Every once in a while I see a piece of art that moves me. It might be a song, a book, a painting, a musical, or a movie. I was a fool for years in thinking that the arts we’re not worthy of our philanthropic support. It took my daughter getting involved in theater when she was nine years old to show me that the arts are critical to human development.
I cannot explain why the latest version of a “A Star Is Born” featuring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga touched me from the get-go. As soon as I ran across the trailer on YouTube, I knew I had to see it. And I hadn’t seen any of the previous iterations at the time (although I’ve since seen the Judy Garland version). I guess what I want to do with this series of blog posts is try to figure 1.) why this story keeps being retold, 2.) why this version, even from the trailer struck me so hard, and 3.) what are the lessons that Bradley Cooper wanted to teach all of us in his interpretation.
Before you read any further, you need to know that I’m not writing this for you. I’m writing it for myself. This is how I am processing what I’ve seen and why it has hit me in this way.
For this post, I’d like to focus on what it was about the trailer that struck such a nerve with me, before I even knew the story (spoilers ahead). If you’d like to read the other posts I’ve done about this movie, you can click the respective links imbedded above.
I think the easiest way to start this post is to start with the first trailer that was released. Here’s a link. The first time I saw the trailer, I didn’t know that this was “A Star is Born” and I didn’t know that the woman they were featuring was Lady Gaga. So I’m watching just the images and the music and it gives you a great sense of artistry, mixed with pain, mixed with believing in someone, mixed with talent, and mixed with love. Then you see “Bradley Cooper,” “Lady Gaga,” “A Star is Born.” I was already interested, but then I saw that I was going to get to see Lady Gaga in a whole new way and she was going to be part of telling me a story that I had heard of but didn’t know.
So let’s look at the trailer segment by segment:
- It opens with Jackson (Jack) performing on stage and enjoying stardom (and he’s good). We find out during the movies that the song he’s singing is kind of his trademark song that he does at all of his concerts.
- The opening montage of him singing shows his fame, but then it shows the drinking alone in the Tahoe after escaping a crowd. They intimate right up front that something isn’t right with this picture.
- They give you a speech from Dave Chappelle (a speech that isn’t in the actual movie, by the way) that explicitly indicates that Jack’s life is getting out of control–presumably from the alcohol they just showed.
- They show Jack walking through a doorway into what is presumably an AA meeting, and it dissolves into a similar shot of Ally walking through a curtain and out on stage. We are 40 seconds into the trailer before we meet her character.
- When we meet Ally, the music changes and we shift to a song that we find out during the movie that she wrote. Then we hear Jack asking her more about her musical talent. “Do you write songs or anything?”
- Ally’s answer changes the tone of the trailer. “I don’t sing my own songs…I just don’t feel comfortable…Almost every single person has told me they like the way I sounded, but they didn’t like the way I look.” Aww. That makes you feel bad for her. And her look in that moment is not ugly at all–it’s just not glamorous. But I liked her comfortable look. She looked very relatable. Jack’s reply: “I think. you’re beautiful.” Cue the musical line by Jack, “I’m fallin'”
- “Hey!” “What?” “I just wanted to take another look at you.” The first time I saw this I thought it was just underscoring that he was trying to affirm her attractiveness and her worthiness of being a star. I found out after I watched the 1954 version with Judy Garland that this is a callback line that is in all four versions. A little Easter egg for those who have seen the previous movie(s).
- Jack gets her up on stage to show the world her talent. “All you gotta do is trust me. That’s all you gotta do.” She does and that when we hear an unexpectedly world-class voice. Wow, she is good! Who is that?
- We get another montage that plays under her singing. It’s a mixture of them falling in love, her experiencing luxury (private jet, etc.), and brief shots of Dave Chappelle and Sam Elliott.
- That’s when the trailer reveals who we’ve been watching. Okay, I figured out Bradley Cooper, but that’s Lady Gaga?!? Wow! I instantly wanted to see a different side of this fantastically talented woman that didn’t have all of the theatricality that comes with her persona (although being a character in a movie is not real at all and possibly the definition of theatricality).
- Then we start to see the pain in the montage. After her name we see her punch a picture frame, Sam Elliott hold Jack’s face. Jack punches Sam Elliott. This will not just be a feel-good story. There will be pain.
- Then the big reveal. This is “A Star Is Born”! As I said, I’d never seen it, but I’d heard of it and, by now, I was all in.
So what was it that I wanted to see?
- It looked like the story would be told in a very soulful way. I’m into a good soulful drama.
- I like the idea of an insecure person discovering their talent and feeling good about themselves.
- It seemed that we would get to see the Jack character wrestle with his inner demons.
- I wanted to see Lady Gaga in a new way. It’s a little like seeing Robin Williams or Jim Carey in a drama. I love it when artists seemingly go from flash to substance. This felt like that’s what Lady Gaga was doing here, although I think she would probably argue that her music has a lot of substance–which I think it does. I guess the problem for me is that a lot of the substance of her music has been lost in the theatricality of her style.
- I wanted to see a movie telling a story that I’d heard of but never experienced. And this looked a lot better to me than the one that came out when I was six years old.
I’ve tried to think through whether or not this movie says anything about me. Is there anything in my personal experience that drew me to it? Well, I’ve known people who have substance abuse problems. I know that I’ve been very insecure and still can be. I know that I’ve needed people to believe in me in the past, and I’ve been able to play that role in others’ lives as well. I love my wife and I enjoy watching a good love story with her. And I worked in sales and marketing for a record label at one point, so I’ve seen just a little of that side of the world. So yes, I guess it spoke to me on a personal level more than I realized.
Did it change me? I don’t know that I’d say that it did, but the actual watching of the movie did live up to the trailer.