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USA 1976
Directed by
Frank Pierson
140 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars

Star Is Born, A (1976)

Did no-one involved in this project have any shame? Clearly not Barbra Striesand who has an executive producer credit and her producer boyfriend, former Hollywood hairdresser Jon Peters, the pair clearly conceiving of the project as a vehicle for the singer. You’d think, however, that Kris Kristoffersen (in a role that Striesand tried to get Elvis to play!!) would have had the good sense to avoid it (James Taylor and Neil Diamond were also considered but passed).

Kristoffersen plays John Norman Howard, a rock superstar on the decline who discovers Esther Hoffman (Streisand) singing in a small club. Recognizing her talent he devotes himself to promoting her career. But as Esther finds fame and fortune John continues his downward spiral into booze and self-pity.

As everyone knows, the film is a remake of the 1937 William Wellman film of the same name which itself was remade by George Cukor in 1954.  This version manages to sacrifice nearly every virtue of those films and add not one thing to them. The script by director Frank Pierson with John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion keeps the bare bones of the story but the writers are unable to overcome the fundamentally flawed concept of twinning a hard-livin’ rock’n’roller with an MOR pop diva.  

The film lurches along brazenly ignoring the incongruities of genre and the incompatibility of personality types giving us such howlers as John and Esther singing the Striesand/Paul Williams torch song ‘Evergreen’ as a duet and Esther performing to a Woodstock-type crowd, who are apparently ecstatic about her soft rock fare, and later, performing a disco-tinged number at a benefit for Native Americans at John’s urging (a similar mis-alignment would afflict Jodie Foster in Svengali, 1983)  If this is not bad enough, Kristoffersen is woefully unconvincing as a Jim Morrison-style rock-god. To be fair to him and to director Pierson (who won an Oscar he year before for his screenplay for Dog Day Afternoon) probably anyone would have failed to make this work with Striesand calling the shots (apparently she directed some of the scenes).

Striesand has a great voice (which Kristoffersen does not) but as an actress she really has only one character  - the kooky Jewish chick.  It doesn’t work here and when compared to Judy Garland’s in the 1954 version her performance is a travesty devoid of any credibility.  The songs too, principally provided by Paul Williams and  Kenny Ascher, with the exception of ‘Evergreen’ are forgettable production heavy mid-‘70s pap that only compound the film's kitsch credentials..

Even so, and no doubt confirmation of Striesand’s star-power, A Star is Born was the second highest-grossing film of the year.  Clearly no-one took the title literally.

 

 

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