Sunday, July 02, 2006
A Star Is Born (1976)
Has there ever been a female star as big as Barbra Steisand? Cher? Not quite. Bette Midler? NAH! Whitney Houston? PLEASE! Even her most fierce detractors have to admire her guts. Can you imagine how people must have laughed when this awkward little Jewish girl with a nose the size of the state of Florida professed her desire to be a star in an era when stars looked like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe? Yet she beat the odds. Not only did she become a star, but a superstar. How many stars can boast winning a Tony, an Emmy, an Oscar and several Grammys before their thirtieth birthday? Barbra did it.
Unfortunately, superstars develop super egos. By the mid 1970s, Barbra was so popular that people would have paid to watch her read the phone book and she knew it. That's the only way to explain this little mess called "A Star Is Born."
Barbra stars as Esther Hoffman, an up and coming pop singer. (Barbra Streisand? Up and coming? Yeah! Right!) One night, Esther is performing in a nightclub with her group The Oreos (White Barbra wedged between two African-American singers. Get it?)when in walks burned out rock star John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson). JN is so wasted, he causes a big ruckus and the club closed.
Any normal woman would be horrified by this incident, but no one said Esther was normal. Instead she not only lets him drive her home, but agrees to accompany him to his concert later that afternoon. The date is a total disaster. JN gets drunk, ride a motorcycle on stage, injuring and maybe killing several fans and leaves poor Esther stranded out in the middle of the desert.
By this time, one would think Esther would run from this relationship, but our plucky heroine isn't giving up on her man. Before long, Esther and John Norman are getting all hot and sweaty and bathing together in a bathtub surrounded by candles.(I kid you not.)
On night, at a benefit concert, John Norman forces Esther on stage in front of hundreds of rowdy rock fans. The crowd is very hostile until they hear Esther sing. She brings down the house. (We're really supposed to believe all these rock fans are going to go ballistic over a Barbra Streisand ballad.) Esther's life has changed forever. She's become...well...Barbra Streisand.
Esther becomes so grateful to JN for making her a star that in true co-dependent fashion she marries him. Marriage doesn't change the guy. (Does it ever?) He keeps on drinking and doping.
Esther's star rises faster than you can say, "Love, soft as an easy chair" while John Norman's is falling even faster. He's burned so many bridges, that no producers will take a chance with him. This doesn't discourage Esther. She keep on defending him until she catches him in bed with a skanky groupie who was only sleeping with him to get an interview with her.
The scene that follows is pure bad movie camp. Barbra runs around,acting like Elizabeth Taylor on meth. She bolts from the bedroom, throws a potted plant at the wall and acts her little heart out. John Norman follows, they get into this "I love you. I hate you." wrestling match and wind up making passionate love on the living room floor.(After what she just caught him in bed with, she should have made him bathe in RID.)
Our star crossed lover enjoy a brief honeymoon period, but before long John Norman is back to his old ways. One morning, a drunk John Norman crashes his expensive sports car and kills himself while listening to a Barbra Streisand eight track. (After all, this is the '70s.)
At this point, Barbra turns the acting meter up to "FULL RED ALERT." She cries over John Norman's corpse, (Kris looks like he can't keep a straight face and he's supposed to be dead.) runs through the house bellowing John Norman's name and rips up a cassette tape. After this she uses whatever energy she has left to perform a dreadful rock medley of John Norman's songs.
The behind the scenes antics of this film are more interesting than anything that made it to the screen. Several crew members were fired or quit because of treatment by Barbra and her then lover Jon Peters. Kris Kristofferson relieved his stress by staying drunk during the entire shoot. Despite all this drama, the film made a bundle of money and set up Barbra for life.
What makes this movie bad? Lame script, overacting and Barbra's '70s white girl afro. What Makes it a Favorite? The fact that even the mighty can fall.
UPDATE: A STAR IS BORN IS NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD WITH AN AUDIO COMMENTARY FROM BARBRA HERSELF. IT CAN BE PURCHASED AT AMAZON.COM
Check out Barbra's finale:
NEXT: Valley of the Dolls (1967)