❉ Evergreen! Shagpile rugs! That perm! Sex in a bathtub! Mega outdoor concerts! More F-Bombs than you can count! ‘A Star Is Born’ is camp as Christmas itself.
If you’re looking for the perfect remake of a Hollywood classic, you need only watch George Cukor’s ‘A Star Is Born’. Starring a surprisingly lucid Judy Garland and featuring a songbook from two of the most important songwriters of all time, Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin, this 1954 movie is a cinematic treasure. But if you are looking for something a bit more esoteric, you would do better to check out Barbra Streisand’s remake of the same film.
This was a unique era in the world of popular entertainment.
By the mid-point of the 1970’s, popular culture was forming into a strange elemental brew. A diverse and eclectic number of musical artists such as Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, The Captain & Tennille, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, KISS, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, KC & The Sunshine Band and Barbra Streisand populated the collective Top 20. Perhaps even more unusual is the fact these artists shared one thing in common: The attention of the same mainstream audience. All the more intoxicating is the realisation that I am unaware of anyone thinking this was at all odd.
Barbra Streisand’s iconic film, A Star Is Born, turned 40 years old this month. It perfectly captures the oddly commingled popular culture of its time. A time when Grand Funk, Frampton and Streisand could share the same stage. If you’ve not seen, allow me to tell you a bit about more.
A drug addled, dirty and sexy bit of male candy named Kris Kristofferson falls head over heels in love with a fully permed chanteuse by the name of Barbra Streisand. Yes. Let us not think of “characters” but of the stars themselves. This movie seems to present the actual actors more than characters. Kris was exactly what he played. And she was Simply Streisand. Hunky Kristofferson wants to be Babs’ bath towel. Who would not have died for that opportunity back in the day? Barbra is his catnip. He is ready to drive down her Stoney End.
Kris is a hard rocking superstar who has just passively seduced a packed auditorium of drugged rockers. He changes out of his silver glitter shirt and into a black polyester button-down. He then dismisses his manager’s pleas to chill out back at the hotel with some primo doobage. Instead, he opts for a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a fresh bottle of the hard stuff and a listen to some local talent! He chooses a funky but tiny Hollywood nightclub. Kristofferson cleans his face with a couple of splashes of Jack Daniels and falls down the stairs as he hears an announcer…
“Ladies and Gentlemen, will you welcome please The Oreos!”
Cue Barbra Streisand’s on-screen entrance. The Oreos is her singing trio! Two hot and super groovy black women start the funk up to reveal Barbra bathed in soft light. She is the white sugar between their sexy chocolate – and she will soon be the sweet love of Kristofferson’s life! Babs is bit more hesitant, but not by much. This is the kind of dewy eroticism best served by shoving hundreds of candles into assorted beer cans. And fear not — served it is!
Streisand’s A Star Is Born is a dated, soft-focus stroll into a den of love, drugs, rock, pop power ballads, platform shoes and filtered lighting! This much-derided film offers enough jaw-dropping moments to earn a place in any keen cinephile’s library. It is an ideal 1970s time capsule film. If you want to really experience the high life within the context of 1970s Hollywood, you must see this movie!
To tempt you I offer the following bullet points:
❉ The Fashion! Barbra’s clothing came from her home wardrobe! Tight pants, rag-tag jeans, shimmering glitter, chunky heels, crocheted sweaters, rugs fashioned into jackets, ponchos, buttonless blouses and mega-bell-bottomed pants!
❉ The Music! Who needs Gershwin when you’ve got tiny Paul Williams co-writing your songs?!? Besides, who doesn’t love Evergreen? And Barbra sings! Bette Midler must have swooned with envy!
❉ The drugs! Lots and lots of drugs flowing around and up Kristofferson’s nose! In fact, it would appear that his lit most of the time.
❉ The Sex! Making love in a black bathtub! Having it on under a cement mixer! Revenge / Make-up sex in a mix of blood, tears, mud and shag rugs!
❉ The Rebellion Against Societal Stereotypes! Nude Gender Role Play in a black bathtub!
❉ The Injustice! Mean reporters and photographers badger and bother Barbra!
❉ The Realism! More F-Bombs than you can count! Groupies vying to be Rolling Stone reporters! Unreturned phone calls!
❉ The Spectacle! Mega outdoor concerts! Violence at an FM Radio Station! Barbra shares an emotional break with a boom box!
❉ The Glory! The Grammys on a shoe string! (it would appear that Babs decorated a Holiday Inn banquet room in mirrors and glitter to serve as the forum for the annual show.)
❉ The Architecture! Yes! Barbra and Kris build a way-cool / funky clay house in the middle of a desert prairie! Kris is an excellent carpenter, but he forgets to construct a closet for Barbra! Gasp! No! Well, it was doomed from the start.
❉ Live Singing! Very few post added vocals.
❉ The Styling! Barbra did her own hair and make-up!
❉ The Finale! Streisand in a three piece suit belts out a ten minute rock melody! In one close-up shot!
The man credited as the film’s director, wrote an attack aimed at both the film and Streisand for The New Yorker. He timed the publication just one week prior to ASIB’s release. As if that wasn’t enough, film critics of the day attacked the movie with wild abandon. Columbia Records decided to raise the price of the movie’s soundtrack. This was the first LP assigned with a retail price over $10.00. The entire industry expected this movie to ruin Streisand’s career. It did the exact opposite.
The film and the soundtrack enjoyed incredible success. Box office and record sales broke through the roof. Lines at the cinemas. It would take a month and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours to knock the album down to second place on the charts. Streisand received the Oscar for co-penning the movie’s iconic theme song, Evergreen. Streisand’s title of Diva Superstar Supreme was fully cemented with the release of ‘A Star Is Born’.
But is the movie actually good?
No, but it is a great deal of fun and all the more interesting when the above information is taken into account.
Bradley Cooper will soon be making his directorial debut with yet another remake of this movie. This time Lady Gaga is scheduled to be born.
It is fun to think just how these two will approach the material. Who will be the lucky man to push her birth into stardom?
Wait! A picture is forming in my drug-damaged mind:
Eminem leaves his entourage at some shiny Hip Hop palace and brawls his way into an underground electronic club. He pauses mid-punch when he hears an announcer’s voice…
“Ladies and Gentlemen, will you welcome please The S’Mores!”
❉ ‘A Star Is Born’ (1976) is available on DVD and Blu-ray. The remastered original soundtrack recording was reissued on CD in 2002 by Sony Music.