The Four Previous Versions of “A Star Is Born”(Plus the Real Story)

Posted on September 27, 2018 at 3:31 pm

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One of the biggest films of the year is the latest version of “A Star is Born,” written and directed by Bradley Cooper and co-starring Cooper and Lady Gaga. The story of the fading star with substance abuse problems who helps — and loves — a talented newcomer has been filmed under that title twice before, and once before that as “What Price Hollywood?” And it is inspired by the true story of two of the biggest names in show business in the 1920’s-30’s.

What Price Hollywood? George Cukor directed the version starring Constance Bennet as a Brown Derby waitress who meets director Lowell Sherman when she waits on him at the restaurant. While this is not explicitly the source of the following versions, and the waitress and director do not get married (because he is too noble), the essence of the story is all there, including (SPOILER ALERT) the suicide of the male character.

A Star is Born

Dorothy Parker and her husband were two of the scriptwriters who worked on the glossy drama starring Frederic March and Janet Gaynor that has been the basis for three remakes (so far). She’s a waitress who catches the eye of a fading movie star. He gets her a screen test, the studio changes her name, he embarrasses her at an award ceremony, and when his drinking gets worse, she quits her job to care for him.

A Star is Born

Broadway legend Moss Hart contributed to this musical update, again directed by George Cukor, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. It’s long and unwieldy (some excised scenes were partially added for re-release), but it has unforgettable moments like this one.

A Star is Born

Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson star in the 1976 version, which won an Oscar for Best Song. Reportedly, she tried to persuade Elvis Presley to take the role.

A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper says he was inspired to make the film by being backstage at a Metallica concert. He wrote, directed and stars opposite Lady Gaga. She may repeat her predecessor’s experience with a Best Song Oscar for this one.

Certainly there are many possible inspirations for the story, but most people think that one of the likeliest possibilities is the marriage of Al Jolson, one of the biggest stars in the country during the era of vaudeville and radio, and Ruby Keeler, who became a huge star in the early days of talkies.

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Beguiled — The Male and Female Gaze

Posted on June 29, 2017 at 3:52 pm

The best way to see Sofia Coppola’s “Beguiled” is to pair it with the original version, starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Don Siegel. Her film is really in conversation with the 1971 version. Both are the story of a wounded Union soldier who disrupts the lives of the women at a sheltered Southern boarding school in the midst of the Civil War. Each reflects its time as well as its director. Don Siegel directed such testosteronic classics as “Dirty Harry” and “The Killers.” In his version, the schoolmistress played by Geraldine Page is a bit unhinged (she had an incestuous relationship with her brother). The sudden arrival of a man (a literal enemy) is profoundly unsettling to all of the women but the implication is that the absence of men put them on the brink.

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One reason Sofia Coppola decided to do a remake for the first time was to tell the story from the perspective of the women, and that has provoked some especially thoughtful commentary. In her version, the women are generally stronger and more resilient. Coppola’s decision to omit a slave character has drawn some criticism, but she said that she could not do justice to the character and that she wanted the girls and their teachers to feel abandoned and to be forced to learn to take care of themselves.

The New York Times wrote:

Ms. Coppola said that she did not give any thought to a female gaze, but that she did see differences in how she and Siegel handled the same material. “Siegel told his film from a male perspective of a guy surrounded by crazy women. I tell mine through the filter of women’s frustrated desires,” she said in a phone interview this month. She recalled that when Anne Ross, her frequent production designer, suggested that she watch the 1971 film, at the end the director thought, Let’s tell the women’s side of this. In Siegel’s version, the women are cast to type as slut, spinster, servant and so on, as if they represented the spectrum of female humanity. Ms. Coppola, who unlike Siegel is not judgmental about female sexuality, has more developed characters for the women.

On Rogerebert.com, Susan Wloszczyna writes about both versions, frankly admitting that she prefers the first.

I gave a pass to the Sunday-best sort of clothes that his keepers wear to impress McBurney, which are somehow crisp and wrinkle-free in such humidity. But then Coppola has the seven females don satin ball gowns with perfectly braided hair and fancy ribbons while serving a sumptuous Michelin-star worthy feast to the soldier on fancy china and crystal. Weirdly, we get to witness one of the younger students don a corset Scarlett O’Hara-style when she clearly doesn’t need one. Perhaps, by this time, the director can get away with such a fantasy sequence that feels like a War Between the States-themed prom.

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List: Beauty and the Beast

Posted on March 17, 2017 at 3:26 pm

This week’s big release is Disney’s live action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. The animated Disney version is a classic, but there are some other versions worth watching as well. The classic fairy tale characters have been played by:

Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel (French version)

Rebecca de Mornay and John Savage starred in the version from the wonderful Fairytale Theatre series.

Jane March and William Gregory Lee (Viking setting)

Josette Day and Jean Marais in “La Belle et La Bete,” an exquisite French version from Jean Cocteau.

And check out my interview with the wonderful Paige O’Hara, the Broadway star who provided the voice of Belle in the Disney animated version.

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Trailer: The Magnificent Seven (and the Earlier Versions)

Posted on April 29, 2016 at 3:10 pm

Denzel Washington, Vincent D’Onofrio, Matt Bomer, Ethan Hawke, Vinnie Jones, Peter Sarsgaard, and Chris Pratt star in the remake of “The Magnificent Seven,” and they’ve released a teaser trailer:

This is a good reminder to catch up on the two earlier versions, both excellent. The 1960 all-star Western with Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson has one of the best-remembered scores of all time, by Elmer Bernstein.

It was based on the brilliant “Seven Samurai” from director Akira Kurosawa.

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The Jungle Book: Original Versions

Posted on April 16, 2016 at 3:35 pm

This week’s splendid new “Jungle Book” from Disney may inspire families to check out the books that inspired it by Rudyard Kipling. Children may prefer his “Just-So” stories and “Rikki-tikki-tavi,” about a curious mongoose who saves the day.

Families may also want to watch the original live action version of the story, starring Sabu.

Or Disney’s 1994 live action version, starring Jason Scott Lee and “Games of Thrones” star Lena Headey.

And of course there is the classic Disney animated version, the last film personally supervised by Walt Disney himself, with some of the all-time best Sherman Brothers songs. Like the new film directed by Jon Favreau, this version has outstanding voice talent, including Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera the panther), George Sanders (Shere Kahn the tiger), and Sterling Holloway (also the voice of Winnie the Pooh) as Kaa the snake.

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