A Star is Born (1976) Blu-ray Review
It’s often referred to as the film that could have saved Elvis. Rumor has it that Barbra Streisand wanted the King to co-star with her in her planned remake of A STAR IS BORN but that Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, asked for too much, including top billing on the posters. Of course Kris Kristofferson got the part and, sadly, Presley died almost 8 months to the day after the film opened.
Having been filmed twice previously, this version of A STAR IS BORN moves the setting from Hollywood to the world of music. It tells the story of John Norman Howard (Kristofferson), an on his way down former rock star who one night catches Esther Hoffman (Streisand) singing in a small club. John Norman knows talent when he hears it and he takes it upon himself to get Esther heard. Eventually she finds herself climbing to the top while John Norman (as Esther calls him) continues to slip, dealing with alcohol, drugs and poor record sales.
The second highest grossing film of 1976 (though most of its money was made in 1977), behind ROCKY, A STAR IS BORN captures Streisand at the top of her popularity. Clearly involved in every aspect of the film (she wears her own clothes in the film, which receives the credit “Ms. Streisand’s Clothes From…Her Closet!”) Her performance is in and out, sometimes showing real emotion and sometimes apparently just reciting the lines from the script. Kristofferson fares just as well. Coming off mostly supporting film roles, most notably in Martin Scorsese’s ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, Kristofferson is at his best when he truly has to emote. The supporting cast includes early roles for future Oscar nominees Gary Busey and Sally Kirkland, as well as future directing Oscar nominee Paul Mazursky, who plays John Norman’s manager.
While the film struggles occasionally thematically, it’s the music that makes it still memorable almost forty years later. Besides the Oscar winning “Evergreen,” which Streisand co-wrote with Paul Williams, the film includes songs written by a who’s who of great songwriters, including Kenny Loggins, Leon Russell, Rupert Holmes and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who would go on to write the songs for Streisand’s directorial debut, YENTL.
In addition to its Oscar for best song the film earned three additional nominations for cinematography, musical score and adaptation and sound, all three well deserved. There are several shots of John Norman’s ranch and desert land which jump off the screen like postcards. The concert scenes, as well as the rest of the singing in the film, were filmed live, the first time this had been attempted on such a large scale. The film also swept the Musical/Comedy categories at the Golden Globes, with Streisand and Kristofferson taking home Best Actress and Actor, respectively, and the film being named Best Picture.
A true time capsule of the mid 1970s, A STAR IS BORN is a film you need to see at least once. Come for the movie…stay for the music.
Video: The transfer here is outstanding, with all of the bright colors (costumes, the outdoor concert shots) standing out. Kristofferson’s blue eyes practically leap off your screen. Presented in a 1:78.1 aspect ratio.
Audio: The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 5.1. The dialogue is clear and the musical sequences, especially when Streisand is belting, sound as if she’s in the same room.
Packed in a 40 page Digi-book, the extras are similar to those featured on the 30th Anniversary DVD released in 1976.
Commentary by Barbra Streisand: The entire time the film was being made rumors began coming out about how director Pierson (who sadly died last year) clashed constantly with Streisand and her then-boyfriend (and the film’s producer) Jon Peters. So angry was Pierson that, shortly before the film opened, he wrote an essay for “New West” magazine entitled “My Battles with Barbra and Jon.” What’s so amazing about the commentary is that Babs talks so much about her editing the film and telling the cameraman where to put the camera and how to shoot that, if you didn’t know better you might think THIS was Streisand’s first film and not YENTL.
Wardrobe Tests with Commentary by Barbra Streisand (3:12): Since the clothes came from her closet who better to discuss them. For a movie shot almost 40 years ago Streisand has a unique memory for what she was wearing in 1975 and where it came from.
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes with Optional Commentary by Streisand (16:44): A compilation of twelve scenes, all of them bringing back memories for Streisand. Eleven of them weren’t missed. One I would have liked to have seen features Streisand telling Kristofferson about a tune she just wrote and then playing the chords for “Evergreen” for him on guitar while humming the tune in accompaniment. Though I agree with Streisand that it does slow the film down some it would have ended then and there the rumor that Streisand just put her name on Paul Williams’ song.
Trailer for the 1937 film A STAR IS BORN starring Janet Gaynor and Frederick March
Trailer for the 1954 film A STAR IS BORN starring Judy Garland and James Mason
Trailer for the 1976 film A STAR IS BORN starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson