I wrote this piece for Drugstore Culture last September, when Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born was released. Now that that site has shuttered, and Judy Garland is back in the cinema in the form of Rupert Goold’s late-life biopic Judy, starring Renée Zellweger, I have republished it here. There is not much to do with silent cinema here, but it’s all film history, so why not?
According to the website of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the birth of a star is a ten-stage process. To paraphrase from this already simplified version: first, clouds of gas accumulate in galaxies – and then trouble strikes. ‘Random turbulent processes lead to regions dense enough to collapse under their own weight,’ reads stage three, ‘in spite of a hostile environment.’ The star begins to form at the centre of all this collapsed matter, which the website calls a ‘blob’. The protostar achieves bona fide status as the result of fusion and, in the process, creates a lot of rubbish. By the end of the tenth stage, the new star is fully formed, along with a few collateral planets, and all that unwanted debris.
Stormy weather and a hostile environment leading to a collapse and a union, leaving us with one shining star and a heap of has-beens. As in the heavens, so in show business. Just ask Bradley Cooper. For his directorial debut, which received its UK premiere last night, the actor has just revived the Hollywood myth A Star is Born as a heady, emotional rock musical, and it is a worthy, self-aware successor to the other films bearing that name. It’s a simple story, which explains its enduring appeal. Two talented people fall in love and get married: one is a gleaming new star, and the other a falling meteor, soon to become so much showbiz detritus.
Cooper also appears as the veteran rocker on the slide who takes Lady Gaga’s ingénue on a bumpy ride to the top. It’s an old, old story, but Cooper and Gaga tell it exceedingly well. Theirs is the fourth feature to be made with the name A Star is Born since 1937, although the story began a little earlier than that. A Star is Born cropped up roughly every 20 years for a while. After 1937, there was 1954, and 1976 – which means the latest instalment is long overdue. Cooper and Gaga’s antecedents are Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, directed by William Wellman; Judy Garland and James Mason, directed by George Cukor; and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, directed by Frank Pierson. In the nineties and noughties, there were whispers of new chapters: for a while we expected to see Clint Eastwood directing Beyoncé, with perhaps Will Smith or Leo DiCaprio as the male lead, in a script that was apparently inspired by Kurt Cobain. Perhaps we should be grateful that never happened. Continue reading A Star is Born again and again