The remake of A Star Is Born has had almost as much publicity as King Kong, much of it speculating on whether its producer-star Barbra Streisand wasn’t in fact the bigger monster. The stories of backstage double-dealing, production battles, and the general antipathy vibrating against Streisand are difficult to exclude from the experience of the film, yet neither it nor the star is as brutish as feared.
This third reworking of the material is set against the background of pop-rock and the industry that manufactures and markets it. Kris Kirstofiferson plays a big star already in a downward spiral of drugs and drink when he meets Streisand, a small-time singer. He gives her career a break, they fall in love and marry, she becomes a much bigger star than he, and he finally sees that his self-destructive impulses could destroy her life as well. It’s a valid formula, and in the context of poprock, it strikes very real echoes—the careers of James Taylor and Carly Simon, for instance.
But apart from Frank Pierson’s exciting staging of some rock concerts at the begin-
ning and an all-too-brief quasi-documentary sequence in the middle, the rock world doesn’t acquire sufficient reality to offset its stars. Much of this has to do with the hideous mediocrity of the music itself (some of it by Paul Williams): Kristofferson in particular is cruelly served, and Streisand does herself few favors, with songs that would never have made anybody famous and that nullify rather than support dramatic moods.
Yet for all that, A Star Is Born is often very highly charged. Kristofferson is immensely affecting, though another version
of the film (Streisand controlled the final cut) could have given him the dimensions to make him really memorable. He remains singularly forceful, with his powerful sexual presence, that gift of looking at people in ways that tell us almost more than we can bear to know, and his weary, moving sense of self-despair. The film denies him the material that could show why he’s a star, but the human agony is acutely real.
Barbra Streisand’s performance works exactly the opposite way. There’s no doubt as to why she becomes a star; the sequence in which she achieves celebrity is absolutely electrifying, and as her astonishing range and expressive power cut loose no audience could help but be on its feet. But she proves reluctant to play out the implied human behavior required to keep her on top; she isn’t shown as driven or ambitious or even temperamental, merely talented and loving and unhappy. The world of pop-rock has waste and self-destructiveness built into its system: Kristofferson acknowledges this and the insight makes him incredibly moving. Streisand makes no nod in its direction; the latter part of the film becomes a monument to her own vanity, with embarrassing details (a bout of lovemaking followed by scenes of charging horses, a sea of candles at a memorial concert) instead of exploring what she herself, of all people in that fearful world, must know about stardom, URJO KAREDA
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