Directed by George Cukor (1954) Starring: Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson, Charles Bickford, Tom Noonan
A Star is Born is an epic at 176 minutes long, complete with a lengthy song-and-dance number, a strange avant-garde sequence, and plain, good acting. I watched it thinking “Huh, the depressing Singing in the Rain,” since it follows a similar, Hollywood-centric plot and has the same amount of prestige attached to it.
When Norman Maine (Mason) appears drunk at a benefit, his dignity is saved with the quick thinking of Esther Blodgett (Garland), who dances him into the wings after he walks on stage. Norman is stunned by this show of kindness and follows her orchestra to their after-work hang out, where he insists that Esther should become a star.
During the lengthy “Born in a Trunk” sequence, we follow Esther’s career as much as her character’s career (and even Garland’s). Esther becomes a star over night with the new name “Vicki Lester.” She and Norman run off to get married, but around the same time his studio has to drop him, leaving him adrift, with only an alcoholic past anchoring him to Hollywood’s collective memory.
A Star is Born stands as a testament to Hollywood’s Technicolor Melodramas, but it experiments with a lengthy photo-montage of what Norman and Esther are doing between their first meeting and getting her to the studio. ( If you’ve seen La Jetee, it’s a bit like that.) It’s referential towards the industry, commenting that the dance sequence for one of Esther’s new movies will go beyond An American in Paris. Norman’s career is a testament to the ins and outs of the studio system, right down to how the studios handled the personal lives of their stars.
It is a giant time-suck of a movie, but it’s a consistently great movie, so it’s worth your three plus hours of attention.