Day 6

A Star Is Born — again: The decades-old Hollywood fable that just won't quit

The original 'A Star is Born' hit cinemas in 1937. Now, the fourth adaptation is in theatres. Film critics Aisha Harris and Jason Gorber walk us through the movie's long list of reboots.

'Did we need it? No ... but at least we get to see it in a different, more contemporary way'

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga star in the latest version of 'A Star Is Born.' (Warner Bros.)
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Audiences were in the midst of the Great Depression when A Star Is Born first appeared in theatres in 1937. Eight decades later, the classic Hollywood romance has returned to the big screen — for the fourth time.

The latest iteration of the film, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, was released on Oct. 5. It's the third remake of the story, all about a rising female star who falls in love with, and ultimately eclipses, her troubled male mentor.

In light of the movie's latest modern reboot, Day 6 asked film critics Aisha Harris and Jason Gorber to take us through the 80-plus-year history of A Star Is Born.

1937: Janet Gaynor and Fredric March

Directed by William A. Wellman, the original 1937 A Star Is Born featured an all-star Hollywood cast, with Janet Gaynor playing Esther Blodgett opposite Fredric March as Norman Maine.

The film, which itself drew inspiration from George Cukor's 1932 film What Price Hollywood? was billed as a behind-the-scenes look at the darker side of fame. Set within the movie industry, it follows Norman Maine's decline from a big-name Hollywood star to a self-destructive alcoholic — while his protégé, Esther Blodgett, rises to super-stardom.

In addition to exploring the main characters' relationship, the movie explores themes of addiction, ambition and the price of fame, Harris said. 

"That dynamic, the whole sort of rise of Hollywood, is what A Star Is Born really birthed in terms of popular consciousness," said Gorber.

"It's saying, 'Look at me — I'm making a film about Hollywood.'"

1954: Judy Garland and James Mason

Seventeen years after the original, A Star Is Born returned to cinemas in 1954 under the guidance of director George Cukor, this time with Judy Garland and James Mason in the lead roles. 

"This is the one that made A Star Is Born ​a legend," said Gorber.

While the film's plot remained largely unchanged, this version was the first to incorporate showtunes, placing Garland's musical talent front and centre. Harris described it as "a technicolour, big blown-out musical."

For Gorber, the film's focus on fame and addiction was made particularly poignant by Garland's own struggles with drug and alcohol abuse at the time the film was made. 

"You have, on the one hand, a morality tale about what the ravages of addiction can do to a rising star. And then on the other hand, you have Judy Garland ... who herself had spent already years and years in the limelight, and saw this project as a way of elevating herself."

Harris had high praise for Garland's performance.

"It taps into her ability to be vulnerable, her ability to sing, her ability to be funny," Harris said. "It's really, really an interesting movie to watch — and my favourite of the bunch.

1976: Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson

Like clockwork, the second remake of A Star Is Born arrived two decades later.

Directed by Frank Pierson, the 1976 blockbuster starred musical behemoth Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, who also served as the film's executive producer.

Unlike the first two versions of the film, Pierson's film shifted focus from Hollywood to the music industry.

Norman Maine's character is reinvented as an aging rock star named John Norman Howard; aspiring actress Esther Blodgett becomes Esther Hoffman, a talented singer. 

Despite its effort to dazzle audiences with showy rock numbers and costumes drawn straight from Streisand's closet, Harris found the 1976 film lacking.

"This movie, I think, generally is probably the worst of the bunch," she said, "It's just a bizarre movie that's full of very 70s styles ... Barbra Streisand's hair is, like, huge and permed in this comical way."

Gorber was more forgiving.

"I think [it] has moments that are absolutely charming and wonderful," Gorber said. "I think it's worth seeing, and it's worth falling for those tiny moments in the film that really do shine."

2018: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

The 2018 version of A Star Is Born arrived in Canadian theatres on Oct. 5. The hotly-anticipated film features modern-day superstar Lady Gaga opposite director and lead actor Bradley Cooper — and it's already getting Oscar buzz.

Despite early positive reviews, Harris remains unconvinced a third remake was necessary.

"Did we need it? No," she said. "But at least we get to see it in a different, more contemporary way."

Gorber, who said the 2018 film was his favourite of the lot, believes we'll still be watching A Star Is Born for decades to come.

"Who knows? 20 years from now, maybe A Star Is Born is about a YouTube star," he said.


To hear more from film critics Aisha Harris and Jason Gorber, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.

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