A Star Is Born is one of Hollywood’s oldest and most iconic fables. The story of a self-destructive star of Hollywood’s old guard and his romance with the dazzling ingenue whose fame rises as his own falls has been made into no fewer than four films over the past century. Now, a fifth will join their ranks, directed by Bradley Cooper and starring Stefani Germanotta (you know, that Lady Gaga person who was a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race). Everything about this upcoming film has elicited feelings of “Sure, why not?” in me, partly because I really love the story but am ambivalent about a modern day take on what is a pretty old-school morality play. If nothing else, it’s certainly a major way for Cooper, an actor I am told is considered charismatic and talented by some people, to make an impact with hs directorial debut. Given that the previous director attached was Clint Eastwood (with Beyonce attached to the lead), it’s clear where his ambitions lie.
Currently, the cast for this film includes Bradley Cooper himself (obviously), Sam Elliott (sure), Andrew Dice Clay (well, if you say so), Anthony Ramos from Hamilton (good to see him doing well), and now, Dave Chappelle.
Because, once again, sure, why not?
According to Entertainment Weekly, Chappelle will play Cooper’s oldest friend, a blues performer names Noodles, which elicits further shrugs of “I guess?”
The Star Is Born story is a tale almost as old as Hollywood, or at least as old as the talkies. What Price Hollywood? is generally considered to be the foundations of the tale, and was said to be inspired by silent film star Colleen Moore and her tempestuous marriage to producer John McCormick. David O. Selznick, the legendary producer who made this film, was convinced it was the most accurate depiction of Hollywood.
It certainly inspired Selznick to redo the story a few years later in 1937, this time under the familiar name of A Star Is Born. He even asked the earlier film’s director George Cukor to return, but he declined. 1937’s film, with a script partly written by Dorothy Parker, starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, and was nominated for 7 Oscars, but it would take the third adaptation for the story to become truly iconic.
Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born is a straight-up masterpiece. It helped revive the ailing Garland’s career and gave her the performance of her career. She’s genius, no question about it. Sadly, the film didn’t make the money it needed to, due to its sky-high cost, and the final reel was cut to pieces because of its length (the original cut was 196 minutes, and George Cukor - who returned for this version - was not alerted to the biggest cuts made to get it to 154 minutes. We’ll probably never see the original version of the story). Garland was considered such a shoo-in for the Best Actress Oscar that year that a camera crew was set up in her hospital room where she’d just given birth so she could give a live speech. Of course, she didn’t win. Ingenue of the moment Grace Kelly took home the award, which Groucho Marx called “the biggest robbery since Brink’s.” He’s not wrong.
The most recent take on the story was over 40 years ago, and featured another iconic diva, Barbra Streisand. She and her hairdresser boyfriend turned major producer Jon Peters wanted to be a major power couple in the industry, and what better way to do that than take on Hollywood’s most beloved tale? At one point, they considered Elvis Presley or Marlon Brando for the lead male role, bur eventually settled on Kris Kristofferson, who spent most of the shoot drunk, but that was the least of their problems. Streisand took control of the shoot from director Frank Pierson, the original script (by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne) was heavily rewritten, and the behind-the-scenes fights were so major that Pierson himself wrote about it in an article for New West Magazine the year the film came out! For more gossip on the making of the film, I heartily recommend the You Must Remember This episode on the topic. As for the film itself? It’s pretty bad, but fascinatingly so. The setting’s been moved from the film world to the music industry, and as an insight into Streisand’s mind, it’s intriguing.
With Cooper’s film following the Streisand model in sticking to the music world, he’s got some interesting directions to take the story in. One of the screenplay’s six writers said the script was inspired by Kurt Cobain, and they certainly aren’t short of material for stories on the crushing toxicity of modern Hollywood, with social media awareness, international pressures and prevaling misogyny. He’s got big shoes to fill. We could get a bona fide masterpiece, or a cringe-worthy vanity project gone awry. Or it could be just kind of fine, which would be the worst crime of all.
Now, let’s enjoy classic Judy.