Remakes are commonplace in the movie industry. The feeling seems to be that if a story is good, it is worth re-telling. Even Shakespeare was known to re-work a classic story or two. And in Hollywood, a successful remake can often top its predecessor. Such was the case of The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur and Cleopatra. All had been successful films of the ‘20s, yet the remakes surpassed the original in both scope and financial success.
This was the thought of Barbra Streisand and her First Artists production company when they acquired the rights to A Star is Born. But this was not a simple remake of a classic film; it was already a thrice-told tale. The first version, directed by George Cukor, was called What Price Hollywood back in 1932 and starred Constance Bennett as the ingénue who rises to the top at the expense of others. It served as the blueprint for the original film titles A Star Is Born, the Janet Gaynor-Frederic March 1937 version is termed a “Classic” today. Then in 1954, Cukor again directed A Star is Born, starring Judy Garland (in what many believe to be her best acting performance) and James Mason.
Screenwriters John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion had originally conceived of a way for an updated version of the familiar story to find its modern audience by taking their “star” out of Hollywood for her “birth” and placing her in the world of rock music instead of Screenland. Their first choices for the roles were Carly Simon and James Taylor, who passed on the project. Next they considered Liza Minnelli and Elvis Presley, Mick and Bianca Jagger and even Sonny and Cher. Eventually Jon Peters, Barbra Streisand’s hairdresser-turned-producer, obtained the property and she agreed to star in it. Her co-star choices ranged from Marlon Brando (who had done the musical Guys and Dolls) to Elvis Presley was already on the way down – the King didn’t want this to be the movie he would be remembered for, even if the two men who had previously played the role had been nominated for Oscars. (Less than a year after the movie’s release, Elvis was gone). Barbra’s final choice for co-star was Kris Kristofferson, a singer who could act, an actor who could sing.
Barbra executive-produced this virtual one-woman show as a vehicle for her talents (even her wardrobe was spotlighted – the credit reads: “Ms. Streisand’s clothes from her closet”). She obviously has as many fans as the heroine of her story, since the film did incredibly well at the box office, easily surpassing the combined totals of all three previous versions. And while it wasn’t the Oscar powerhouse of its forerunners, Striesand managed to pull down an Academy Award for the film’s theme song, “Evergreen”. The song rose to the top of the Billboard charts, where it reached number one in March 1977, remaining there for three weeks. It also won a Grammy for Song of the Year, while Streisand was voted a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
Neil Diamond was considered for the role of John Norman Howard but had to turn it down due to his concert commitments.
The version of "Evergreen" during the recording studio scene is a live recording, filmed in a single take. This was done at the insistence of Barbra Streisand: she hates doing lip sync work; she wanted to be able to have closeups during the scene (which would expose any flaws in lip sync); and she wanted a more "natural" feel to that version (as evidenced by the kissing and laughing). Kris Kristofferson, however, was very reluctant about singing live on screen, and had to be talked into it. A more formal studio recording was used for the final credits and soundtrack album.
The second-highest grossing film of 1976
GOOFS AND BLUNDERS
After John Norman crashes his motorcycle, and Esther runs to him, there are dirty hand prints on the back of her blouse before John Norman pulls her down in the dirt and puts his hands on her back.
What's missing here is the love part of the love story. Throughout, the carefully coiffed Esther seems as concerned with her career as she does with John Howard, and frankly, the guy is anything but lovable. Despite the famously ardent movie poster (all that hair!), there are few real sparks between the two, and that spells disaster for a story that should be propelled forward by love, not careerism. Reviewed by: Don Willmott of Film Critic.
What Miss Streisand does is not acting. She's a queen condescending to her own court cameraman, which explains, I suspect, why even a couple of semi-nude love scenes have the effect of being anti-erotic. One suspects she, not the director, is the one who yelled "cut" just before the camera would have glimpsed a bare Streisand breast.
She never plays to or with the other actors. She does "A Star Is Born" as a solo turn. Everybody else is a back-up musician, which is okay when she's belting out a lyric, but distinctly odd when other actors come into the same frame.. Reviewed by: Vincent Canby of The New York Times.
One of the strange things about the story is the way it leaves out the middle. There are no scenes showing the development of their relationship, just an abrupt scene showing that it has developed. And then the movie really gets unreal, because we can't feel a thing between Kristofferson and Streisand. We don't sense any chemistry, we don't know why these two people are drawn to each other and why they should be important to each other. And, most of all, we can't place them in the contemporary music world. Not together, anyway. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times.