|Streisand and Kristofferson are two rockers in love in 1976's 'A Star is Born.' No, this isn't a science fiction flick!|
Way back when I was a teenager, before 24-7 media and the Internet, the making of 1976’s A Star is Born was still a major showbiz scandal. Barbra Streisand and her hairdresser-turned boyfriend-turned producer Jon Peters received reams of unflattering publicity for turning A Star is Born into an expensive ego trip. Though a typical Streisand commercial success, the reviews were scathing. As a junior old movie buff, I stuck with the ‘54 Judy Garland version and never saw Streisand’s Star until this summer, 2017!
|At least Kris LOOKS the part of a rock singer. Barbra, in hippie chick mode.|
The leap of faith it takes to believe country songwriter/croaking singer Kris Kristofferson as a legendary Jim Morrison-type rock star seems reasonable when later faced with Barbra Streisand as an aspiring rock star. I will keep calling them Kris and Barbra, because they pretty much bring their own personas to the film. Not to mention that their characters have the most non-musical star names ever: John Norman Howard and Esther Hoffman. The ’76 version was supposedly striving for realism, but they sound like people who work in an office cubicle.
The opening scenes of Kris’ huge concert, pre-CGI era, are awe-inspiring. The buildup of the impatient fans, the frantic entourage, and the late-arriving superstar is a promising start. But when Kris' starts caterwauling, it's all over.
|Gettin' down with her bad self. As 1/3 of The Oreos, guess what part Babs plays?|
After a debacle performance, Kris decides on an afterglow at a club where Barbra performs. Streisand at 34 is the world's oldest up-and-coming singer, following in the footsteps of a 32-year-old Judy Garland (looking far from fresh) as a singing starlet, and similarly aged Lady Gaga in the upcoming remake. Odd that A Star is Born always picks huge, established stars to play showbiz newcomers. In this 70’s version, Streisand as Esther is part of a trio, flanked by two black chicks, called The Oreos! After a fight caused by a fan of Kris’ breaks up the show, the two flee in his limo. Not wanting to be a one-night stand, Streisand invites him to breakfast.
We only get one look at Esther's apartment, but it’s divine, as those voice-over jingles and nightclub gigs must really provide plenty of dough for a 1930’s era pad with plenty of antiques. Streisand's never-ending wardrobe changes run the gamut, straight from her closet, according to the credits. Some are shabby chic, the tailored suits are Ralph Lauren, while others look like Laura Ingalls meets Frida Kahlo, with one hippie getup that makes her look like Luke Skywalker. And Streisand, a huge fan of that ‘70s backlighting trend, often looks like she’s either sporting a halo or is on fire.
|Streisand Skywalker in a wardrobe test from 'Star.'|
|At least Babs didn't have a light saber!|
The oft-filmed A Star is Born story gets the Cliff Notes version here: Kris and Babs fall immediately in love for no apparent reason, but their careers and fame thwart their happiness. Kris literally flames out, and Streisand musically soars without him.
|'A Star is Born' remake is about an addicted southern rock star |
and his pop star wife, who wants to rock...hey, that's us!
Even worse, is when he later pushes Streisand onstage to sing at an Indian fundraiser. Expecting to rock out to Kris, Streisand wins the unruly crowd over with her over-emoting power ballad. Rock and pop didn’t exactly work in real life for Cher and Gregg Allman, when they attempted to tour together in the ‘70s. But in Barbra’s movie reality, a star is improbably born.
With the exception of the undeniably catchy superhit Evergreen, Star’s music ranges from elevator variety to cringe-worthy. Streisand's endless power ballads don't exactly rock, and Kris' rock anthems are anemic, even more so when Streisand sings his signature tune Watch Closely Now at the finale. Babs rocking out is like watching a drunk mom at karaoke night.
Like most Streisand movies, Babs is surrounded by big talent, but they are often reduced to background scenery. Kris seems there only for Streisand to obsess over. The motivations for Kristofferson character’s behavior are barely explored. Why does his character drink so much? Habit? Boredom? Insecure? Why didn’t somebody just ask Kris, who was still drinking and drugging at this point? His alcoholism is used only to set up dramatic confrontations for Streisand to show off in.
|Kris Kristofferson was the real star that was born in this movie.|
Kristofferson actually gives a naturalistic, charismatic performance. It would be easy to say Kris is just playing himself, but he’s not just going through the motions. Kristofferson is the anchor to reality here. Ultimately, it's all about Barbra: her mugging, her rapid-fire line delivery, her tears, her singing, etc. Even during Kris' death scene, the camera’s focus is on her, with her face and hands obscuring him.
At the end, she comes out and rouses the audience with a seven-minute take of two songs, ending with Watch Closely Now, Kris’ signature song. Tribute, or Barbra’s version of Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better?
|Who's death scene is this, anyway? Look hard and you might see Kris!|
Don’t get me wrong. While I am not a huge Barbra Streisand fan, I respect her great talent and versatility. Streisand is in great voice here and her musical finale, sung live, is technically a musical marvel—especially in our current era of lip-synching and auto-tune. Certain singers are natural actors—and this includes Barbra. Streisand won an Oscar for her debut in Funny Girl. I think Barbra should have won her second for a great dramatic turn in 1973’s The Way We Were. By the time Streisand filmed A Star is Born, less than a decade after Funny Girl, she had already become an over-acting and over-singing egomaniacal movie star.
|'A Star is Born' was Barbra's first bonafide vanity project.|
In an unprecedented move, Pierson wrote a blow by body blow account of the making of Star BEFORE the movie was released, for New West and New York magazines—which infuriated everyone involved. Streisand later claimed to feel professionally betrayed. The article actually praises Streisand’s talent to the heavens and Pierson is glowing when the star is aligned with the rest of the production. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen often and he was worn down by Streisand’s ego, temper, self-centeredness, constant meddling, indecision, and stubbornness.
READ HERE: http://barbra-archives.com/bjs_library/70s/new_west_battles_barbra_jon.html
|Ego maniac? Who, me?|
And it wasn’t like Barbra was working with hacks here: Kris went on to become a popular movie star for the next decade. A platoon of well-regarded writers came and went. Director Pierson won an Oscar for his Dog Day Afternoon screenplay during Star’s production. Streisand complained that cinematographer Robert Surtees was too old (a three-time Oscar winner, 16 times nominated) and ran roughshod over highly-regarded Polly Platt’s production design. Numerous songwriters were subjected to Streisand’s “collaborating” on their songs, including the late, great Leon Russell.
|Robert Englund aka Freddie Krueger, as Kris #1 fan!|
Here’s some amazing Barbra Streisand’s Star Wars trivia… I mean A Star is Born trivia: Revered essayist Joan Didion had a hand in writing this, with husband/author John Gregory Dunne. I bet that Didion’s contributions were buried early on, given the flurry of rewrites and “contributions” courtesy of Streisand and Peters. Director Paul Mazursky acts, and gives one of the film’s best performances as Kris’ manager. There are some cool, uncredited cameos. Robert Englund aka Freddie Krueger, is the unruly fan who hassles superstar Kristofferson during Streisand’s show. And Maidie Norman, Baby Jane's antagonist/housekeeper Elvira, is the Justice of the Peace presiding over Kris and Babs’ wedding!
Is this version of A Star is Born watchable? Hell, yes—especially if you have low expectations or enjoy high camp. Bab’s A Star is Born is not like buttah…it’s like Velveeta.
|No! Watch ME Closely Now!|