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A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga Edition) – The Story

14 Oct

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’ll look at the overall story and what it is about it that keeps Hollywood coming back to retell it for a new generation (spoilers ahead). For the posts about why this version hit me so hard, and what lessons Cooper is trying to teach, you can click the links imbedded above.

First, I want to look at the year of release for the four versions.

  1. Original in 1937 featuring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. Based on a male actor helping a female actress achieve stardom. No music involved.
  2. First remake in 1954 featuring Judy Garland and James Mason. Based on a male actor helping a female singer become a star in musicals. 17 years since the original.
  3. Second remake in 1976 featuring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Based on a male rockstar helping a female singer become a rockstar. 22 years since previous remake and 39 years once the original.
  4. Third remake in 2018 featuring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Based on a male rockstar helping a female singer become a rockstar. 42 years since most previous remake and 81 years since the original.

The common themes for each one are that the male star has some form of a substance abuse problem. Whether it is alcohol or a combination of drugs and alcohol, the male lead has the best of intentions when it comes to helping the female, and they are successful in helping. But ultimately, the male is fatally flawed and ends up exhibiting their love for the woman by taking their own life in the end so that they won’t get in the way of the woman’s fame. (It should be noted that, from what I’ve heard because I never saw it, the 1976 version leaves it vague as to whether or not the male killed himself, but the first two are about as explicit as they probably could have been back in the 30s and 50s, and the 2018 version is very explicit).

Let me go through slowly and see what I can find that is similar between the versions.

  • The male lead’s addiction issues are shown right up front. In the two versions I’ve seen, before we even meet female lead we see both the struggle and how his handlers enable the behavior by trying to either protect them from making a fool of themselves or giving them what they want and not telling them no.
  • The female lead is shown as someone who is outrageously talented, but stuck at a nominal level of performing for others. She is also very insecure. The male lead happens upon them in a bit of a drunken/high stupor and instantly sees their talent. We presume they are attracted to her as well.
  • The male uses his influence to giver her the breaks she needs to break through and become a star. He also breathes confidence into the female lead
  • While the 1954 version made it clear that the male lead’s career was fading fast, the 2018 version showed an artist past his prime, but still getting work and enjoying some amount of fame. The common thing for both, however, is that the female’s career shoots past the male’s, and there is some amount of jealousy that comes to light. The level of the male’s intoxication seems to determine how much he lets the jealousy show and control his actions.
  • At some point, the machine that the male tries to introduce the female to takes over and the male starts to lose his influence on the process. The machinery of fame is NEVER shown positively. I wonder if this is both a message on the part of the filmmakers to the machine itself and a message to the audience that what we are seeing, and the fame that some aspire to attain is not real and it comes with a price. My wife commented after we just saw the 2018 version that it reminded her that everything we see in music is produced and controlled by an A&R person who is doing their best to manipulate us so that we will spend our money on what they are selling.
  • There comes a time when the male’s substance abuse gets in the way, culminating in a painful event that is embarrassing to the female and her career. It’s interesting that the female never really seems to start to struggle with substances in these tellings. The message does NOT appear to be that fame will lead to substance problems. The new “star” really adjusts to the fame part of her life pretty well and we aren’t left with much notion that it is costing her much of herself.
  • After a stint in rehab for the male (during which the female isn’t shown doing any of the work that a spouse or family member of an addict would have to do such as Al-Anon, support groups, one-on-one therapy, etc.) tries to be the man she needs him to be, but he doesn’t trust his sobriety. Nor does anyone else. The female’s manager tells her that he will ruin her career, and she decides to sacrifice her career because of her love for him.
  • The male ultimately decides that the most important thing is her career. As I think about it, this is probably the biggest unspoken fallacy in the story. He decides that her career is more important than his life, her love for him, or his love for her. The most important thing to him in his life, the thing that gave him meaning, was his fame. He had been successful in giving that to her and now he didn’t want to be the cause of her losing it. For Hollywood to keep making this movie, I wonder how many people there have come across this dilemma.

As I read back over this, I think I see a couple of things that I would think keep Hollywood coming back for more.

  1. The rags to riches, obscurity to stardom story. Nearly every child idolizes the TV, movie, or music stars, and the would love to be like them. American Idol is a great example of this. Even I would like to believe that I could sing in a way that others would want to hear it. I can’t and they don’t, but I’d love to be idolized in that way. Not only do we easily make idols of others and things instead of God, but in our hearts we would love to be idolized by others.
  2. We are intrigued by the suffering soul and his tragic tale. Either of these can be enough to make a movie, but to combine them into one story makes it irresistible.
  3. Everyone loves a love story. We all love the excitement of falling in love, those beginning stages of infatuation and attraction, and having someone else feel the same about us.
  4. Are there more important things than life and the struggles that come with it? Is there a hidden intimation here that for every star that rises one must fall? Maybe the story is telling us that there can only be so many stars–or maybe I’m reading too much into that. But this idea that he decided on her behalf that her career was more important than his life is sad and an indication of the lies that all of us hear.

Maybe that’s why this sits so hard with me. I didn’t know the story or that the male lead would take his own life by the end when I first saw the trailer for the 2018 version. I knew I wanted to see it when it came out in October so I took the opportunity to watch the 1954 version on Turner Classic Movies this summer. I was really surprised that the movie is actually a tragedy. Apparently, the makers of the 1976 version couldn’t handle that aspect of the story so the powers that be decided to make his death more vague and possibly an accidental result of his addiction.

In the end, I wonder how much this movie is a commentary on the mental illness that is behind suicide. I’ve never known anyone who took their own life who didn’t leave behind mountains of pain for others to experience. But in most instances, their mind is telling them that those people whom they are about to hurt in an unimaginable way will be better off without them. It’s a lie from hell, but I guess the reason this story keeps getting retold is because what the male lead and the female lead both go through are part of the human experience.

 

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2 responses to “A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga Edition) – The Story

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