Barbra Streisand’s remake of A Star is Born must go down in film history as an epic misfire, an idea that looked good on paper but for various reasons did not turn out as planned. This film is the third of four remakes of the reliable Hollywood yarn, originally titled What Price, Hollywood? The fact that Streisand and producer John Peters apparently re-directed and re-edited parts of the film after it was taken away from director Frank Pierson only adds to the film’s problems. Could this be one of the reasons that the film ends with a SEVEN-MINUTE-LONG, unbroken close-up of Streisand? I’m at a loss to name any other Hollywood film that contains an instance of massive ego that even comes close to this. Pierson penned a now-famous essay, “My Battles with Barbra and John,” detailing the film’s troubled production history, which was published in New West magazine BEFORE THE FILM PREMIERED. One of the most telling passages sees Pierson recounting his days rewriting the screenplay, “I am writing new scenes and dialogue, and Barbra can't understand why I must work alone. ‘It would go so fast if we worked together. I could tell you what to write.’”
THE PLOT IN BRIEF: John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson) is a rock star with a serious alcohol problem. One night after a concert, his roadies take him into a small nightclub where Esther Hoffman (Barbra Streisand) is performing. Though drunk, Howard thinks that she is very talented. An inebriated fan tries to start a fight with him, but Hoffman rushes him out of the bar. They wind up at Esther’s for breakfast. Though drunk, Howard wants to take her to a concert, but an injury prevents him from doing so. Though drunk, Howard eventually gets Hoffman to one of his concerts and hustles her onstage to sing. Esther becomes a big star. Though drunk, Howard’s star is on the wane. The two marry. Can this mismatched couple navigate the vicissitudes of fame? I thought not.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS FILM:
1) At two-and-one-half hours, it is too long.
3) Streisand gives a performance more suited to a romantic comedy. She is in the wrong film.
4) Kristofferson plays a rock star but the producers didn’t let him write any of his own songs. This is odd because, in real life, Kristofferson first came to prominence as a songwriter, penning “Me and Bobby McGee” for Janis Joplin and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” for Johnny Cash. Kristofferson is stuck singing faux rock written by a disparate range of Hollywood songwriters. It’s foolish. The songs in the film are a mixed bag, penned by the likes of Rupert Holmes, Paul Williams, Kenny Loggins, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Notice that Streisand gets co-writer credit on two of the film’s ten songs.
5) I’m not sure what audience the Esther Hoffman character appeals to. She is thrust in front of John Norman Howard’s “biker bar” audience, sings pap like “Lost Inside of You” and “I Believe in Love,” and is somehow a big hit. This makes no logical sense. If a female singer got up at a real rock concert and sang these songs, the crowd would throw beer bottles at her.
RUMORS ARE ALWAYS TRUE: One tantalizing bit of show business lore describes Streisand and Peters trying to get Elvis Presley to play John Norman Howard. Neil Diamond and Marlon Brando were also discussed as possibilities. Casting Brando is just crazy talk, but if you’re not sure Diamond would work in the role, consider that “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” his chart-topping “duet” with Streisand was released just one year after A Star is Born. This would have been a powerful song to include in the film. Then consider that Diamond gave one of the dopiest, leaden performances in movie history four years later in The Jazz Singer.
Holy cats, I would love to see the “Elvis Presley Version” of this film! Think of it: Streisand was 34 when she made A Star is Born. Elvis was only 41. It could have worked. I have read that Elvis was actually excited about doing it, but his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, put the kibosh on the whole thing because he didn’t want his precious Elvis playing a rock star who was “washed up.” Of course, in 1976, Elvis was only a year away from his actual untimely demise-- think of the method performance he could have given as the bleary, dissipated, pill-addicted, past-his-shelf-life Vegas rock star! I quiver inside my oversized, spangled jumpsuit just imagining it.
Who should have been cast as the new, fresh, up-and-coming star that Streisand propels to stardom? Simple. Bruce Springsteen. Think about it. He was 27 in 1976. He had released Born to Run the year before. Darkness on the Edge of Town was still two years away. He could have pulled it off; I really think he could have.
He would have shown Streisand who’s the boss.