A Star Is Born (Blu-ray Book Packaging)
Blu-ray | Blu-ray Book Packaging
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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 one of Hollywood’s supreme triumphs.
Hollywood premiere telecast and newsreel, exhibitor reel plus expanded post-premiere party footage
Audio-only bonuses: Original recording session music and vintage radio show
Trailers of all three A Star Is Born versions and much more
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Top Customer Reviews
Audiences who flocked to "A Star is Born" in the mid-1950s must have been a bit surprised, because this is not at all like the happy, upbeat musicals that made Judy Garland a superstar in the late-1930s and '40s. This film has plenty of glamor and swank, like Garland's previous vehicles, but the entire tone is sultry, ironic, and self-reflective. In 'A Star is Born,' Hollywood essentially takes an unflinching look at itself in the mirror, only to find its image clouded with the midnight bar-room smoke of regret, booze, cynicism, falsehood, triumph, and destruction.
Not exactly a "Come on, kids, let's put on a show!" cakewalk.
Garland clearly wanted to showcase all of her tremendous abilities for a big screen comeback, so this property must have been especially alluring to her and then-hubby/manager/producer, Sid Luft. As Esther Blodgett, a waifish California band-singer with big dreams to match her big voice, Garland got to sink her teeth into a character that let her run the gamut of onscreen emotional projection; she is by turns funny, somber, gregarious, shy, confident, tremulously insecure, whimsical, self-loathing, hopeful, and fraught with despair. In terms of her acting alone, Garland is never less than riveting. You always believe her, just like you did as a kid when she and Toto landed in Oz for their adventures.
Co-star James Mason plays Norman Maine, the dapper and established Hollywood movie star who "discovers" Esther after she gamely saves him from making a drunken fool out of himself on-stage at a ritzy Hollywood benefit. Mason's performance is every bit as captivating as Garland's, even if his nuanced, subtly agonized portrayal of an unraveling soul comes without the benefit of song-and-dance numbers. A perfectly chosen supporting cast (Charles Bickford as studio-boss Oliver Niles, Tommy Noonan as high-powered publicist "Libby") makes for an ideal nest from which Garland and Mason can take flight with their performances. Indeed, Los Angeles itself is perhaps the third "big star" of this movie. From skies ablaze with klieg lights to seedy after-hours jazz clubs, from movie studio offices to drowsy rooming-houses, from palatial oceanside haciendas to rickety motels on the edge of the desert, the city radiates or reflects the moods and misfortunes of Esther and Norman as the serendipitous glee of whirlwind romance gives way to inevitable tragedy. You can practically smell the city due to director George Cukor's sweeping, decadent cinematography. He clearly desired to capture the genuine ambience of life in 1950s Hollywood and succeeds in a way few others have been able to duplicate.
The screen play by Moss Hart is outstanding; there's not a throwaway line in the film (even if chunks of the film itself were recklessly thrown away shortly after its release) and the story moves along engagingly, given its nearly 3-hour running time. Today's first-time viewers should be warned that, in the process of the film's ongoing restoration, significant portions of the story that had been cut by studio-head Jack Warner to pare-down its length have been replaced by a montage of stills displayed over the dialogue soundtrack. We are able to get a much better sense of the plot due to this device, but it's a not-quite-sufficient remedy, and the infamous "butchering" of 'A Star is Born' remains a crime against classic cinema, with all the evidence for a swift conviction on hand.
Of course, the greatest and most obvious element of the film is Judy Garland's delivery of the Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin score. She was the biggest singing movie star of her time, and this picture was made to drive that point successfully home. In 'A Star Is Born,' Garland's charcacter does not break-out into song spontaneously, as if tunes were dialogue and she were worrying her way down a yellow-brick road with frightened pals. The songs here emerge realistically, e.g. when Norman finds Esther singing with the band in a motheaten supper-club, when Esther's film debut is being screened, when Esther rehearses with the studio orchestra, etc. Garland's musical performance alone is staggering, and she introduces at least two all-time standards with 'The Man That Got Away' and the stunning (if perhaps just a bit overlong) 'Born in a Trunk' sequence. Moviegoers who wanted Judy Garland singing at the top of her powers were certainly not disappointed by this picture.
As implied earlier, the restoration of this film comprises a drama all by itself. Filmed in Cinemascope, it colors are wet with richness and depth, even though Cukor makes some careless little mistakes, here and there. All in all, 'A Star is Born' is a classic that every serious film-aficionado should own and treasure, if only for the great Garland's definitive, powerhouse performance. No singing star before or since has brought such a tempest of diversified talent (singing, crooning, dancing, comedy, pathos, tragedy, triumph) to the equation in a single movie. Watch it with a thoughtful eye and you'll soon agree with Groucho Marx, who commented after Garland lost the Best Actress Oscar to Grace Kelly: "This is the biggest robbery since Brinks."
When the show ended, we hurried out to the portcochere area at the side of the theatre and waited for the star to come out. She was in a pink suit with a tiny pill box hat to match. She smiled and waved to the crowd before getting into the limo. We were so close, we could have reached out and touched her. That was an evening to remember. Seeing the film restored in the blu-ray version with the stereo sound track, is about as close as I can remember seeing the original Cinemascope print projected in the Encino Theatre those many years ago.
This Blu-Ray belongs in any serious film enthusiast's library. It's a stunning evocation of the mid-century studio system - both in it's content - and from a studied perspective, as a business. The transforming industry is epitomized in the expanded size of the screen, and the overwhelming technologies of the time reaching their peak.
There's an insidious notion of success here that's emblematic, and to have Garland's intensity at the center of it is remarkable. Mason delivers one of his usual, superb performances as a nuanced loser, and is brilliantly able to keep up with Garland's sensational presence. Cukor's direction, as always, has a humanist element that shines far beyond what the written page has to offer. As for the musical content: it's simply jawdropping in it's flamboyance and power. THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY is worth the price of admission on it's own!
This is a quality Blu-ray presentation. It does exactly what it should and recreates the look of the original theatrical release. The early CinemaScope lens flaws are intact; but then again, so is the rich, 3-strip Technicolor! The original, 4-track, magoptical sound has not been tampered with, and offers the original panned-dialogue mix. The stereo equalization sounds authentic. As for the compromised restoration, it's better than the studio cut and flows easily enough to enhance the storyline from a character perspective.
This is a film whose historical value shouldn't be underestimated: it was a groundbreaking musical, and a film that vividly evokes a sense of Americana - very much like George Steven's GIANT and Nicholas Ray's REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE did.