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To grasp where this 1976 version of A STAR IS BORN is coming from
consider this: Its final number is sung by Barbra Streisand in a seven
minute and forty second close-up, followed by another
two-and-half-minute freeze frame of Ms. Streisand -- striking a
Christ-like pose -- behind the closing credits. Over ten uninterrupted
minutes of Barbra's distinctive visage dead center, filling the big
screen with uncompromising ego. That just might be some sort of
Or think about this: The plot of this musical revolves around a love affair between two musical superstars, yet, while Streisand's songs are performed in their entirety -- including the interminable finale -- her costar Kris Kristofferson isn't allowed to complete even one single song he performs. Nor, though she does allow him to contribute a little back up to a couple of her ditties, do they actually sing a duet.
Or consider this: Streisand's name appears in the credits at least six times, including taking credit for "musical concepts" and her wardrobe (from her closet) -- and she also allegedly wanted, but failed to get co-directing credit as well. One of her credits was as executive producer, with a producer credit going to her then-boyfriend and former hairdresser, Jon Peters. As such, Streisand controlled the final cut of the film, which explains why it is so obsessed with skewing the film in her direction. What it doesn't explain is how come, given every opportunity to make The Great Diva look good, their efforts only make Streisand look bad. Even though this was one of Streisand's greatest box office hits, it is arguably her worst film and contains her worst performance.
Anyway, moving the melodrama from Hollywood to the world of sex-drugs-and-rock'n'roll, Streisand plays Esther Hoffman, a pop singer on the road to stardom, who shares the fast lane for a while with Kristofferson's John Norman Howard, a hard rocker heading for the off ramp to Has-beenville. In the previous incarnations of the story, "Norman Maine" sacrifices his leading man career to help newcomer "Vicky Lester" achieve her success. In the feminist seventies, Streisand & Co. want to make it clear that their heroine owes nothing to a man, so the trajectory is skewed; she'll succeed with or without him and he is pretty much near bottom from scene one; he's a burden she must endure in the name of love. As such, there is an obvious effort to make the leading lady not just tougher, but almost ruthless, while her paramour comes off as a henpecked twit.
Kristofferson schleps through the film with a credible indifference to the material; making little attempt to give much of a performance, and oddly it serves his aimless, listless character well. Streisand, on the other hand, exhibits not one moment of honesty in her entire time on screen. Everything she does seems, if not too rehearsed, at least too controlled. Even her apparent ad libs seem awkwardly premeditated and her moments of supposed hysteria coldly mechanical. The two have no chemistry, making the central love affair totally unbelievable. You might presume that his character sees in her a symbol of his fading youth and innocence, though at age 34, Streisand doesn't seem particularly young or naive. The only conceivable attraction he might offer to her is that she can exploit him as a faster route to stardom. And, indeed, had the film had the guts to actually play the material that way, to make Streisand's character openly play an exploitive villain, the film might have had a spark and maybe a reason to exist.
But I guess the filmmakers actually see Esther as a sympathetic victim; they don't seem to be aware just how cold-blooded and self absorbed she is. But sensitivity is not one of the film's strong points: note the petty joke of giving Barbra two African American back up singers just so the film can indulge in the lame racism of calling the trio The Oreos. And the film makes a big deal of pointing out that Esther retains her ethnic identity by using her given name of Hoffman, yet the filmmakers have changed the character's name of the previous films from "Esther Blodgett" so that Streisand won't be burdened with a name that is too Jewish or too unattractive. So much for ethnic pride.
The backstage back stabbing and backbiting that proceeded the film's release is near legendary, so the fact that the film ended up looking so polished is remarkable. Nominal director Frank Pierson seems to have delivered the raw material for a good movie, with considerable help from ace cinematographer Robert Surtees. And the film did serve its purpose, producing a soundtrack album of decent pop tunes (including the Oscar-winning "Evergreen" by Paul Williams and Streisand). But overall the film turned out to be the one thing Streisand reportedly claimed she didn't want it to be, a vanity project.
The anticipation for this musical film was huge. It seemed the perfect star
vehicle for Barbra Streisand and she hadn't had a hit for almost three years
("The Way We Were"). Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland were superlative in
their creations of the classic tale of the Hollywood couple -- one star on
the rise, the other on the skids. Could Streisand put her own indelible
mark on this material as well and reestablish herself as a triple-threat
Nope. Not even close. This third version (actually fourth, if you include 1932's "What Price Hollywood" starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman) stalls early in the game by transposing the dramatic setting of Hollywood movie-making to the brash, uncouth pop/rock music scene... and it is only one of many fundamental mistakes this movie makes.
The rags-to-riches story of Esther Hoffman Howard ain't believable for one second. Streisand the struggling artist? She plays Barbra the hard-assed star from the very first scene, lacking the courage or ability to immerse herself into a fully-realized character. She brays and bullies from the onset, showing no emotional colors whatsoever in a performance bereft of weakness, vulnerability and, as a result, sympathy. Ironically, she played this part to perfection ten years before -- as Fanny Brice, the gawky chorus girl who became a Ziegfeld Follies legend. Well, somewhere in those ten years, is a big star who has forgotten how to laugh at herself.
Its been said that Elvis Presley was briefly considered for the part of John Norman Howard, the singer on the skids, but turned it down for fear of being upstage by Streisand. All the same, one wonders what "The King" might have done with a too-close-to-reality role like this. In the hands of Kris Kristofferson, he tosses in a performance so lackadaisical and careless that one wonders if he was sober at all during the film's shoot. They appear to be performing in two different movies. Neither one interesting.
The screenplay is hopeless trite and corny, fueling some of the most unintentionally funny scenes in recent memory. Streisand's fight scene with Kristofferson after she catches him in the sack with some chippy and her emotional cassette-ripping scene in the mansion after John Howard's death are just plain embarrassing. If she's such a perfectionist in real life, how did these two scenes ever get by the editor's scissors.
The one thing Streisand did right in this movie is the one thing she can never do wrong. Sing. Possessing arguably the finest vocal instrument known to man, she weaves absolute magic in her singing scenes, notably "Woman in the Moon" and especially her heart-breaking finale number, "Are You Watching Me Now." Here, and only here, does she seize an emotional connection to Esther that evaded her throughout the film.
Alas, it is not enough to save this film dud. But, if you must see this, I'd advise you to skip the acting scenes and fast-forward to each Streisand number. Better yet, buy the CD.
Thirty years after its initial release, the third version of "A Star Is
Born" finally comes to DVD in a package that should please the most
devoted fans of Barbra Streisand. That would include me since I just
saw her in concert singing among other numbers, the feminist anthem
"Woman in the Moon" from this 1976 film. Easy to dismiss, the movie's
career-polarizing story is such a sturdy pile of Hollywood-style
clichés that variations of it exist in other films including
Streisand's own "Funny Girl". This time reset to the then-contemporary
music scene, the timeworn plot follows self-destructive rock star John
Norman Howard on his deep-dive career descent just as he meets club
singer Esther Hoffman who is awaiting her big break.
Troubles dog their courtship from the outset, as John Norman (both names please) responds to grasping fans and bloodless DJs with random acts of violence (from which he inexplicably escapes prosecution). To John Norman, Esther represents his last shot at happiness, and in turn, she is drawn to the innately decent, creative musician underneath the façade. In the movie's most pivotal scene, he gives Esther her big break at a benefit concert, and her career takes off. Inevitably, he can't handle the failure of his career in light of her meteoric success, and if you are familiar with any version of this story, you know the rest. Directed by Frank Pierson (although Streisand's budding directorial talents are obviously on display), the film still manages to draw me in, even though I know it is shamelessly contrived and manipulative. It still has a certain emotional resonance despite its numerous flaws.
Although Streisand in her prime seems like the ideal choice to play a rising singing star, her screen persona is simply too strong and predefined to play Esther credibly. The same can be said for her performing style since the script seems to make allowances for her softer Adult Contemporary-oriented material to be accepted within the otherwise hardened world of arena rock. From the moment she pops her head up as the middle of the Oreos, she can't help but come across as an established star. I can forgive the lapse simply because she is an unparalleled vocal talent, but what becomes less forgiving is how she makes Esther more strident than poignant when John Norman's woes become overwhelming. This creates an oddly discomfiting dynamic in the last part of the film when it becomes less about what caused the climactic event than Esther's response to it. This is capped off by an uninterrupted eight-minute close-up of her memorial performance - great except when she regrettably mimics John Norman's style toward the end.
Kristofferson, on the other hand, gives a superb performance throughout, managing a level of honesty that grounds the film and makes palpable his concurrent feelings of love, pride and resentment toward Esther. He makes his vodka-soaked onstage growling work within this context. Otherwise, what always strikes me as strange about this version is how all the supporting characters are relegated to the background as if they didn't exist unless they were interacting with the two principals. The only ones who register are Paul Mazursky as John Norman's level-headed manager Brian and Gary Busey as his cynical band manager Bobbie. Veteran cameraman Robert Surtees provides a nice burnish to the cinematography though a level of graininess persists in the print. A big seller in its day, the soundtrack is a hodgepodge of different styles from the 1970's - some songs still quite good ("Everything", "Woman in the Moon", "Watch Closely Now"), some that have moved to kitsch ("Queen Bee", Kenny Loggins' "I Believe in Love") and of course, the inescapable "Evergreen".
The print transfer on the 2006 DVD is clean and the sound gratefully crisp thanks to digital remastering. Streisand's participation is the chief lure of the extras beginning with her feature-length commentary. She gives insightful information about the genesis of the film, the casting and the reportedly troubled production. She is also refreshingly candid about the megalomania of Jon Peters, her hairdresser boyfriend who became the movie's producer, and her dissatisfaction with Pierson as a director. I just wish she could have provided more scene-specific comments that directly relate to what is on screen. She also tends to repeat the same anecdotes when the mood strikes her, e.g., it gets tiring to hear for the third time how the person playing the chauffeur was a friend of Peters. I think having a second commentator could have drawn out other nuggets from her.
There is a wardrobe test reel that shows some amusing 1970's clothes, especially Kristofferson's mixed-fabric poncho and orange polyester shirt. There are also twelve deleted scenes included with Streisand's optional commentary. One is a comic bread-baking scene which reminded me how much I like Streisand in farcical comedies. Another is an extended scene in which she plays "Evergreen" on the guitar in front of an awestruck Kristofferson who then falls asleep. The most interesting is an alternate take on the musical finale incorporating fast cuts, which I agree with Streisand should have been used. Fittingly, the theatrical trailers for all three versions of "A Star Is Born" are also included.
I enjoyed this 70's remake of the marvellous Judy Garland / James Mason
classic from the 50's (itself a remake, film snobs) more than I
expected without accepting that one isolated minute in it was better
than its counterpart in the predecessor. A rocky update of the story is
a decent idea and in fact lends itself well to the story-line and if
the execution is a bit clunky and now dated, that's both pardonable and
Things I liked - well let's start with Kris Kristofferson who, with the more difficult part, certainly convinces as a hell-raising rock star, fuelled by drugs and alcohol, aware of tastes and fashions passing him by but with enough perception to see Streisand's Esther as the future. It's fun trying to pick out rock prototypes for his John Norman Howard character - I'm between Jim Morrison and Leon Russell myself, the latter married at the time ironically to sultry singer Rita Coolidge who herself gets a brief cameo appearance, while Howard's behaviour at Streisand's little night club where he "discovers" her recalls an infamous out of control episode in the "lost weekend" period in John Lennon's life, if memory serves. A pity they couldn't have trusted the writer of classics like "Help Me Make It Through The Night" and "Me And Bobby McGee" to contribute some of his own songs to the soundtrack and certainly his signature song here "Watch Closely Now" gets done to death.
I also quite enjoyed the soundtrack. I'm no fan of La Diva Streisand's singing or indeed acting but at least in her vocals she exercises some restraint and delivers a surprising variety of material demonstrating at least some versatility on her part, from the title-theme ballad "Evergreen", (the gorgeous music to which was, surprisingly enough written by her), light Labelle-type funk of "I Believe in Love" and the big torch ballad "The Woman in the Moon" which while beneath Judy's "The Man That Got Away", covers the same territory in a still acceptable way.
Things not to like - Streisand herself does a reasonable job and initially tones down her trademark "kooky" and "sensitive" personae a bit but you never really believe in her as a real person. Unfortunately as the film progresses so does her profile and we get embarrassingly lame scenes with the couple coo-ing at each other in various locations including a candle-surrounded bath scene, Streisand overacting furiously as she argues with a cassette-tape of Howard's voice after he's done his James Dean-type exit from the planet and worst of all that single long shot of her singing the finale medley, which is when you appreciate that yes, it's just another Barbie vanity exercise after all (especially when you see her name down as executive producer).
The dialogue is pretty rock-star cliché throughout and some of the situations come across very second-hand too (Howard snorting up before every show, his assaults on a critical dee-jay, Streisand's MOR music somehow wowing a crowd of rock 'n' rollers at a benefit gig) and of course the familiarity with the story reduces the surprise element of some of the plot developments.
All told though, long as it was, there were far worse films than this made in the 70's. By the way, what a pity they never released the version of "Evergreen" with Kristofferson harmonising on the middle section - it works a treat and adds to an already very pretty melody.
Transferred from the world of Hollywood to the world of rock music,
this latest version of A Star Is Born lacks the glamor of the other
two, mainly because the field is a less glamorous one. Nevertheless the
role of Esther has attracted only the best of players, from Janet
Gaynor to Judy Garland and now Barbra Streisand. That's a hat trick
hard to beat in any field.
In the other two versions, Fredric March and then James Mason, are a pair of self destructive drunks who when we meet them are on the downward side of their careers and have only one ennobling virtue, their love for Gaynor/Garland. Kris Kristofferson however is a multi-substance abuser and because we're talking about the rock scene has the groupies attached to him. Unlike in the other two versions, Streisand catches him with one and the whole thing about the pure love loses its potency because of it. However the incident does set him up for his final moment of self destruction.
All the supporting characters from the other two versions are completely eliminated. Gary Busey has a nice role as Kristofferson's music arranger who fulfills many of the functions that eliminated characters from the other versions have. The rest of the film's supporting parts are very undefined which makes this version weaker than the others.
But for those who are interested in hearing Barbra sing, A Star Is Born will more than satisfy you. The film got an Oscar for the song Evergreen which Kristofferson and Streisand duet and it became one of her best selling records. Judy Garland was similarly served in her version with The Man That Got Away although that song was nominated and did not win.
A Star Is Born is an enduring tale and I don't think we've seen the last of it. May the next group of players do the story as much justice as the three pairs of co-stars I've cited.
My mom took me to see this movie when it came out around Christmas of 1976. I loved it then and I love it now. I know everyone makes fun of Barbra's hair in this one, but I think she looks and sounds great! ...And I seem to remember a number of women who copied that permed look at the time! Also, the bath tub scene between Streisand and Kristoferson is just so sexy! The music is great as well. This is the groovy 70's Babs at her best!
I am and was very entertained by the movie. It was my all time favorite movie of 1976. Being raised in the 70's , I was so in love with Kris Kristoffersons look and demeanor,of course I am no movie critic,but for the time era,I think it was very good. I very much like the combo of Streisand and Kristofferson. I thought they worked very well together. I have seen the movie many times and still love the two of them as Esther and John Norman. I am a very huge fan of Kris and see him in concert when I can. What a talented singer song writer,not to mention,actor. I have seen him in many movies,but still think back to A star is Born.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Barbra Streisand brought her own vision to A STAR IS BORN, the third version of this classic Hollywood story about the romance between an up and coming star and her alcoholic husband whose career is fading into oblivion. Streisand put her own stamp on this movie, making the story more acceptable to her and more accessible to 1970s film audiences. She changed the setting of the story from films to the world of music, making her Esther Hoffman a struggling singer who is discovered by an alcoholic, self-destructive rocker named John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson)who grooms her for stardom while his own career falls apart. We all know this story and have seen either of the previous versions and some were unsettled by the fact that in this version, John Norman doesn't commit suicide, he is killed in a car accident instead, taking away a lot of the power of the story. The point of the original story is that the actor sacrifices his own life so that his wife won't give up the career she's worked so hard for. One of the most amusing parts of the original and 1954 versions is the whole episode about Esther changing her name so it looks better on a marquee. Here, our feminist heroine, Esther Hoffman, refuses to change her name and for me, this small but vital plot points diluted a lot of the power of this story. This production is overblown and uneven. It should be understood that Streisand was just on the edge of insanity while making this film. She was involved at the time with future film producer Jon Peters, who was running her career and her life. Peters butted heads with leading man Kristofferson as well as credited director Frank Pierson, who pretty much directed this film in name only...Streisand and Peters had the last word on everything regarding this film, much to its detriment, due mainly to Streisand's complete trust in Peters, who really knew nothing about film-making at this time. But no matter what else she does, this movie comes alive whenever Streisand sings. Highlights for me were "Queen Bee", "Woman in the Moon", "With One More Look at You" and, of course, the Oscar-winning "Evergreen." With all the hats she was wearing while making this film, needless to say, Streisand was not very focused on her performance here, which can be described, kindly, as uneven. Kristofferson, in a role originally offered to Elvis Presley, is strong and surprisingly sexy as John Norman Howard and Gary Busey also scores as John Norman's manager. For hard-core Streisand fans only.
Personnaly I really loved this movie, and it particularly moved me. The
two main actors are giving us such great performances, that at the end,
it is really heart breaking to know what finally happened to their
The alchemy between Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson is marvelous, and the song are just great the way they are.
That's why I didn't feel surprised when I learned it had won 5 golden globe awards (the most rewarded movie at the Golden Globes), an Oscar and even a Grammy. This movie is a classic that deserves to be seen by anyone. A great movie, that has often been criticized (maybe because Streisand dared to get involved in it, surely as a "co-director"). Her artistry is the biggest, and that will surely please you!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rock star John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson) turns lounge singer
Esther Hoffman (Barbra Streisand) into an overnight singing star.
Esther's star rises while John's goes into decline, thanks to drugs and
alcohol. After about two hours, John does the
thing. The best thing about this movie is the music, especially the
song, "Evergreen." Barbra Streisand sings well, but you can't take her
seriously as an up-and-coming star, when she is *already* a star. The
very first time she appears, singing in a back alley bar, she looks
like an established singing star who is slumming for the night, not
like a struggling unknown who is trying to launch her singing career.
She is too confident, too professional. Her apartment looks like a page
out of "Apartment Living," not some hole-in-the-wall apartment where a
real struggling singer would live.
Kris Kristofferson handles the self-centered, out-of-control rock star role like...well, like a singer who is trying to be an actor but doesn't have much acting talent. The direction is tepid, the story is slow and dull.
But the worst thing about this movie is not the acting, or the lame direction, or the slow story. It's the hair! After staring at Kristofferson's and Streisand's awful 70's hairdos for 2+ hours, your eyes hurt.
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