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Soundtracking: "A Star is Born (1976)"

Last week Chris Feil looked back at Judy Garland and A Star is Born's musical beginning. This week, it's Streisand/Kristofferson...

Some viewers have chastised the current remake of A Star is Born’s presentation of pop music, but it kind of pales to the cynicism and condescension to 70s rock and roll in the Streisand/Kristofferson version of 1976. What had previous been told as a saga of the film industry is transplanted into rock arenas, the emptiness of fame represented by a ravenous crowd of thousands acting a fool. Know a little something about Streisand’s skittishness with (sometimes rabid) crowds and you can begin to understand the film’s boorish presentation of fandom, so some grace can be granted. But nevertheless, fame suddenly seems all the more vacuous here in the face of Real Artistry.

Or maybe this is just exacerbated because the music Kris Kristofferson’s mumblerocker John Norman Howard kind of blows. Okay, let’s be real: he sucks. He’s crafted in the mold of the era, all shaggy vibes and southern groove, like a Jim Morrison without the psychotropics or a one-man CCR minus the icky Americana. What’s missing in his presence is music that could conceivably fill an arena; instead, we’re given junk. Alcohol antics and crap music quickly establish some narrative mileage to show him on a steep decline, but we’re left wondering how he got to the top in the first place. It's a ghastly portrait, and all we really see of this genre.

Enter the decidedly-not-rock-and-roll Barbra Streisand to save the musical day. And though she flirts with more rhythm and blues (fronting a group called The Oreos: YIKES), her presence brings a musicality that, while welcome, makes you question the film’s perception on wilder world of brasher musical genres. The crowd that once behaved beastly with vocalized resentment goes silent once she bestows them with her adult-contempo sound. Her Esther is here to civilize the masses, at best a Carole King to Kristofferson’s watered-down Alice Cooper.

Whereas Kristofferson is stooped in nonsense theatrics (“Are you a figment of my imagination or am I one of yours?” Sir, what??), all it takes for Esther to captivate us is her voice and the fuschia orb of her perm. The qualitative distance between the two of them is the film stacking its own deck, the visual reverence for Streisand allowing us to get lost in its feeling in ways that Kristofferson’s sequences can’t among the freneticism (and junk songs). But the distinction between the two styles of music can be forgiven its reductive bluntness here, because basking in the glory of a once-in-a-generation female superstar is an integral ingredient to the legacy of A Star is Born. And you simply can’t claim that Streisand doesn’t deliver on that.

This A Star is Born is the one that wants most to just revel in its star power rather than focus on the opposite-trajectory love story, and it is at its admissible best when it does just that. And Streisand’s charms and silky vocals are indeed soft as the easy chair she coos about, the reason we showed up in the first place. Though this one is the weakest of the films because of that discordant, unbalanced musicality, it still saves itself (at least in part) by giving us something as evergreen as “Evergreen”. But a star isn't so much born here, it's bolstered.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (15)

She's certainly in fine voice and that supplies this awful version's only pleasure, at least for me. Let's not speak of the perm (Oh God the FRIZZY PERM!)

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

The soundtrack is on Amazon Prime for subscribers to listen to for free, so I was playing it yesterday in the car. Wow. What bad songs indeed. But Chris, you let the Streisand cuts off the hook. Every one of them, yes, even "Evergreen" to some extent, sounds like a song the SCTV gang would have cooked up for Andrea Martin to sing in a parody of Streisand at that point in her career:

Climbin' up your money tree
You've got to hurry
Monkey do and monkey see
You're on a one-way street and you're speeding
Missin' the signs you ought to be readin'
Passin' things you'll later be needin'
I believe love - What?

I like to think the "Whats" Barbra belts out are just her wondering aloud who wrote this crap.

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDan H

I loathe Barbara. Vain, deluded, misguided.

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJANE

This movie is so, so bad. The beginning of Bab's filmic artistic decline - she was so good in her early stuff, esp What's Up Doc?

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

When this came out I was a fan of Streisand, I had seen Funny Girl, What's up Doc, and The Way We Were. But I was not enough of a fan, to overlook the mishmash of bad and mediocre pop songs in this version of A Star is Born.

Trust me, Evergreen was a huge hit. Hearing it a lot did not make me like it any better.
I still love Streisand but Evergreen is a mediocre song sung beautifully.
She's a great singer, and she's a star, but that doesn't make me like the music.

Which is why I came to love the 1954 version even more.
I still haven't gone to see the latest one, is the music truly good?

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

LadyEdith: The music in the new one is passable, barely (it gets the job done, and doesn't leave you wondering why anyone would pay to listen to it). It's certainly not the eye-rolling crap of the 76 version. I remember that music on the film's release. I was an 11 year old gay boy who loved Streisand, and even I knew it was bad stuff. "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)" was Rogers and Hammerstein compared to those "Star Is Born" songs.

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDan H

Thanks Dan H. no disrespect to Streisand or LG, but the songbook for the 54 version is amazing, and stands apart from the others.

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Chris Feil: Get OUT of here with CCR being the gross version of Americana. Replace that reference with Skynyrd, PLEASE.

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia - they're both gross

October 10, 2018 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Streisand is so very often her own worst enemy. What an incredible talent—that voice!—undone by ego. And though she didn't direct this, her (woe begotten) fingerprints are all over it.

To think that she went from feisty and flighty (What's Up, Doc?) to full-tilt fussy (A Star Is Born) in four years flat...whoa. Evergreen aside, this may be her nadir.

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I don't like Barbra Streisand either as I wonder what could've been if she had done the film with Elvis Presley who was supposed to do it and could've showed Babs a thing or two on humility and acting but his manager fucked it all up for him.

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Streisand polarizes just about everyone. Always has, always will.
Don't forget, the ASIB soundtrack was a monster hit in 1976/77. I think the LP was 5 weeks at #1

Love her or hate her, the star power, raw talent and magnificent voice are there one way or the other. I will be the first to admit that her earlier films were her best. And Yentl was very, very good but something happened.

October 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGay Senior

As a teen, my sister and I went to every Streisand cinema outing because BS was THE biggest star of her era. But somehow I missed 'A Star is Born.' It couldn't have been the bad reviews, because I saw 'The Main Event' a few years later. I didn't see Streisand's 'Star' until I saw a DVD on the library shelf last year. Well, it's still bad...and now, dated, too! Kris is believable as a rock star until he opens his mouth to sing. Other pleasures include back-lit Streisand perm, clothes from her closet (love the Luke Skywalker number), future Freddie Krueger Robert Englund as the trouble making club patron, Baby Jane's housekeeper Elvira as the justice of the peace, Sally Kirkland as a photog, and Barbra trying so very hard to rock out in her pant suits!
It's all here, with pix to prove the awfulness of it all, in my review:

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

A Star is Born will compete in the Drama category. WHAT THE FUCK?!

October 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMerteuil

I’m really surprised at the lukewarm consensus on the music in this, of all things. It’s the one unimpeachable aspect of this film working really well for the way it mirrors and diverts from Streisand’s own trajectory. The fact that Esther’s big star moment as “The Woman in the Moon” emphasises the weird way Barbra’s Esther doesn’t seem to really depend on Norman, at least emotionally.

(I think this version has more value than its given, though. Among them the perfect seventies cinematography.)

October 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrewDeK

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