George Cukor’s 1954 musical version of A Star Is Born is a picture whose story extends far beyond the screen. A remake of the 1937 David O. Selznik drama, it stars Judy Garland in a comeback performance engineered to mirror the drama unfolding on film. Although cut significantly after its initial premiere, its legacy lived on; the film was remade once again in 1976, this time starring starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and then restored to much of its original form in 1983. More recently, Clint Eastwood has threatened to lens yet another version, starring Beyoncé Knowles in the Judy Garland role. The Cukor classic will likely remain the quintessential interpretation.
That voice new heights in her comeback movie, A Star is Born (1954), especially when she sings “The Man That Got Away” in a dark bar. “No more his eager call,” she sings, holding on “more” and then “call” and making them quiver. “The writing’s on the wall,” she continues, doing the same thing but shooting up even higher vocally. “The dreams you’ve dreamed have all gone astray,” she finishes, and the surprise is that she chooses to hit “The” before “dreams” with her full Phil Spector wall-of-sound lung power. Maybe this is just showing off (the emphasis on that word has nothing to do with the lyrics), but it’s unlike any other sound in movies, an enormous cry of pain dredged up from the bitterest experience.
Playing Fri July 29 at 12:30 at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]
Run, don’t walk to Vincent Minelli’s humble little masterpiece. As Frank Miller of TCM remarks, “Thanks to rear projection, ingenious art direction and the memories of director Vincente Minnelli, MGM created one of the most vivid images of New York City life ever captured on screen.”
Alt Screen’s Dan Callahan in his very popular feature on Garland:
It was Vincente Minnelli who finally created a worthy frame for Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), a musical masterpiece on fantasy family life where she was placed like a jewel shining behind white lace curtains. In their second film, The Clock (1945), a beautifully judged non-musical romance with soldier Robert Walker, Garland blossoms as a woman and a performer because Minnelli is obviously as sensitive as she is (it might also have helped that Walker was even more of a mess than she was at that time, and so her focus was on helping him). If you want to see why Judy Garland was a potentially major dramatic actress, look at the scene in The Clock after she and Walker have just gone through a disastrously impersonal wedding ceremony. They sit in a restaurant, and she tries to hold back, but finally she just explodes out with, “It was so ugly!” She’s close to total hysteria and breakdown here, as if all of her feelings have suddenly been unleashed at us. It’s perilously close to overacting, but Minnelli’s direction helps Garland channel this tidal wave, giving her a formal cinematic structure for her outsized emotions with his careful framings and semi-dreamy camera movements. The two soon married.