The star,born again

Why is a classic a classic?

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: January 22, 2011 11:22:56 pm

Why is a classic a classic? You have the answer to that one when you come upon a real one that has withstood,to use a cliché,the test of time. A Star Is Born is one of those: everything about the film,starting with its leading lady and the rest of the cast,the setting,and the music,speaks to the time it belonged to,successfully crossing over to the time we are now in.

The handsomely packaged,digitally re-mastered DVD includes deleted songs,and the full feature,close to three hours,gives you a grand tour of what Hollywood and its high-end,multi-star productions used to be like,back in the day. Its story is timeless: a fading star,with a fatal weakness for (and of) spirit,comes upon a fresh young girl with the voice of an angel. So struck is he,even in his drunken stupor,that he picks her out of certain B-club obscurity (she’s part of a band that does gigs in not-so-tony clubs),and helps propel her to A-list movie stardom.

The film was George Cukor’s first musical. It was also the film that brought Judy Garland back into the limelight,after several years of being off-screen while battling depression and alcoholism and the character of her co-star,played splendidly by James Mason,seemed to reflect her troubled life.

There’s a scene in the film where Esther Blodgett,renamed as the snappier Vicky Lester (Garland),is handed over to the enthusiastic fellows at the studio for a make-over. In real life,Garland was apparently insecure about her looks,which is why this scene feels so true to life. They attach a prosthetic layer to her nose,paint her cheers in a lurid shade of red,and give her a hideous layer of tight curls. Norman Maine (Mason) fails to recognise her,and then,horrified,removes every vestige of the add-ons,and presents Garland to us: a woman in full bloom,without any need of artificial aid. This was the Garland,pure and unvarnished,who had enchanted us in The Wizard of Oz,her other eternal classic.

The songs are an integral part of the film,and sung with full-throated power. There are parts of the film you are tempted to just listen to,because Cukor doesn’t believe in crowding his stage with hundreds of choreographed ladies. Most often,there’s just Garland,sitting on a stage,singing.

Movie lore will tell you that Cary Grant was supposed to play the male lead,but for some reason didn’t,or couldn’t. Which was good because Mason brings a hurt dignity to his role that Grant’s good looks would have overpowered. A Star Is Born was constructed as a Garland vehicle,but it also gave Mason one of his best parts: you remember both,equally.

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