A Star Is Born is a story that has been told numerous times before – William A. Wellman’s 1937 original about a rising actress and a fading actor, again in 1954 with career best work from Judy Garland and James Mason with a savage indictment of the brutally faceless Hollywood studio system. Next time around, the narrative was flipped on its head away from Hollywood and into the world of music in the 1970s with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson to Oscar winning effect.
Then Bradley Cooper came along looking to make his debut as a film director and chose this well worn story to make his own tracks over.
Maybe it was easier to have that familiarity of a tested tale or maybe there was even more pressure to rise up to given that the three previous versions were all Oscar contenders and iconic warning shots at the danger of showbusiness within their respective eras.
Chances are you’ve already seen Cooper’s film of A Star Is Born or at least felt the heady breeze of its hype flow your way whether its through the chart-topping single Shallow or its presence on the awards circuit. It’s all well deserved. This is a picture for the ages and one in which two stars are born: Bradley Cooper the storyteller and musician and Lady Gaga the vulnerable actor.
Here’s the plot: Cooper plays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers and falls in love with struggling artist Ally (Gaga). She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer… until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.
A Star Is Born is a film as much about stardom as it is about addiction: addiction to drink, addiction to fame, addiction to love, addiction to loss, addiction to the hope of healing. As such, Cooper’s version is more raw and real than any prior telling of the story. It’s as beautiful as a blossoming rose – full of the colour and promise of growth but with the inevitable wilting just a few seasons ahead.
As Jackson, Cooper works wonders. His drunk still has echoes of grace and squandered talent simmering underneath his drawl while Gaga is such an illuminating screen presence that the contrast between them is near blinding. This duo of performances anchors the narrative and there’s fine, deservedly Oscar nominated support from Sam Elliott (in a heartbreaking role as Jackson’s beleaguered manager/brother) as well as a host of other players. There isn’t a single note that rings false here.
To think that Cooper writes, produces, stars, directs, composes much of the music and sings his own material is astonishing – this is the genesis of a multi-talented artist to rival the likes of Welles, Beatty, Eastwood and Chaplin. Cooper is a trailblazer, yes, but he has an air of classic reverence to his art too.
With a tip of his whisky-soaked cowboy hat to the classics, it turns out they do make ‘em like they used to; it’s just that Cooper has made it better.
The Blu-ray/4K is out now and, as hoped for, contains a deeper look into the process of creating the music to align with the characters’ struggles as well as some fantastic early rehearsal footage. Here’s the full list:
- The Road to Stardom: Making A Star Is Born
- Jam Sessions and Rarities: “Baby What You Want Me to Do” (Jam Session)
- Jam Sessions and Rarities: “Midnight Special” (Jam Session)
- Jam Sessions and Rarities: “Is That Alright” by Lady Gaga
- Music Videos: “Shallow” Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
- Music Videos: “Always Remember Us This Way” by Lady Gaga
- Music Videos: “Look What I Found” by Lady Gaga
- Music Videos: “I’ll Never Love Again” by Lady Gaga