allowing her duet with Jackson to be the moment they autumn in love. 

Like Streisand and Pierson did, Cooper surrounds self in the snapshot with real sector figures and also close collaborators. Throughout a conversation through Oliver Platt ~ the film’s Chicago premiere, Cooper stated he was inspired by Elia Kazan’s line, “I nothing audition actors, ns take them for a walk around the block.” His focus on direction allowed him to provide his most intuitive performance to date, while his cooperation with Derek Cianfrance ~ above “The Place beyond the Pines” inspired him to utilize immersive long takes, maintaining the camera onstage throughout concert sequences.  


When it pertains to the yes, really star-making talent displayed by the heroines in the many “Star Is Born” versions, the degree of their skill varies conspicuously. Us see tiny of Mary’s capability in “What Price Hollywood,” personal from she on-camera power of “Parlez-moi d’amour,” a an ext understated precursor to allied making her grand entrance through “La Vie En Rose.” however for her initial audition, Mary functions tirelessly in ~ nailing she scripted little bit of business, rehearsing well into the night. Every we obtain in the 1937 Wellman film room a few celebrity impressions delivered by waitress Esther (Janet Gaynor), which space unseen through Norman (Frederic March) in ~ the party wherein she is supposedly discovered. The many potent emotionally peaks that Cukor’s remake space abbreviated here, serving together a blueprint bereft of the complete picture. 

Whereas Garland sang along to prerecorded tracks, as per studio tradition, Streisand insisted on to sing live, a an approach shared through Gaga and Cooper. What torpedoes the dramatic impact of the 1976 film is Streisand’s own ego, which removes any trace that Esther’s vulnerability, leave her through no tangible arc—she’s basically a star indigenous the get-go. By stripping herself physically and also emotionally of she pop star persona, Gaga succeeds in making the audience feeling a sense of discovery when allied steps right into the spotlight. In numerous ways, this performance is the fulfillment of Gaga’s very own anthem of personal empowerment, “Born This Way.”

From the an extremely beginning, “A Star Is Born” brought echoes that Garland, together if foreshadowing her eventual film the would top them all. Cukor want to direct Garland ever since he experienced her song “Happy Birthday” to Ethel Barrymore in ~ his home, just as Cooper acquired the idea to actors Gaga once he witnessed her power of “La Vie En Rose” in ~ a charity benefit. The opened scene that Cukor’s “What Price Hollywood,” wherein Mary flirts v a photo of Clark Gable, is copy by Garland’s 2nd feature movie appearance in “Broadway Melody the 1938,” wherein she sings “You make Me Love You” to she own picture of Gable (embedded above). 


Clara Blandick, that went on to obtain cinematic immortality as Auntie Em in “The sorcerer’s of Oz,” dram the disapproving aunt that Gaynor’s Esther in Wellman’s “Star Is Born,” discouraging her nephew from her technicolor dreams in Tinseltown (and once she ultimately arrives there, the colour pop just like they perform in Oz). Three years ~ donning Dorothy’s pigtails, Garland plot in a Lux Radio Theatre non-musical production of “Star Is Born” the contrary Walter Pidgeon, and two years later, would invite Streisand together a guest top top her tv show. Once the 1976 “Star Is Born” was initially pitched by James Taylor and Carly Simon, it was called “Rainbow Road,” a location echoing the aforementioned prelude come “Over the Rainbow.”

What makes this story together a valuable one come retell every generation or for this reason is that is timeless expedition of a dehumanizing company designed to manipulate talent, allow addictions and also snuff the end those that may endanger its profits. Looked at all together, these five movies serve together “evergreen” time capsules, come borrow the name of Streisand’s Oscar-winning track she sings masterfully in one unbroken take while flirting with Kristofferson (Gaga will likely win the same Oscar for “Shallow”). Also in 1932, the idea of a director conference a woman and wanting to put her in photos is dismissed together “the same old story.” Wellman’s clever choice to bookend his film through pages the the script accentuate the preordained nature of the piece. 

Binding all these versions with each other is a single line of dialogue the serves together the older man’s farewell to his young discovery. In “What Price Hollywood,” the is uttered just once, once Max calls the end to Mary, only to reply, “I just wanted come hear girlfriend speak again, that’s all.” In the succeeding remakes, the line became a request for Norman to take “one more look” in ~ Esther. This exchange occurs previously in the film so that its distribution toward the finish will have more emotional heft. In the 1976 film, the song, “With One more Look in ~ You,” coauthored by Paul Williams, pays homage come this line, intertwining it v John’s signature tune, “Watch closely Now.”


As for the suicide sequence that typically follows this line, that is handled much more or much less identically in the 1937 and also 1954 versions, v Norman walking into the ocean, though Cukor’s film makes it every the much more chilling by accompanying his death with Garland’s tender rendition of “It’s a new World.” only two year after “Singin’ in the Rain” opened up in theaters, Mason’s self-inflicted demise provides a stark contrast with Gene Kelly’s rebellious splashing through puddles, conveying his refusal to allow the changing conditions—both in the weather and also the film industry—dampen his spirits. In the instance of “Star Is Born,” the tides the change cannot be combated by ours hero, he have the right to only it is in engulfed by them (Mason also references the Kelly movie by claiming he is “fit together a fiddle and also ready for love”). 

Yet the suicide of Max in “What Price Hollywood” (embedded above) is even more memorable, preceding the deadly gunshot with photos of the masculine life flashing before his eyes, a excellent visual thrive for 1932. After ~ Kristofferson drives recklessly right into oblivion while listening to his mam on the radio, Streisand has actually her many genuinely touching scene once she meet his lifeless body, clinging come it as if he to be still alive. Cooper’s limply hanging corpse have the right to barely be glimpsed v the home window of his garage, and also his fate is foreshadowed v equal subtlety after his very very first performance in the film, when images of nooses show up on a billboard exterior the home window of his limo.

Driving the male to his death isn’t just his addiction, yet the pressures in his industry and also the greater society that fail to treat him favor a person being. In 1932, the scariest antagonist is the general public itself, which strikes Mary after she wedding, tearing at her clothes with the zeal of ravenous zombies. No wonder Esther and also Norman opted for a personal ceremony in the 1937 and also 1954 versions, much to the chagrin that Libby, a press agent that emerges together the chief rogue of the story. The has everything to obtain from Norman’s death, city hall Esther as the studio’s “hottest piece of property” that must be defended at every costs. His contemptuous treatment of Norman is a blatant attempt to drive the damaged male over the edge. 


In these two films, the veil-ripping step was moved to Norman’s funeral, intensifying the brutality that the mob’s violation. The 1976 remake splits the rogue in two, developing as one assistant (Gary Busey) who shoves drugs right into Kristofferson’s nostrils, and also a vile DJ (M.G. Kelly), that provokes fights with the rocker, only to worship him once his life has actually expired. Cooper’s film supplies its very own spin on the Libby archetype through Ally’s manager, Rez (Rafi Gavron), one insufferable jerk responsible because that Jackson’s final deterioration by convincing the damaged addict that he has no future v his wife. Lot funnier is the pre-Hedda Hopper gossip columnist in “What Price Hollywood” tasked v asking cheerfully invasive inquiries of Mary and Lonny. Once she request a photo of his sculpted physique, he offers her his attachment in a jar prior to storming out of the room (“Has he gone to obtain it?” she asks).

Cukor’s variation of “A Star is Born” quiet proves difficult to same primarily since of Garland herself, whose performance is among the greatest ever before committed to celluloid. Conversely, the 1976 and 2018 remakes finish in a cathartic music number, this film supplies no together release, making the sense of loss every the more palpable. Aside from she refrain that “It’s a brand-new World,” sung off-camera, Vicki Lester’s last track in the film takes location at the top of the final act: Harold Arlen and also Ira Gershwin’s “Lose That lengthy Face.” the an exuberantly high-spirited number, through Garland performing in a hairdo resembling the of she daughter, Liza Minnelli, in later years. Once the director yells cut, Lester retreats to she makeup trailer and also delivers a searing monologue unmatched by any sequence in every other iteration of the story. 

Still clad in theatrical makeup, Lester’s larger-than-life persona dissolves completely as she speaks candidly with studio head Oliver (Charles Bickford). “You don’t know what it’s choose to watch somebody you love just crumble away, little by bit, day by day, in former of your eyes and stand over there helpless,” Lester cries, echoing the feeling of Garland’s countless admirers. “Love isn"t sufficient for him. And also I"m fear of what"s beginning to take place within me because...sometimes I hate him. I hate his assures to stop and then the watching and also waiting to watch it begin again. I dislike to go residence to him at night and listen come his lies. My love goes the end to him since he tries—he does try. But I dislike him because that failing. And also I hate me, too. I hate me reason I"ve failed, too. I have. I don"t understand what"s going to occur to us, Oliver. No matter just how much friend love somebody...how execute you live the end the days?”


Laying her spirit bare, Garland articulates the plight of a caregiver and one addict through such life agony the it transcends the art form of acting and also registers ~ above a level that is inescapably real. “Moss Hart taken when he composed that sequence that Mama to be both Norman Maine and Vicki Lester, that she would be speak of her own failures and also drug dependency,” write Luft in she book. “Mama to be making a movie around addiction, however the characters were reversed.” clean everything away she tears, Lester hurries the end the door, hits she mark and belts the end the last lines of “Lose That lengthy Face,” every the while maintaining a beaming expression. Garland’s whole life is encapsulated in this sequence—the unlimited days of cheering strangers while harboring personal pain—and the remains one of the most powerful stretches of cinema ever before conceived. 

It likewise echoes exactly how Cooper attempted come “capture reputation sonically” in his film, cut from loudness to nothingness and ago again. Another story indigenous the manufacturing recounted through Luft arisen during the filming of Lester’s smashing breakdown. “You really scared the hell out of me,” Cukor exclaimed, to which Garland quipped, “Oh, that’s nothing. Come over to mine house. I execute it every afternoon—but I only do it once in ~ home.” This exchange to be later included into roger Allan Ackerman’s wonderful 2001 tv adaptation the Luft’s memoir, Me and also My Shadows, starring Judy Davis in an astonishing performance worthy the Garland herself. The best sequence re-stages she Carnegie hall concert, an event Ackerman was present for, wherein the overture fittingly join “The man That got Away” with “Over the Rainbow.”

Hollywood’s history of awarding itself would naturally make Cukor’s “A Star Is Born” show up to be a shoo-in because that a full-on move at the Academy Awards. After ~ all, the organization’s own accolade had always been featured prominently in the plot, even earlier when the was referred to as one “Academy medal” in “What Price Hollywood.” Wellman certainly knew a thing or two around Oscars, considering his 1927 film “Wings” was the very first to win best Picture, when Gaynor to be the very first performer to it is in named ideal Actress. Had Garland won the award for “Star Is Born,” the would’ve served as the ultimate validation from an industry for i beg your pardon she had actually sacrificed for this reason much. ~ all, together the ideal Actor winner in the movie notes, to win an Oscar “is one ample reward for whole career.” 


It’s one of the good ironies the Garland’s life that she might hold an adult-sized Oscar—unlike the juvenile miniature she to be presented because that “Wizard of Oz”—only after ~ the Academy lend one the end to Cukor, as in-depth in the opening credits. Despite the 1954 “A Star Is Born” earned six Oscar nominations, it was i do not have anything to be discovered in multiple vital categories, namely ideal Picture, best Director and Best Screenplay. Not just did Garland shed to elegant Kelly for “The nation Girl” (who additionally played the mam of an alcoholic actor), however “The man That gained Away” lost in the finest Original Song category to “Three Coins in a Fountain,” the forgotten tune Steve Martin gets ridiculed for singing in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.” The fact “Star Is Born” left the 1955 Oscar consciousness empty-handed registered as a slap in the confront to Garland, and also unlike the one coincidentally administered by Norman Maine, that was no at every backhanded.

The rapturous solution that the film earned in ~ its splashy Los Angeles premiere was a mirage the “La La Land” proportions. The promised what ultimately couldn’t be delivered, a significant comeback sustained by awards season glory. In spite of the acclaim earned by Cukor’s 181-minute variation of the film, bother Warner insisted that the photo be cut by a half-hour, suggesting that the was as well long—after all, it to be the most expensive movie shot in Hollywood, yet the rerelease that “Gone with the Wind” was still raking in huge money at package office. Without the consultation that Cukor, Warner senselessly chopped the snapshot down to 154 minutes, rendering the story incoherent if removing countless of the ideal scenes, such as the recording session because that “Here’s What I’m below For” followed by Norman’s marriage proposal, and also most criminal that all, the “Lose That lengthy Face” number. 

Since Warner didn’t stroked nerves retaining a solitary print that the initial cut, Ronald Haver’s 1983 restoration was required to juxtapose film stills with enduring audio in order to recreate the 20 minute of footage that were permanently lost. Though this sequences are originally jarring, they boost the rigid immeasurably, when lending brand-new layers that depth to Esther and Norman’s relationship. The amusing little where a mrs lashes out at Norman after he refuses to pose for a snapshot is evocative that a similar moment in Scorsese’s “The King the Comedy,” when one of Jerry Lewis’ disgruntled pan shouts, “I expect you acquire cancer!” Garland never ever lived to check out this boosted version, having actually passed away in 1969, and also Cukor died just two days before his reserved screening the the restoration.


If Cooper’s film proves anything, it’s that the story of “A Star Is Born” will eternally be precious “one much more look,” despite no effective remake have the right to exist without being at the very least somewhat indebted to Cukor’s version. Gaga is one ideal an option to follow in Garland’s footsteps, in component because both women are icons of the LGBT community. The Stonewall uprising that occurred a work after Garland’s funeral in brand-new York City may likely have inspired Gilbert Baker to choose Dorothy’s cherished rainbow as the defining symbol of his gay pride flag. Few singers have ever before tackled the an obstacle of life one’s dreams with as much resonance together Garland, a layout that proceeds to attach with everyone shamed out of being v the one castle love. 

Garland’s conviction to song “The man That got Away” v operatic passion led vocal arranger Hugh Martin to bolt indigenous the set, however she was completely correct in she choice, knowing fully well that this number foreshadowed the stormy emotion she would certainly later provide sans music in the assembly trailer. The songs in Cooper’s snapshot drive the narrative just as lot as they perform in Cukor’s version, through “La Vie En Rose” offer the same duty as “The guy That acquired Away” by wowing Maine (and the audience) with the singer’s stunning talent. When Cooper first meets Gaga backstage and also offers to aid take off her false eyebrows, the minute is one homage to maybe the most coherent scene of all in the 1954 film.

Ally’s self-consciousness around the dimension of her nose reminds us of the humiliating studio examination withstood by Lester, who is informed that she “nose is the problem.” ~ she was hired through MGM, rubber discs were put into Garland’s nose in order for it to it is in reshaped so that she could be understood camera-ready. Art proceeds to imitate life in the Cukor film, when Maine finds Lester post-makeover, caked in makeup and decked the end in a ridiculous blonde wig. The insists the she eliminate all trace of artifice from she features before gazing at she reflection in the mirror. This is the biggest gift the Maine bestows to her—the realization that her beauty beauty shines through only as soon as she’s true to herself. To paraphrase Gaga’s most popular song native the 2018 film, she’s much from the shallow now. 


Lester goes on to victory over audiences in her first major screen role represented by the “Born in a Trunk” medley, a show-stopping sequence similar to “Broadway Melody” in “Singin’ in the Rain,” yet far an ext tied come the central narrative. It gives Lester and Garland the opportunity to weave aspects of their own backstories into their artistry, proving the the more personal one’s job-related is, the more it is bound to affix with others. Gaga believes the Ally doesn’t truly end up being a star until the last framework of the film, ~ she reclaims her identity by ceasing come dye her brown hair red (her manager originally argued “platinum”). Would Garland have actually ever become a star had Cukor encouraged her top top the “Wizard the Oz” set to carry out away with the blonde wig she was ordered come wear during display tests? Why bother transforming what was currently sublime? Baby, she to be born this way. 

Lorna Luft and also Jeffrey Vance’s book, A Star Is Born: Judy Garland and the movie that acquired Away, is available for acquisition on Amazon, as is the Blu-ray version of George Cukor’s restored “A Star Is Born.” 

“The sorcerer’s of Oz” returns to the large screen courtesy that Fathom events on Sunday, January 27th; Tuesday, January 29th; and Wednesday, January 30th in respect of its 80th anniversary.

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Matt Fagerholm

Matt Fagerholm is an Assistant Editor in ~ vxcialistoufjg.com and is a member the the Chicago Film critics Association.


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Critics selection Awards celebration event of black color Cinema & television to Honor will Smith, Ruth Negga and much more on December 6th