A Star Is Born 4.0

Mr. & Mrs. Norman Maine? Hmmm...

So Hollywood is remaking yet another classic film. Big surprise. This time it’s the definitive Hollywood tragedy A Star Is Born. Again, big surprise. This will be the fourth time the story will be retold on celluloid. * Yawn * And it’s set to star Russell Crowe and Beyonce Knowles.

Spits milk through nostrils.

A casting contusion, if ever there was one.

According to sources, A Star is Born 4.0 will take the Star is Born 3.0/Kris Kristofferson/Streisand route and transition the star crossed lovers from movies to music. This Warner Bros effort is still in early development stages with neither star confirmed as of yet. But Nick Cassavetes is set to direct the Will Fetters script—Cassavetes of course being responsible for the 2004 overblown weepie The Notebook, and Fetters being the scribe for the upcoming Robert Pattinson vehicle Remember Me. With credits like those under their belts … The Pictorial is frightened.

William Wellman’s 1937 original was Hollywood’s first truly acidic, uncompromising study of celebrity (taking a heavy cue from 1932’s What Price Hollywood) and over 70 years later still holds up as a lesson on the perils of meteoric fame and the pathetic reality of it all. Janet Gaynor as the ingénue and, in particular, Frederic March’s compelling turn as the alcoholic has-been movie star were both powerhouse roles that still pack a hell of an emotional wallop. (Has there been a more poignant line in film history than Gaynor’s closing “This is Mrs. Norman Maine”?)

March & Gaynor, A Star Is Born, 1937

George Cukor’s 1954 remake with Judy Garland and James Mason had the 50s fluff factor—splashy music numbers and high melodrama—but was entirely true to the original material and wrenched unforgettable performances from the entire cast.  Garland is bigger than life in every conceivable way, which is a quality that Gaynor’s character didn’t quite have, and although Mason does his best he is utterly overshadowed by Garland. (His character’s career is meant to fall to the shadows, but never the actual character.)

Garland & Mason, A Star Is Born, 1954

Then came Frank Pierson’s 1976 reworking of the tale, in which was cast an equally larger-than-life superstar, a certain Miss Barbra Streisand. Opposite Kris Kristofferson there was no denying Babs’ gift … but the film ended up suffering  from it. We cared and were mesmerized by Kristofferson’s cocaine-snorting addict. We didn’t give a flying flip about Babs. The A Star Is Born story requires a definite chemistry and balance between the two leads in order to work.

Kristofferson & Streisand, A Star Is Born, 1976

Which is why a Crowe-Beyonce remake is worrying. Miss Knowles is certainly talented. But the role of the ingénue needs more than just a talented voice… it requires heart. Something Babs couldn’t quite deliver and is altogether necessary for this story to resonate. And the audience must absolutely love the self-destructive Norman Maine/Hoffman—a difficult thing indeed to pull off, since there isn’t much room for sympathy in self-pity.

So we wish all the best to Warner Bros as they try to craft a fourth version of a story so timeless that it begs the question: does it really need to be told again?

Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times asked in his blog if this was a ‘bad, really bad idea.’

Yeah. We here ya.

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Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

One thought on “A Star Is Born 4.0

  1. I’ve just watched the Wellman/Gaynor/March original and loved every minute – not sure about a fourth remake. But I suppose the fact that it is even being contemplated shows just how good and enduring this story is. I’d like to see ‘What Price Hollywood’ will hope to get to it soon.

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