A Star is Born, Part Two (B) (1976)

Some would say watching a film or genre with a predisposed distaste for a genre or star makes it impossible to acknowledge a film’s good parts, which may be so if the film is so derivative, that it’s just offends every fibre in the body.

I hate Grease (1978), for example, and will never watch Mama Mia! (2008) because they represent the kind of giddy pop musicals I just don’t fancy. I loved Grease as a kid, but outgrew the music, and I think I’d rather have an elephant sit on my head than attend Paramount’s sing-along Grease tour that’s going global now. I liked ABBA as a kid but also grew up and have no regrets in never wanting to hear their music again.

The reason ABBA is evil is because the music is ingeniously crafted around hooks, either in lyrics, melodies, or specific sounds that even if heard for a few seconds, trigger the memory monster in one’s brain, and start the whole song in a loop.

If you’ve heard ABBA a few times as a kid, those songs NEVER LEAVE YOUR BRAIN, which is why Mama Mia! is dangerous. It exploits the stealth triggers in the brains of affected adults (me, and maybe you), and makes them writhe in pain from the experience of re-hearing insipid music that was long ago banished as imported pop from the land of blue and yellow.

The musical is evil in its new incarnation because it validates a sub-genre of musicals crafted from songs that have no thematic relations. Yes, if among 50 songs there are probably 20 dealing specifically with stages of falling in and out of love, making it possible to thread together a create a narrative, but it’s fluff that feels like a marketing ploy to buy the CD.

The 2008 film based on the musical is specifically an affront because it forces James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to sing.

007 is licensed to kill, not croon ABBA.

I’m sure Brosnan had fun making the film, but as I said, I’ll go for the still-crushing elephant instead of watching 007 (fine, an ex-007) become sappy-happy.

The reason I would watch a musical is because it may be one of the few that I like (and there are a handful, believe it or not), or it’s an investigation in seeing whether a story can work in a different genre.

Curiosity stumps biases, which is why I wanted to see the final evolution of the Star is Born tale in the 1976 Barbra Streisand film that was produced by Jon Peters (his debut as producer, in fact), and Babs as Esther, the crooner who achieves fame not during the glitzy fifties and that decade’s morality, but the cynical seventies when counter-culture figures were rebelling in music, wardrobe, and an extreme intake of substances alcoholic and chemical.

If the ’76 film has anything in common with the ’32 film What Price Hollywood? it’s an overt cynicism for the business of art and commerce. The lewd behaviour among seventies musicians is more out there, the language is less delicate, and the hedonistic characters have an even bigger devil-may care attitude than the rebels within the old studio system, circa 1932 and 1937. 1976 also offers bare boobies, although one suspects if the filmmakers could’ve worked in an orgy scene in 1932, they would’ve.

The 1954 version was, like the ’76 film, shaped as a vehicle for its star, and scenes were shaped to exploit the dramatic and vocal needs of Judy Garland and Streisand, respectively. The music was written to each star’s musical range, although Streisand perhaps made the bigger leap in crossing as much as she could into the rock world of John Norman Howard, even if that transition doesn’t really work.

Is the ’76 a bad movie?

It depends on where one’s coming from, because it is a showcase for Babs; it offers plenty of scenes where Kris Kristofferson is Manly, be he drunk or sober; and there’s that hit Oscar-winning song “Evergreen” which, like ABBA, benefits from strong craftsmanship; it’s a corkscrew tune that will revolve in the brain, whether that’s what you want, or fear the most.

Babs’ film also became one of the top grossing films of that year, and won multiple Golden Globe Awards. (Wait, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association isn’t comprised of real people. Strike that last accolade.)

Whether it’s an interest in seeing this specific fame myth in another genre or perhaps see why the ’76 film was such a hit, I’ve uploaded a lengthy review that’s a bit different from the others. It’s longer and arguably windier, but the Streisand version also comes with baggage that was aired in print by the film’s director.

Prior to the film’s release, Frank Pierson wrote of making the film for New West magazine, and preserved one point of view regarding the film’s weaknesses. Additionally, the DVD from Warner Home Video also features a commentary track by Streisand, so there are two points of view that one can use in assessing the film’s merits, artistic choices, and from my end, its flaws.

Moreover, from an angle of adapting material to a different genre for a wholly different audience – part Babs fans, part youth and adult – it is fascinating to see where Pierson tried to create some continuity with the original Star template to avoid seeing the mish-mash of a script be a just a series of ‘conceptual’ scenes strung together with music.

Ergo, to read the review of the 1976 version, click HERE, and while you may not need to be familiar with the prior versions, it can’t help to have a passing familiarity.

The last chapter in this Star retro will be a blog regarding the music of the films, and how they hold up as dramatic evocations of the famous story.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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