(On Cable TV, December 2018) I know that many people consider the 1954 version of A Star is Born to be the definitive take on the story, Judy Garland elevating the material in a way that’s not harmed by the rough edges of the 1937 version or Streisand’s invasive influence on the 1976 remake. But… I beg to differ, largely on the strength of the argument that I don’t like Judy Garland all that much. Still, it’s worth acknowledging that this 1954 version, as directed by George Cukor, is a much slicker version of the previous take on the film—the budget is clearly there, and the film can be lavish in the way it shows the nature of stardom in the mid-1950s. Alas, this indulgence also makes the film longer and duller with every full-length musical number stopping the film dead in its track. The 1983 re-edit of the film, which attempts to incorporate cut sequences with a mixture of audio and still pictures, is not as good as it sounds—I probably would have liked the unaltered 1954 version a bit better. This being said, I quite liked James Mason in the male lead role, as he captures the mixture of arrogance and vulnerability that the part requires. Meanwhile, superstar Garland sings well, but looks twenty years older than she should. While the film leans heavily in its musical genre, it does keep enough of Hollywood to bridge the gap between the all-movies 1937 version and the all-music 1976/2018 versions—and the look at 1950s Hollywood is simply fascinating.
(On Cable TV, November 2017) I ended up reluctantly watching Lolita (Kubrick completionism…) over a few days, those days being in the middle of a national debate in the United States about the suitability of an Alabama senatorial candidate with a long history of pursuing teenagers. This did nothing to help me see Lolita more favourably, given its premise in which a middle-aged college professor ends up pursuing a teenager. Even the film’s explicit black comedy didn’t help matters, nor the almost arbitrary plotting choices made during the film’s second half. While there’s something semi-amazing in how a film from 1962 was able to tackle such a charged subject matter, the result, seen from today, seems to skirt around the issue to the point of having little purpose. The cinematography, fortunately, is crisp, and Kubrick’s directing skills shows through. James Mason manages to be incredibly creepy in the lead role, while I’m not sure what Peter Sellers was trying to do in some scenes. The karmic retribution of the story feels unsatisfying, although there is something highly appropriate in ultimately seeing a flighty teenager casually dismiss the lovelorn older man. Still, I don’t feel any better from having seen Lolita—subject matter notwithstanding, the plot doesn’t flow naturally and even pointing back in the direction of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel as justification for the narrative hiccups isn’t much of an excuse when Kubrick reportedly changed so much in his adaptation. At least I can check Lolita from the list of movies I still had to see, and never look back.