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A Star Is Born

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 26-03-2011


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As a band singer guided to heights of show-business success by an alcoholic ex-matinee idol, Judy Garland performs one superb song after another (most by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin) in a production – also starring James Mason and directed by George Cukor – that exhilarates with its craft and style even as it moves toward a heartbreaking finale. Shortened after its 1954 premiere and reconstructed to near its original length in 1983, A Star Is Born endures as o… More >>

A Star Is Born

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Many films have a convoluted history, but few so much as A STAR IS BORN. The basic story of a famous Hollywood alcoholic who promotes the career of an unknown–only to see her star rise as his falls–was based on the lives of a number of silent-era figures and first filmed in 1932 as WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? After a number of plot changes, the story reemerged in 1937 as A STAR IS BORN starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. Then, in the 1940s, A STAR IS BORN was recycled into a radio play–and the leading lady was Judy Garland.

Garland’s private life was difficult, and in 1950 she made a highly publicized suicide attempt. When she proved unable to recover herself quickly, she was fired by MGM amid much negative publicity, and it was assumed her career was over. But within a few years Garland reemerged as a powerful concert performer, and momentum began to build toward a screen comeback. Garland, who recalled her radio presentation with fondness, suggested A STAR IS BORN.

The production was plagued with problems. A number of leading actors turned down the male lead before James Mason accepted. A considerable portion of the film was shot when Warner Brothers decided to present it in Cinemascope, and this entailed scrapping all previous footage reshooting from scratch. Garland herself proved typically highstrung, and her temperament led to numerous delays. The budget ran out of control, and by the time A STAR IS BORN arrived on the screen it had become the single most expensive film made up to that time.

The film’s opening seemed to justify all the difficulty and expense. Critics were positive and the public was eager. But Warner Brothers remained concerned about the film’s length–and although director George Cukor offered to recut the film gratis, the studio hacked it apart. It was soon apparent that critics and audiences alike were considerably less enthusiastic about the edited version, and the film ended its theatrical release with a whimper.

During the decades that followed the film gained a reputation as a mutilated masterpiece. A lackluster 1970s remake fueled interest in a restoration, but the missing footage could not be relocated. In 1983, however, the full, unedited soundtrack and many of the missing scenes were rediscovered. In working with the film, conservators pioneered the use of still photography to fill in the still-missing scenes, a technique that would be used to restore such classics as GREED, METROPOLIS, and LOST HORIZON. And upon release, A STAR IS BORN was once again hailed as a masterpiece.

Stylistically, A STAR IS BORN is an aggressive film filled with bright colors, bombastic music, and larger than life performances. As such, it seems typical of “blockbuster” films of the 1950s and 1960s. But A STAR IS BORN uses this “bigness” to a considerably different end than its counterparts: rather than containing garish display for its own sake, it contains it for thematic purpose.

The theme developed by writer Moss Hart and director Cukor (who considered this his masterpiece) is one of the various levels of artificiality intrinsic to show business, and differences between degrees of artificiality are carefully drawn in scene after scene. The audience enjoys a show–never knowing that the star is blind drunk. The set crew prepares to film an upbeat musical number–never aware that the leading lady is having hysterics in her dressing room. A wife watches a private screening of a film–not realizing that her husband is being quietly fired in an adjoining room.

The performances that drive A STAR IS BORN are perfectly in line with the film’s juxtaposition of reality and artifice. Garland offers a justly famous bravado performance in broad strokes and with an undercurrent of artifice that becomes increasingly noticeable as the film builds, underscoring her gradual immersion in and consumption by the film industry. Mason, in equally brilliant fashion, contrasts her with a performance that becomes painfully realistic as the film progresses. The dissonance created is quite startling: it is easy to see why the two characters attract each other, but it is also easy to forecast how they will self-destruct.

Although musical numbers abound, A STAR IS BORN is not typical of the genre, for the music does not form the primary structure of the film. Still, like most other elements in the film, the songs feed into the film’s themes–and always in the most ironic way possible. Near the film’s conclusion, Maine ask Vicki to sing for him while he, unbeknownst to her, prepares for suicide. The song she sings is “A New World.” And indeed after Maine’s death it will be all of that, a world in which unreality will go unchecked and Vicki will win applause by introducing herself as “Mrs. Norman Maine,” turning her private grief into box office salvation.

A STAR IS BORN is profoundly bitter film that for all its brashness operates in a remarkably subtle way to make a very dark statement about Hollywood fame: the entertainment we enjoy on screen is an illusion with a price, and that price is a confusion of reality and fantasy played out with stakes of life and death. The DVD offers the film in its restored state, in Cinemascope, and with television broadcast footage of the Los Angeles premiere. If you’re serious about film, this is a must-own, must-see.

–GFT (Amazon.com Reviewer)–
Rating: 5 / 5

The film A STAR IS BORN, the 1954 Judy Garland musical for Warner Bros., has been through nearly as many trials and tribulations as any real-life movie-star wannabe to maintain its reputation and realism. The director–George Cukor’s–love/hate letter to the joys and sorrows of Hollywood stardom came in just over three hours long–181 minutes. In an ironic affirmation of the film’s recognition that “the lush days are over” for Hollywood, the studio cut the actual release print down to 154 minutes so that theater owners could squeeze in one extra screening per evening. That is the only version we had between 1954 and 1983, and any revivals, cinematheque offerings or TV broadcasts–quite enough to sustain the cult of the movie and Judy Garland’s bravura performance as a Hollywood star married to an alcoholic has-been–sprang from that truncated release.

In 1983, a partially restored, 170-minute-long version of A STAR IS BORN hit first-run movie screens after long and loving archival and editorial struggle. It was a matter of using anything available to make up for the scenes Warner Bros. had hacked out–stills, amateur home movies made from the set, audio tracks–anything. Most significantly, the restoration reinstituted the entire portion of the movie which appear in the DVD as all of Chapters 14, 15 and 16 in which Garland’s character takes a long-shot chance at an acting career; but although that enhanced plot-line was reintegrated into the movie, the static and museum-like restoration was in many ways more admirable than lovable. Still, it gets across the idea that Judy Garland’s character–singer Esther Blodgett–faced her own trials and tribulations on the way to becoming “Vicki Lester” the film star.

The current 1999 DVD goes the 1983 theatrical release two better: it incorporates even more material previously thought lost–in particular audio–and the newer computer technology was used for a thorough digital “scrub” of the already handsome restoration. Previous reviewers are right: the restored sequences can still be a bit off-putting, but the DVD now for sale at 176 minutes is a noticeable improvement over the 1983 release and probably the closest we’ll ever get to Cukor’s original masterpiece. Is the color perfect? No, 1954 Technicolor was still garish and candy-colored; interestingly, the scenes filmed outdoors at night come across as more realistic than some of the interiors, and the character’s facial tones look more realistic. Is the sound perfect? It’s a good 5.1 multitrack engineering that sounded good on my budget-level home theater, and it certainly holds better aural technology than was available in 1950s movie houses.

A STAR IS BORN is very much a movie about movies, a “backstage” musical something like CABARET where the singing and dancing occur as staged performances or otherwise make sense as something the screen characters would naturally do. (As opposed to the more impressionistic, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN type of movie where characters break character and burst into song artificially.) Judy belts Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin’s unforgettable “The Man That Got Away” in an after-hours club, an impromptu performance later described by eavesdropping leading man Norman Maine (James Mason) as “singing just for yourself and ‘the boys in the band.'” (And with those last five words, a play was born.)

The performance-within-a-performance element that any backstage music requires come from two indelible production numbers from Vicki Lester’s films. “Born in a Trunk” is by far the better known but the restoration added the endearing “Lose That Long Face,” in which another unsinkable Vicki character sings a message of undying optimism as she tap-dances and flat-foots through studio-set rainy streets (Hmm, wonder where they got that idea?)

But most of Garland’s performances are in more intimate venues. After rising starlet Vicki Lester becomes Mrs. Norman Maine, her husband puts her to use as “my own little jukebox” as she sings hit songs from her movies. In a particularly charming sequence, Garland’s character plays homage to–and gently spoofs–the Fifties penchant for grandiose fantasy production numbers by acting out the round-the-world extravaganza (“Somewhere There’s) A Someone At Last” to a background record, using what’s available in the living room to mimic props and delighting the sophisticated Mason. The message is clear: it’s the star, not the production values, that matter most.

Indeed, Judy Garland IS the star who makes this movie; her fictional Vicki Lester comes alive when fused with elements of Garland’s own poignant and turbulent life as an all-too-visible film personality. In this movie her performances–as actor and song stylist–were never better; volumes of praise have been written to which I happily agree. But those who surround “Vicki Lester” are a key component of the film’s success, too: James Mason’s “Norman Maine” confronts his wife’s tendency to overdramatize with a subtle performance as the self-deprecating, self-loathing alcoholic who increasingly becomes the object of his wife’s charity. Jack Carson the perennial WB “heavy” of the postwar years (recall him from “Mildred Pierce” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”) is in full force as Matt Libby, the gladhanding and cynical studio publicist. Charles Bickford, perhaps best remembered today as father to Lee Remick’s character in “The Days of Wine and Roses,” adds humanity to the thankless role of the authoritarian film-studio owner Oliver Niles. And Tom Noonan is perfect as the buddy to impart real-life wisdom to “Mrs. Norman Maine.”

People who love Judy Garland certainly should go for this improved and more watchable classic, even if they already have a prior version at home. I think lovers of musicals in general will agree that A STAR IS BORN deserves a place among the tip-top musicals of the 1950s, whether or not they are satisfied with the cardboardish ersatz for Chapters 14-16. Just hop over those with your DVD remote and find out what Warner Bros. left after its butchering! A great film at a great price; go for it.
Rating: 5 / 5

Judy Garland, arguably the greatest female pop singer of the Twentieth Century, gives the performance of a lifetime in this 1954 musical remake of the 1937 dramatic film of the same name (also available on DVD in a superb transfer). This movie was perceived as Garland’s comeback vehicle since she had not made a film for four years prior and she certainly delivers the goods both dramatically and vocally. Her singing here is in total service of the music rather than the audience, with none of the over the top indulgences evident in her stage appearances. The end result is mesmerizing. Garland’s standout rendition of “The Man That Got Away” deserves special mention since it fully lives up to its hype as one of the greatest vocal performances of all time.

James Mason matches Garland every step of the way and in some areas surpasses her in the role of her alcoholic husband whose star is waning as hers is rising. In fact, the entire cast, including Charles Bickford, Jack Carson and Tommy Noonan give excellent performances. Director George Cukor seems to have known just when to reign in Garland and exactly when to let her go and do what she does best. This is especially evident in the “Born In A Trunk” musical number. Cukor also shows a flair for getting the best out of the then new wide screen CinemaScope process. His framing of the scenes has an intimacy appropriate to the story but seems revolutionary for a wide screen picture even today. This DVD showcases the original 2.55: 1 aspect ratio in which A Star Is Born was shown for its initial theatrical presentation and a newly mixed soundtrack preserves the discrete multi-channel stereophonic sound as well. In fact, this DVD looks and sounds phenomenally good considering that this movie will be 50 years old in about 4 years.

Worth the price of the disc alone is the treasure trove of supplementary material, which includes vintage newsreels, a kinescope of live TV coverage of the Hollywood premiere and no less than four alternate takes of “The Man That Got Away.”

Judy Garland never was able to equal or top her work on A Star Is Born. On the other hand, no one else has or could either because she was a one of a kind entertainer that only comes around perhaps once in a millennium.
Rating: 5 / 5



Honoring the gripping masterpiece that marked Judy Garland’s triumphant return to the screen, A Star is Born (1954) will reveal its stunning restoration by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging (MPI) when it debuts on Blu-ray Disc June 22, 2010 from Warner Home Video (SRP $34.99) in a dazzling 2-disc book format with 40 pages of gorgeous photography, film history and more.

Winner of two Golden Globes* (Best Actress, Judy Garland and Best Actor, James Mason) and nominated for six Academy Awards®**, this powerfully moving and glamorous story reawakens when it arrives on Blu-ray Disc for the very first time. Offering the best possible way to see the film at home, the Blu-ray release will also feature impressive bonus content including alternate takes, deleted scenes, excerpts from Garland’s audio recording sessions, a collectible book of rare photos, press materials and an illuminating essay by film historian John Fricke. The film will also be released as a Deluxe Special Edition 2-Disc DVD (SRP $20.97) and will be available day and date on Video on Demand from cable and satellite providers and for electronic download from online retailers including Amazon Video on Demand.

Famously reconstructed in the early eighties under the leadership of late film historian Ronald Haver, MPI has meticulously preserved and restored Haver’s 176-minute version of A Star is Born to its original luster, bringing back the brilliant, saturated colors and crisp picture. Using cutting edge digital restoration tools, MPI removed heavy chemical staining that affected several portions of the film and utilized an ultra-resolution recombine process to correct the heavily damaged sections. Without this painstaking preservation, the fragile negative stock in which the film was created would surely be near extinction.

“Our colleagues at MPI have not only done a phenomenal job in restoring the impeccable visual style of this great motion picture, but through their work, they have also ensured the survival of this cinematic treasure,” said George Feltenstein, senior vice president, theatrical catalog marketing, Warner Home Video. “The unparalleled superiority of Blu-ray combined with one of the best musical dramas ever made, come together to create an unforgettable home entertainment experience that is now preserved for the ages.”

A timeless story, sophisticated in the way it conveys its controversial themes, particularly considering the period of time in which it was made, A Star is Born brought together a cadre of extraordinary talent to portray this evocative contemplation of show business. The film became such a major part of American cinematic heritage that the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”


A Star is Born triumphed anew in 1983 after archivist/historian Ronald Haver spent months ransacking studio vaults to spearhead a reclamation of George Cukor’s original edit, ultimately funded by Warner Bros. He located the entire 181-minute soundtrack, along with footage for three lost musical numbers and portions of the deleted dialogue scenes. Where no film existed, Haver used stills-over-track for transition and only slightly trimmed the audio when photographic coverage for some sequences was deemed inadequate. Haver’s A Star is Born debuted at the sold-out New York Radio City Music Hall on July 7, 1983, with James Mason, Sid Luft, and Garland’s daughters Lorna Luft and Liza Minnelli in attendance. Cukor, who had died six months before, was extolled from the stage by Fay Kanin, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which had encouraged Haver on his search and co-sponsored the screening. It is Haver’s assemblage of the picture that is presented in Warner Home Video’s June 2010 release on Blu-ray and DVD.


A Star is Born (1954) 2-Disc Deluxe Special Edition DVD/Blu-ray Book Enhanced Content:

1.. Introduction: Run time 3:01

2.. The Man That Got Away – Pink Dress: Run time 5:11 – Additional Take

3.. The Man that Got Away – Brown Dress #1: Run time 4:49 – Additional Take

4.. The Man that Got Away – Brown Dress #2: Run time 4:24 – Additional Take

5.. The Man that Got Away – Brown Dress #3: Run time 4:00 – Additional Take

6.. The Man That Got Away – Brown Dress #4: Run time 4:00 – Additional Take

7.. Here’s What I’m here For – Alternate Take: Run time 2:36 – Additional Take

8.. Lose That Long Face – Alternate Take: Run time 4:55 – Additional Take

9.. Trinidad Coconut Oil Shampoo – Alternate Take: Run time 1:24 – Additional Take

10.. When My Sugar Walks Down the Street – Outtake: Run time 0:58 – Additional Take

11.. Suicide Scene – Alternate Take: Run time 2:15 – Additional Take

12.. Film Effects Reel: Run time 0:54

13.. A Report by Jack L. Warner: Run time 6:24 – Vintage Featurette

14.. Huge Premiere Hails ‘A Star is Born’ Newsreel Montage: Run time 7:49 – Vintage Featurette

15.. ‘A Star is Born’ Premiere in Cinemascope: Run time 2:05

16.. Pantages Premiere TV Special: Run time 29:30 – Vintage Featurette

17.. A Star is Bored (1956 WB Cartoon): Run time 7:00 – New Featurette

18.. A Star is Born (1937): Run time 2:46 – Trailer

19.. A Star is Born (1954): Run time 3:52 – Trailer

20.. A Star is Born (1976): Run time 3:46 – Trailer

21.. Audio Vault – Oliver on the Phone with the Director Discussing Norman – Outtakes: Run time 2:00 – Audio Only

22.. Audio Vault – Norman and Esther on the Roof of the Hotel Lancaster – Outtakes: Run time 2:00 – Audio Only

23.. Audio Vault – 12/28/1942 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast with Judy Garland and Walter Pidgeon) Run time 60:00 – Audio Only

24.. Audio Vault – Judy Garland Radio Interview: Run time 4:00 – Audio Only

25.. Audio Vault – Born in a Trunk: Run time 9:05 – Audio Only

26.. Audio Vault – Someone At Last – Rehearsal: Run time 10:34 – Audio Only

27.. Audio Vault – Someone At Last: Run time 7:16 – Audio Only

28.. Audio Vault – My Melancholy Baby: Run time 7:06 – Audio Only

29.. Audio Vault – Black Bottom: Run time 1:48 – Audio Only

30.. Audio Vault – Swanee: Run time 4:57 – Audio Only

Note: All enhanced content listed above is subject to change.


Street Date: June 22, 2010

SRP: $34.99 Blu-ray Book $20.97 / Deluxe Special Edition DVD
Rating: 5 / 5

I saw this recent reissue of the 1954 STAR IS BORN in a store, but did not see it in Widescreen. I was intrigued by all the added attractions, including the Premiere, Original Trailer, the deleted WHEN MY BABY WALKS DOWN THE STREET, and the fabulous alternates of MAN THAT GOT AWAY. The next day in another store, I find the WIDESCREEN EDITION!! Hallaluah!! I have been writing to Warner Brothers since the first edition of the Restored Version was released to try to get it out in Widescreen, THX, Surround, etc. Hence, I’ve been heard! Granted, though not THX, Warners did a superb job in enhancing the restored version. Even on a mono VCR, you can tell the difference in the soundtrack, and the widescreen edition gives you the FULL effect of this great film. Pan and Scan does not do it justice. I was one of many who saw this restored film during its 1983 tour, featuring personal appearances at the theatre by major stars, including the fabulous James Mason. I was at the Dallas engagement and was waiting for Liza or Lorna to appear, as Liza did in NY. However, I got the great suprise to have Ginger Rogers come out and say a few words, as did Fay Kanin of the Academy and Mr. Mason. We were then treated to this restored “wonder”, and the additions of what was deleted added so much to the story, that it made more sense. I loved the shortened version, but did not know until this re-release it had been chopped down. With the extra bits for MAN THAT GOT AWAY and WHEN MY BABY that have been added as supplemental footage, someday someone at Warners will stumble on the cut footage of the actual scenes that were reconstructed using the still shots and other supplemental pieced footage. With the way Film Preservation has advanced, we may one day see this film in its full form. As of today, this new version, including the DVD to come out, is the ultimate version to have in your collection. Though it is not labled as a 45th Anniversary Edition, 1999 makes the 45th anniversary of release for this incredible film. It is a shame Mr. Cukor did not see the completed reconstruction prior to his passing, but I am sure God has found a way for him to see it. It is marvelous. Buy it, put your feet up for a few hours and ENJOY!!
Rating: 5 / 5

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