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"The world could end each night, with one more look at you"
on May 22, 2005
A blockbuster at the time of it's original release (it was the second-highest grossing film of 1976), the third screen version of A STAR IS BORN has always divided critics and fans alike. The film open to scathingly negative reviews, however, $5.6 million-budgeted picture went on to gross over $150 million at the box office and won an Academy Award and five Golden Globes. It's not without some irony that Streisand's most commercially successful film would also remain her most controversial. For every ten fans who state that STAR is Streisand's best film, there are always ten more who claim it is the weakest film in her filmography. Although both sides have some merit to support their claims, it should still be noted that the seventies take on A STAR IS BORN remains one of the most touching and highly entertaining showbiz dramas that Hollywood ever produced. For my money, it's the best version of the often-told tale.
The film is solidly enjoyable and throughly absorbing. Changing the setting from the old Hollywood studio system to the competitive world of the music industry was actually a great idea, and the screenplay forges a realistic contrast between the characters' romance and their careers. This is the main area that the 1976 version of A STAR IS BORN actually surpasses it's classic predecessors. For example, the film is especially successful when depicting the clashing personal and professional difficulties during recording sessions and the never-ending phone calls that interrupt Kristofferson's songwriting attempts. This version of the story is also more believable in it's portrayal of the lead characters. For example, the female leads in the two previous versions were so virtuous and self-sacrificing that they came off as saints. On the other hand, Esther, the female lead in this version, is not only portrayed as being strong and passionate, but also flawed and conflicted. This makes her feel more real than the Janet Gaynor or Judy Garland characters felt in the previous films, and makes the story that much more effective.
The performances are all on target, even though the supporting characters aren't fleshed out enough. If you're looking for an actress/singer who can walk the fine line between tough and vulnerable without making herself seem like a script contrivance, Streisand is definitely the girl you want. She's one of the few film stars who can make even the most banal dialogue seem fresh and natural, and, as usual, she manages to make a strong emotional connection with the viewer. Simply put, her Esther is a fully-realized, three-dimensional human being. Kris Kristofferson may not get much respect now for his laid-back characterization, however, he's always interesting watch and displays a magnetic charisma here that he seldom displayed elsewhere in his career. Kristofferson actually received rave reviews at the time from Newsweek, Time, and even the New Yorker's usually vicious Pauline Kael. Gary Busey and Paul Mazursky also give believable performances, but both have a fairly minimal amount of screentime.
The film's soundtrack recording was also a massive success, hitting the #1 on Billboard's Hot 200 and selling over four million copies in the US alone. The Streisand-composed "Evergreen" (with lyrics from Paul Williams) is unarguably one of the most gorgeous songs in contemporary pop, brought to even-further life by an absolutely incomparable vocal performance from Streisand. The rest of the film's original songs (mostly composed by Williams and Rupert Holmes) are pretty good as well, and Streisand sounds fantastic - her live solo numbers remain in the memory long after the rest of the movie has faded. Streisand's vibrant performances bring "Woman In The Moon" and "With One More Look At You" to thrilling life, and make even sillier numbers like "Queen Bee" work far better than they have the right to. Kristofferson's solo numbers sound somewhat tuneless, however, that may have been intentional since he is playing a singer in decline.
Though naturally dated in some respects (it definitely does reflect the decade in which it was made), the seventies take on A STAR IS BORN still holds up remarkably well. The film is well-mounted and slickly produced, the chemistry between the leads is extremely powerful and always feels genuine, and Streisand has two emotional scenes near the finale that are both aching effective. In conclusion, A STAR IS BORN is not only entertaining and moving, but it also transcends all criticism.
DVD UPDATE (12-6-06): The A STAR IS BORN DVD is finally here after several delays, and it was worth the wait. The picture quality is well above average, and is very film-like. Sure, there are the usual tale-tale signs that mar all films from the seventies (namely grain and inconsistent sharpness), but the transfer is great for a catalogue title that is over the 30 years old. The 5.1 sound is exceptional even by modern-day standards.
As far as supplements, Streisand's commentary is informative and entertaining, although I would have loved to hear Kristofferson join her on at least some scenes. The wardrobe test reel is good fun, and the 12 deleted/alternate scenes are great to have. I wish that the promotional television special "With One Look at You" and Streisand's thrilling performance of "Evergreen" from that year's Oscar telecast had also been included, but perhaps Warner Home Video could not secure the rights. All in all, with great picture, exceptional sound, and a healthy portion of supplements, the A STAR IS BORN DVD was well worth waiting for.