on 11 July 2014
A STAR IS BORN  [Deluxe Limited Edition DigiBook] [Blu-ray] [US Import] The fire of Barbra Streisand! The magnetism of Kris Kristofferson! The reckless world of big-time rock 'n' roll! All three bring a new passion and timeliness to `A Star Is Born' one of the screen's classic love stories (previously filmed in 1937 and 1954). A rock star on the decline, John Norman Howard [Kris Kristofferson] has given in to drugs and excessive drinking, and his music has suffered as a result. Wandering into a club one night, John watches singer Esther Hoffman [Barbra Streisand] perform and is smitten. The two begin dating, and soon John Norman Howard [Kris Kristofferson] lets Esther take the spotlight during his concerts. However, even as Esther Hoffman finds fame and success with her singing, John continues his downward spiral.
FILM FACT: The film won the Academy Award® for Best Original Song for "Evergreen" with the award shared by its songwriters, Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams, and was also nominated in the categories of Best Cinematography for Robert Surtees, Best Sound for Robert Knudson, Dan Wallin, Robert Glass and Tom Overton and Original Music Score for Roger Kellaway. It won five Golden Globe® Awards for Best Motion Picture for Musical or Comedy, Best Actress for Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Barbra Streisand, Best Actor for Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Kris Kristofferson, Best Original Score for Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher and Best Original Song for Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams for "Evergreen."
Cast: Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Busey, Paul Mazursky, Joanne Linville, Oliver Clark, Venetta Fields, Clydie King, Sally Kirkland, Marta Heflin, Rita Coolidge, Tony Orlando, M. G. Kelly, Uncle Rudy, Susan Richardson (uncredited), Robert Englund (uncredited), Maidie Norman (uncredited) and Martin Erlichman (uncredited)
Director: Frank Pierson
Producers: Barbra Streisand and Jon Peters
Executive Producer: Barbra Streisand
Screenplay: Frank Pierson, Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne, Robert Carson and William A. Wellman
Composers: Barbra Streisand, Kenny Ascher, Kenny Loggins, Leon Russell, Paul Williams, Roger Kellaway and Rupert Holmes
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Running Time: 140 minutes
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Warner Home Video
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: ‘A Star Is Born’ 1976 style, which is a story that has been told and retold since the 1930s. There has been even a nasty rumour floating around for a bit that Clint Eastwood wants to remake the film yet again with Beyoncé, if so please stop this roller-coaster ride in wanting to keep regurgitating another ‘A Star Is Born,’ as there will not be any more improvements over what films have already be brought out. While it usually revolves around Hollywood, this particular adaptation has been superimposed on the world of 1970s rock and roll, the silver screen traded in for music halls and massive arenas.
Barbra Streisand has never been a conventional beauty. But as a shape-shifting pop culture pioneer, she’s a knockout. A huge hit back in its day, both in film and the soundtrack CD album, ‘A Star is Born’ offers the bizarre pairing of Kris Kristofferson as boozing, cokehead rock star John Norman Howard and Barbra Streisand as his discovery, nightclub singer Esther Hoffman. The romantic story was first told on screen in 1937, starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, and again in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason. Written (with a host of collaborators) and directed by Frank Pierson, the 1976 version is now on Blu-ray and exists as a dated curiosity.
Kris Kristofferson comfortably embodies the role of John Norman Howard, the reckless rocker whose stock is rapidly falling in value. He’s erratic and prone to wild stunts like riding a motorcycle around on stage. Howard “discovers” Esther Hoffman in a club one night while being harassed by an obnoxious young Robert Englund fan. She’s singing in a girl group called The Oreos. With her pant suits and poodle perm, it was hard to understand why Barbra Streisand, in fact, has more difficulty fitting the requirements of her role. She’s cloying where she should be seductive, formal when she needs to be sexy.
As John Norman Howard’s career stalls, he promotes Esther Hoffman vigorously. In fact, midway through one of his rock concerts (emphasis on rock) he introduces Esther Hoffman, who proceeds to easily win over the rowdy crowd with a disco-ish, mainstream pop tune. It’s highly improbably, but serves the story since it propels Hoffman into the public eye. The music in general hasn’t aged well. Fans of Streisand may well enjoy her numbers (the love theme “Evergreen” won her an Oscar for Best Original Song), but Kris Kristofferson’s rock songs are a depressingly generic bunch.
As it lurches forward, ‘A Star is Born’ becomes another story about the dangers of excess. It builds to a relatively predictable conclusion that only underlines the films vacuous outlook. As Esther Hoffman’s star rises and John Norman Howard’s falls, their relationship becomes increasingly strained. It may have knocked out quite a few moviegoers 37 years ago, but now it’s unlikely to be of interest to anyone outside the fan bases of its two stars.
Robert Surtees’ Oscar-nominated cinematography looks great on this high definition transfer. Clarity is generally strong, though there are quite a few intentionally soft-focus shots. There’s a natural layer of film grain that never lets us forget we’re watching a 1976 film. ‘A Star is Born’ offers a very pleasingly cinematic presentation all around.
At two hours and twenty minutes long, ‘A Star Is Born’ is just keeps meandering around and refusing to get to the point. There is so much wasted time as the story unfolds exactly as you expect every step of the way. John Norman Howard’s injurious tendencies are hammered home again and again. Great, he’s riding a motorcycle on stage and firing a handgun at a helicopter and punching a pushy fan. We get it, he has problems. ‘A Star Is Born’ won a ton of awards in 1976, including an Oscar for best song and some acting trophies for both Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
The behind the scenes antics of this film are more interesting than anything that made it to the screen. Several crew members were fired or quit because of treatment by Barbra Streisand and her then lover Jon Peters. Kris Kristofferson relieved his stress by staying drunk during the entire shoot. Despite all this drama, the film made a lot of money and set up Barbra Streisand for life. But what makes this film not quite work? Well you have a lame script, overacting and Barbra Streisand's '70s white girl afro. What makes it one of my favourites is the fact that even the mighty can fall from grace.
Blu-ray Video Quality – Just like the movie itself, Warner's 1080p transfer of 'A Star Is Born' is a mixed bag. Most of it, though, is quite good, featuring well-balanced contrast, a fine, non-intrusive grain structure, good clarity, and a natural colour palette. I remember previous home video versions of this film looking washed out and dull, but thanks to a pristine source print with no nicks, marks, or scratches and excellent colour timing that boosts detail resolution and overall vibrancy, Warner Home Video Blu-ray treatment breathes new life into this 37-year-old film. The only problem is consistency. Some shots are just a tad soft, while others look slightly faded. The differences aren't jarring, but they're noticeable enough to merit mention, and keep this transfer from scaling the heights of which it is capable. Black levels are solid, and night scenes exhibit an appropriate amount of detail, while whites remain crisp throughout. Barbra Streisand wears several white outfits, but the various fabrics and stitching are always well defined. Primaries come at a premium (John Norman's beautifully saturated red sports car is a good example), as earthy desert tones predominate, but the hues blend well together (Barbra Streisand is fastidious about colour coordination) and create a warm, comfortable mood. Flesh tones are stable and true, and though there aren't many extreme close-ups, the medium close shots of Kris Kristofferson emphasise his toothy grin, windblown hair, and trademark beard. Crush, banding, noise, and edge enhancement are non-issues, making this transfer very palatable for the film's fans. Surely 'A Star Is Born' has never looked better, and those that enjoy this romantic musical will find much to crow about.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – Musically, 'A Star Is Born' sounds great, especially the newly re-mastered 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track shows off the songs to their best advantage with clear, bright, well-modulated tones, superior fidelity, and palpable depth and presence. The mix, however, favours the music at every turn, and during certain scenes when key dramatic elements are also in play, that's a mistake. Dialogue is often incomprehensible early in the film, especially during the coffeehouse sequence when Esther struggles to get through her solo number while John Norman at first converses with an annoying waitress and then engages in an altercation with an obnoxious fan. Here, the bickering should take precedence, as it disrupts Esther's performance and drives the plot forward, but the mix highlights Barbra Streisand's vocals, which almost completely drown out the conversations, forcing us to strain to pick out isolated words. The dialogue is also tough to hear during John Norman's opening number, but thankfully, as the film progresses, this issue gets ironed out and verbal exchanges become better prioritised. Most of the audio is anchored up front, but the surrounds kick in nicely during the songs, and really make a statement at the outdoor concert, with a helicopter, motorcycle, thousands of screaming fans, on-stage bedlam, and a driving rock beat offering plenty of rear channel activity. Stereo separation is also strong during the musical sequences, allowing various instruments to shine and providing a more immersive concert experience. A wide dynamic scale handles all the track throws at it without any distortion or break-up, even at high volume levels. Barbra Streisand's soaring high notes on "Woman in the Moon" and "I Believe in Love" are crystal clear and exude a marvellous purity, and her sublime singing of the timeless 'Evergreen' sounds deliciously lush. Solid bass frequencies provide essential, counterbalancing weight, as well as heavy rumbles when John Norman guns his engine during his final, fateful drive. Accents, such as clicking cameras, are crisp and distinct, and gentle nuances are easy to detect in quieter bits of scoring. Were it not for the incredibly annoying and frustrating dialogue issues early in the film, this track would earn high marks, but such problems could not be overlooked. Once you get past the first 20 minutes, however, it's pretty smooth sailing and 'A Star Is Born,' at least from an audio perspective, realises its potential.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary with Barbra Streisand: The lady herself, Barbra Streisand, sits down for a rare yet not so revealing commentary. Don't get me wrong; the legendary star is thoughtful, articulate, and insightful as she addresses many aspects of the production and her involvement in it, but never does she divulge any details about the rampant tension on the set or the artistic differences that alienated her from "director" Frank Pierson. (She does, however, make one telling remark, stating she and Pierson agreed the film's direction would be a collaborative effort, even though he would receive sole screen credit.) In fact, rarely does Barbra Streisand even mention Pierson, and her tone and speech patterns suggest she is solely responsible for most of the film's technical and artistic choices. One might assume, because of her heritage, Streisand possesses the gift of gab, but that's not really the case here. Lengthy gaps pervade this track, but when Barbra Streisand does speak, her comments are always interesting, even when the topics are frivolous. (Too many observations about her wardrobe clutter the conversation, and at least twice she compliments Kris Kristofferson on his "great teeth.") Streisand admits she "adored" the Judy Garland version of 'A Star Is Born' and only consented to do the updated remake because her romantic partner at the time, Jon Peters, wanted to become a producer. She also talks about the culture of celebrity and price of fame, how she initially approached Elvis Presley to play John Norman, her distaste for lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks (all the songs in the picture were recorded live), and how winning the Oscar for Best Song for "Evergreen" was perhaps the biggest thrill of her career. She notes many of the scenes between Esther Hoffman and John Norman Howard grew out of her own relationship with Peters, points out where mistakes occur in the film, and surprisingly confesses she embraces human frailties, at least on film and quite an admission from someone generally regarded as the quintessential perfectionist. Though not the ideal commentary, this is nevertheless a good effort, and it's a treat to hear such a lengthy monologue from the usually circumspect Barbra Streisand.
Special Feature: Wardrobe Tests with Commentary by Barbra Streisand  [480i] [1.85:1] [3:12] A collection of silent tests of several costumes worn by Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson and The Oreos, some of which were used in the film and some of which weren't. Barbra Streisand provides running commentary, remarking on her "cute" short hair and her weight at the time [119 lbs], and shares her opinion on the merits of the various outfits. She also recalls her first meeting with Kris Kristofferson and expresses fondness for the job of film executive.
Deleted Scenes/Alternate Takes with Optional Commentary by Barbra Streisand  [480i] [1.85:1] [16:44] A dozen excised and alternate scenes, almost all of which were wisely abandoned, show how many superfluous sequences were originally shot. A ridiculous scene of Barbra Streisand trying her hand (unsuccessfully) at cooking is painful to watch, while a raw reading of "Evergreen" with nonsense syllables instead of lyrics is simply interminable. The infamous bathtub scene goes a step further here, and a portion of the final number is included with cuts and different camera angles instead of the one-take version used in the final edit. Streisand rues some of the deletions because she likes the material, and discusses the editing process as if she was the film's director. She also describes the motivation behind the bathtub makeup scene and admits she prefers the climactic performance of "Watch Closely Now" with multiple angles.
'A Star Is Born' Trailer Gallery: Previews for the original `A Star Is Born'  [2:50] straight-dramatic version of 'A Star Is Born,' featuring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, as well as the highly acclaimed `A Star Is Born'  [3:56] musical remake, starring Judy Garland and James Mason, are included here, along with the original theatrical trailer for the `A Star Is Born'  [3:50] Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson edition. It's interesting to watch the evolution of style, storytelling, and social mores through these previews, which span four decades of history.
BONUS: Deluxe Limited Edition DigiBook: The Barbra Streisand version of 'A Star Is Born' arrives on Blu-ray in much the same fashion as its 1954 predecessor and in a handsomely designed Warner Home Video DigiBook. The 44 page volume is packed with colour and black-and-white photos, many of which I haven't seen before. The text is pretty skimpy and only skims the surface of this troubled production, but topics include the story's background, the film's hit soundtrack, the live concert that was mounted expressly for the film, and how the picture was promoted. Despite this it is still worth purchasing this Deluxe Limited Edition DigiBook and well worth a good read now and again.
Finally, in her commentary, Barbra Streisand noted that `A Star Is Born' had been remade every twenty years or so and that another version was past due. When she recorded her comments, there were rumours of a new version, but so far none has been confirmed. Perhaps no one has been able to figure out how to recast the story for an age in which stardom has been radically transformed by the internet, social media and reality TV. Fame now has a much shorter half-life than when any of the three Star movies were made, and the desire for privacy that informs all of them have far less resonance in a world where people gladly fling it away just for the opportunity to appear on television or get a million hits on YouTube. Would a modern audience relate to John Norman's desire to withdraw to the solitude of his ranch and shut out the world? Or would they be screaming at him to negotiate a contract for his own reality show on Bravo called "Mr. Hoffman's World"? We do need a new `A Star Is Born,' but it wouldn't look anything like the previous three. In the meantime, Warner's Blu-ray of the 1976 version is highly recommended for its technical quality, with due regard for its limitations as a film. If you love the earlier versions of this story, you'll definitely be disappointed with this particular remake, and if you've never seen 'A Star Is Born,' for heaven's sake don't start here. I love you Barbra Streisand, but aside from a few powerful moments, this is far from her finest hour, which makes this release definitely for fans only. Despite this I am still honoured to have this in my extensive Barbra Streisand Blu-ray Collection, so for me I definitely recommend this particular version of the film, despite it looking very dated now. But of course the Judy Garland version of `A Star Is Born' is definitely THE ultimate film to have in your Blu-ray Collection, especially in the beautiful Deluxe Limited Edition DigiBook. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller - Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom