A STAR IS BORN – MASTERFUL VARIATION ON AN INHERENTLY DISSONANT THEME

SPOILERS!

SHORT TAKE:

Artistic, excellent, and faithful (4th) version of a A Star is Born, a story with a destructive message.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults only, let me count the ways: language (I think there is only one adjective they knew and they used it with abandon), sex outside of marriage, excessive drinking, illicit drug use, nakedness, and a bar frequented by those with drastically alternative lifestyles.

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SPOILERS!!!

LONG TAKE:

There is great wisdom in 1 Corinthians 13:11:

"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child."

A lot of movies seen in one’s teens and early twenties, seem like a good idea at the time, but do not stand up well under the scrutiny of age and experience.

One of those is Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). When it came out, it seemed like a sci fi fantasy of a man in search of his dream to confirm the existence of extra-terrestrials, who flies off, like Peter Pan, into the stars with them. In fact, the movie is about a man who abandons his wife and children to go off on a lark. Regardless of the circumstances, he is a cad of extra-ordinary proportions. Then Pretty Women (1990), which holds itself out as a modern Cinderella story, actually Disneyfies prostitution, making it look appealing with a prize at the end instead of a body and soul destroying meat grinder (pun intended). Ditto for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982). It holds itself out as a musical comedy but really sets up a madam and a corrupt politician as the main protagonists. (Haven’t any of these people seen East of Eden? I suspect Kate’s cold, calculating and cruel flesh peddler is a more accurate version of a madam than Dolly Parton’s cutesy songstress Mona.) You get the idea.

The third manifestation of A Star is Born (1976), with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson seemed, in the theater, to a 17 year old, a romantic, tear jerking, self sacrificing love story. I have seen all of versions 1937, 1976, and 2018 and enough of 1954 to realize that that one is just a badly done and unrelatable Judy Garland vehicle. The names change slightly with each movie. All the men have the surname of Maine, and in this one his given name is Jackson. Gaga's character's name this time around is Ally. In truth A Star is Born – all of them – is about of a man who destroys the person he loves … twice …. because he is a self-indulgent, self-pitying, weak and arrogant coward.

Please don’t get me wrong. I loved A Star is Born when I first saw it in theaters right out of high school. And before I launch into my criticisms of the story, let me say that, on one level, I thought this 2018 Bradley Cooper auteur production the best of the litter – a magnificent bit of cinema (the plaudits for which I will get to later) ………. but of an inherently bad story.

IF I HAVE NOT MADE MYSELF CLEAR HERE YET, THERE ARE SPOLIERS AHEAD!!!

The premise presents itself about a man who is a great star (either singer or actor depending upon which decade’s movie you are talking about) with VERY bad habits, on his way down, who gives "THE FIRST BIG" shot at stardom to a promising female artist. When he realizes he cannot (or will not) cease his destructive behaviors, he kills himself, allegedly, to protect his former protégé, now wife from being held back. What is really happening is that an addicted, boorish, self-indulgent loser, who has achieved his dreams, does indeed generously provide a boost to the extremely talented woman of his dreams. BUT instead of doing the TRULY heroic act of changing his own life FOR her, drags her down. When he decides he will not cease his addictions or his self-destructive behavior, this narcissistic, self-absorbed waste of space tries very hard to destroy her again by committing suicide. In all four cases, this second act of destruction almost succeeds. In all four cases, we are left at the end of the movie wondering when, not if, it will be her turn to follow in her husband's footsteps.

A very big deal is made in the movie about saying something with your art. I must wonder what it is that this movie is trying to say: "When you hit rock bottom you should grab a shovel and dig it deeper by killing yourself?"

BUT – having said my piece on this point —–

Putting this massive flaw aside, the movie is still a masterfully done piece of art. I cannot place blame on Mr. Cooper for the ending because that IS the way it has always played out. I suppose I could blame him for expending his efforts on a story with a terrible message, but once having chosen this project he does an excellent job with its composition. This IS the way A Star is Born was written 81 years ago. (The first version was in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, both BARELY out of the silent film era.)

Kudos to Cooper’s commitment to the project. He mastered guitar playing for this role in an 18 month Blitzkrieg, including performing live at a festival, singing his own original songs, on the same stage with Kris Kristofferson, who previously played the same role for which Cooper was training – all while keeping the movie under wraps! AND Cooper is not just the star of the movie, but also was one of the adapting screenwriters, is the director, one of the producers, did all of his own playing and singing and wrote four of the movie’s songs. I admired the way Cooper approached the story. This Star’s incarnation hits all the high notes, the low notes, the musical arcs and has the same finale as all the others.

Lady Gaga, born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, I was shocked to discover, is quite a talented actress. Not a big fan before hand, I liked "Poker Face" and "Bad Romance," but was not familiar with her videos. I was jaw dropped to see her name in the trailer credits. She, more than a little, resembles a young Barbra Streisand in her manner, looks and singing talent. (She even complains about her nose.) This fits, as Bab’s manager/boyfriend at the time of Streisand's Star was Jon Peters, whose production company made Cooper's Star.

There were a few amazing surprises among the actors, not the least of which was Lady Gaga herself, as already mentioned, who did an incredible job. There is one scene in particular where in she finds herself on stage with Jackson Maine and her subtle and delicate transformation from newbie, frightened singer to confident but still terrified performer whose potential is glimpsed and then blossoms and matures throughout movie is subtle, transformative and deserves recognition. Other stand out performances include Sam Elliott as the REAL hero of the movie who stands by Jackson as long as he can as his manager, confidante, keeper, and older brother.

Andrew Dice Clay made a perplexingly successful career as a stand-up comic by being blunt, vulgar and every –ist you can think of. When you are boycotted by Sinead O'Connor and a regular cast member, Nora Dunn, for a Saturday Night Live appearance, and then from MTV for 18 years for being too offensive, you should consider that perhaps there are some issues with your routine. In A Star is Born he is pleasantly unrecognizable as Ally's gentle and supportive father, who whimsically reminisces about how he could have been a crooner "like Frank Sinatra".

The songs are – in a word – excellent. Catchy and communicative with a readily accessible emotional core, they were all the more surprising in that four of them were written by Bradley Cooper, not heretofore known as a musician.

I was very impressed by some of Mr. Cooper’s directorial decisions. For one thing there is no soundtrack except for the songs being performed or played on the radio or jukebox. There is none of the emotional manipulation, which is almost ubiquitous in other movies’ accompanying score. Don't get me wrong, I love a good soundtrack which often enhances or forewarns the audience in a particular scene. I have often wished I personally had a soundtrack to my life so I would know in advance what was coming.

Mr. Cooper plays his scenes with no such safety net. Some of the movie even feels somewhat documentary. Not in the dry, dusty, awkward way in which we appear as unwanted guests into other people's lives, but as a welcome friend sitting across the table watching the interchange between these two friends, lovers, and musical partners who must inevitably part.

All in all, I enjoyed this incarnation of A Star is Born. I had looked forward to it with a lot of expectation and most were fulfilled. I was sorry they had cut out one particularly appealing scene from the trailer where Jackson tells Ally she is beautiful and her eyebrows rise precipitously in surprise. But in the end I was a little disappointed, but not really surprised. I had hoped against hope, knowing the story, that with this fourth variation on a theme Mr. Cooper would have found a way to make the story more uplifting. It is a faithful telling of the story, but it is unfortunate that the story itself is fatally flawed. So I do not fault Mr. Cooper for the ending.

Just as you are not likely to turn Anna Karenina into a musical comedy, it would be very difficult to alter a classic tragedy without making it unrecognizable. (Although Steve Martin did just that with Roxannecreatively found a way to forge a happy ending with Cyrano de Bergerac but still keeping the essence of the tale intact.)

I just can’t help musing that a truly noble heroic Mr. Maine would have manned up to his own weaknesses, sent his protege on her way, and done something meaningful with the rest of his life: mission work in Africa, volunteer for at-risk kids in inner cities, used his notoriety to become an example of what could happen in Scared Straight programs, done PSA's against drugs and drinking. But alas the Roxanne ending was not to be.

I'll give it this, it is not Singing in The Rain. There is no soft peddling, sanitizing or making light of the music profession. And I suspect this Star is an accurate account of the insides of the industry, where one is lucky to get a guest spot at a bar for drag queens while holding down a job as an unappreciated waiter at a local restaurant. That even if you are lucky enough to "make it," the experience is just as likely to make you an addicted, deaf, jaded wreck as it is to provide you with wealth and power and fame. Star does not paint a pretty picture. What it lacks in virtue it makes up for in honesty. If you can’t be a good example, at least be a horrible warning.

I look forward to Mr. Cooper's next project. I hope it involves some singing because he is quite good. I also look forward to seeing Lady Gaga act again. The relationship between the two was electric and portrayed with a natural chemistry. All of the elements were beautifully crafted and fit like an intricately harmonious chord. I just hope Bradley Cooper finds a more noble project to lend his considerable talents to in the future.

IN PRAGMATIC DEFENSE OF TWILIGHT

Bella and Edward

"….not only would I recommend this rather awful film series but had I the authority I'd be tempted to make it required watching for teens."

To quote my favorite expression from the re-booted Dr. Who series, oft spoke by Dr. River Song: SPOILERS!!!!

I'm not a big fan of sappy stories. I've watched more than my share but it's not my favorite genre. There are a few exceptions. Jane Eyre was my favorite book as a kid. Helped that George C Scott did an amazing movie version back in 1970. But Jane Eyre is less romance than it is a tale of righteousness over romping – that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

And I did see Titanic a couple of times over the years but frankly enjoyed the rather droll How it Should Have Ended animated satire more.

Which brings us to the Twilight series.

Bella Edward 2

Is the movie badly acted? Why, yes, the acting is terrible. Kristen Stewart's whispering, sniveling, gasping response to EVERYTHING has become a cliché of pitiful thespian skills. The Everything Wrong With… Twilight is hysterical and worth watching for their "Breathing, Laughing and other Bella Noises Bonus Round" alone. IMPORTANT CAVEAT – while I LOVE the "Everything Wrong With…." series on youtube.com, it is chock full of sexual innuendo and raw language, the latter of which is, while bleeped, pretty obvious.

Is Twilight well written? I'll let you judge:

Edward Cullen: I don't have the strength to stay away from you anymore. Isabella Swan: Then don't.

Edward bedroom

Edward Cullen: Uh, yeah this is my room.   Isabella Swan: …No bed?  Edward Cullen: Ah no I don't, I don't sleep.  Isabella Swan: Ever?  Edward Cullen: No, not at all. Isabella Swan: Ok, hmmm, boy you have so much music, what were you listening to. Edward Cullen: It's Debussy. Isabella Swan: Clair de Lune is great.

Edward Cullen: I hate you for making me want you so much.

And these are from us.imdb.com as memorable quotes. Need I say more?

So, it's sappy, badly acted, awkwardly written, ham handedly directed but——-not only would I recommend this rather awful film series but had I the authority I'd be tempted to make it required watching for teens."

But, you might reasonably ask…………..WHY!?!?!?!

BECAUSE – This movie advocates powerfully for some of our modern culture's most vitally important but least present virtues and makes those virtues irresistible to the very demographic audience who most desperately need to witness them.

Edward Bella wedding

Edward is a 100+ year old vampire in love with the atheistic Bella. (Quick quiz: Edward is played by Robert Pattinson. What other iconic movie series does he appear in?) Edward is in a family of vampires who have sworn to abstain from human blood, led by the beneficent and altruistic father-figure, Carlisle. I could and probably will add Carlisle to the Back to the Father series but that's for another post. Bella is a child of the current age anxious to demonstrate her affections for Edward and not afraid to make those feelings obvious. Edward ——– refuses.

Edward in Bella's room

Not only does he refuse but states that:

1. He will not put her IMMORTAL SOUL in danger, especially as he is already worried about his own given that he is now a vampire, and

2. He will give in to her amorous desires ONLY after they are married. It is Bella who drags her feet on matrimony, having watched her distant-cop Dad and hippie free love mother destroy their own marriage through self absorption and cluelessness. But Edward is true to his word all the way (so to speak). And, atypically for a modern movie, nuptials are NOT had until the nuptials are — well performed by a minister at the end of the third book. Yes, dear friends there are FOUR books and FIVE movies!!

Now let's think about what Ms. Meyers has written. Her story involves a vampire. And vampires have been analogous to sexuality since the inception of the idea was made popular by Bram Stoker 118 years ago. Twilight proposes, if a VAMPIRE – who is the very embodiment of lust – can restrain himself for moral reasons for the woman he loves, then Mister-taking-his-girl-out-to-this-movie, so can you. If Edward can keep himself from both Bella's blood and bed, then you, oh mortal boy, no matter how much you may tell your girlfriend you love her, should too. Because NO one can emote more than the Bella-Edward characters about how devoted they are, how much they love each other, how thoroughly they would die for each other than this sappy over the top couple. Furthermore Edward is abstaining for the right reason – for Bella's soul, and he is clear and blunt about this DESPITE Bella's insistence that she does not believe in God.

I can just hear the after movie conversation – "If EDWARD can restrain himself then YOU should be able to, too! Don't you love me as much as Edward loves Bella?" And the more the young man may try to convince his lady friend that he wants to show his affection for her, the more he will be hoisted by his own petard of love. I can't help but chuckle.

The second reason I would advocate for this movie strongly comes in the form of the unbelieving Bella. In the fourth book/movie she discovers, soon after the honeymoon, that she is what everyone thought impossible – she has been made pregnant by Edward.

Edward had promised to make Bella a vampire, against his own better judgment, after they are married. Bella wants to start their honeymoon as a human. So subsequent to the mortal/vampire coupling and before the vampire changing process can begin, Bella finds herself with child. Rushing back to Carlisle, who is a doctor, they are told that a full term pregnancy will be terminal for Bella.

Bella, the atheist, in a welcome about face to her up to now single minded obsession with Edward, decides to die for her baby. And in a surprising but believable character shift, the life respecting Cullen family, so desperate are they to keep Bella alive, try emphatically to convince Bella to abort. Up to now Bella has almost worshipped the Cullens. But not only does Bella successfully fight them on this, she enlists the assistance of the one Cullen who hates her, Rosalie.

Rosalie and Bella pregnant

Rosalie is a vampire who was turned by Carlisle, in what he thought was an act of mercy, when he found Rosalie left for dead after a brutal attack. While grateful for the rescue she has grieved the loss of her  ability to bear children ever since. (Why male vampire have sperm which are alive enough to impregnate women but women vampires do not have living eggs is never explained, but is convenient to the plot, so just go with it.) And she hates Bella because Bella is voluntarily throwing away what Rosalie rightly sees as a blessing. So when Bella asks Rosalie for help to protect the unborn baby, Rosalie is more than willing to stand guard.

Bella alienates ALL the Cullens who love her and welcomed her to ally herself with the one Cullen who would be happy to kill her — all for the sake of her unborn child, whose continued existence is guaranteed to kill her.

Pregnant Bella

You really can't get a more pro-life scenario than that. With that one decision I became rather fond of the up-to-then rather annoying Miss Bella. You can't help but respect a woman readily giving up: the love of her life, the approval of the only real family she has ever had, and her best chance at immortality she believes she has, since she does not believe in an afterlife and the Cullens doubt they will be able to change her to a vampire after the birth of her child in time to save her — well, not life — but continued existence.

As it so happens they do, of course, save Bella, or it would have been a much shorter book, there would have been no fifth movie and the series would not have been NEARLY as popular with the teen crowd as it is.

So —- having created characters and a love story rivaling in the youth popularity pretty much every love story since Gone With the Wind and Love Story combined, Ms. Meyers makes a lust-representing vampire chaste, THEN turns a self-absorbed and atheistic modern female into a self-sacrificing pro-life mom.

Twilight fight

Then I'll go you one better – now this is a big spoiler so be warned. At the end of the series there is a climactic battle between the Cullens and their allies against the Volturi – bad scary vampires who want to take away or kill the Cullen child for her powers. But vampires from all over the world are enlisted to come to the aid of the Cullens. Those coming to fight side by side with the Cullens include: your traditional 1,000 year old vampires who snack on people as a matter of course, other "veggie" vampires who abstain from human blood, and…werewolves. OK they aren't your run of the mill werewolves, but more shapeshifters as they can change at will and are around to PROTECT humans rather than eat them, but these guys DO change INTO wolves.

Now many of the ancillary reasons these disparate groups have for fighting the Volturi include: vendettas against the Volturi, desire for autonomy from the Volturi, respect/affection/old debts owed to the Cullens. But all are drawn primarily under one simple principle: to protect the life of —- a child. An innocent whose one life is properly seen as more important than the dozens of grown ups who have pledged to protect her.

And you wonder why I endorse this series of books/movies? Stephanie Meyers takes virtues we need more desperately in this culture than Bella needs Edward – chastity, protection of the unborn child, and protection of child against the forces of evil – and plants them right into two characters who have fired the imagination of the very demographic part of our culture which needs to hear this the most – the teen and twenties. From a pragmatic view to culture change she has done an enormous good.

Twilight movies   Twilight books

God bless you Ms. Meyers. I own and have read every page of all your books and have sat through every single minute of all five movies – it's the least I could do to thank you.

Answer: He was in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as the ill-fated Cedric Diggory.

Photo credits: empireonline.com, amazon.com, fanpop.com, arkansasbride.com, iamnotastalker.com, twilightfanpage.blogspot.com,  twilightsaga.wikia.com, dailymail.co.uk, geeksofdoom.com, wordsfueledbylove.com, iTunes.apple.com