(On Cable TV, December 2018) I’m probably more bullish on the 1976 version of A Star is Born than most people, or even more than I should be. Oh, I can see the issues with the film—it doesn’t take a look at this tell-all article by the film’s own director Frank Pierson to realize the issues with the movie, whose unleashed self-worship of Barbra Streisand leads to an unbalanced whole. The good thing about Streisand (and then-husband producer Jon Peters)’s unbounded egocentrism is that the main female role is incredibly strong—and with Streisand being Streisand, it means that the vocal performance is as top-notch as the acting. (Alas, in a repeat of the 1954 version, her musical numbers drag on far longer than they should, overpowering the drama and cutting off the film’s energy at regular intervals.) Compared to her, you can see Kris Kristofferson’s role being kept in check by the producer’s need to showcase Barbra at every step. And yet, amazingly enough, he carries much of the film: his performance as an over-the-hill rocker is heartfelt, plunging us in the world of rock music and giving us a perfectly serviceable alternative to the Hollywood focus of previous versions. Being a film nerd, I do miss the movie-centric nature of the previous two movies—but the life of a rock star is exhilarating enough in its excesses that I don’t mind all that much. When you watch all versions of A Star is Born in rapid succession, the period feel of each instalment can become its own attraction, and so the trip back to 1970s music star mansion, big outdoor concerts and radio station appearances is quite a bit of fun. It all amounts to a flawed production, but one that remains fascinating in its own right.
(Second viewing, on DVD, June 2009): Fans of SF author John Varley often point at this film to explain his silence throughout the late eighties. Varley himself has plenty to say about it (see his short story collection The John Varley Reader for the details), but the result is a pretty poor film. Oh, it starts out well: Despite some unconvincing special effects and moments, the first half-hour creates an effective mystery, and there are a few spectacular scenes detailing the aftermath of a plane crash. Kris Kristofferson isn’t too bad as the lead, although he (like most of the actors surrounding him) look like they have escaped straight from the seventies. But then there’s a time-traveling sequence that, like too many time-traveling sequences, falls in love with the cleverness of showing everything twice when once was dull enough. The result stops the film dead for about twenty minutes, a loss from which it never completely recovers. The film gets worse and worse as it nears its end: despite a few flashes of interest, the film suffers from a disjointed third act that breaks dramatic unity with a few plot jumps weeks ahead before settling for a perfunctory future sequence and a consciously trippy epilogue. Trust me: You’d be better off reading Varley’s 1983 eponymous “novelization” (ie; what he wanted to do, untainted by outside forces) for the better experience. The DVD has a lame “alternate ending” that is suitably hidden deep in the menu system, a few unenlightening production notes, and nothing else.