It's back in theatres today with an extra 12 minutes of footage!!!
In other news, I watched all five versions of this story last week -- the 1932 film What Price Hollywood? and the 1937, 1954, 1976 and 2018 versions of A Star Is Born -- and I live-blogged my thoughts at Facebook, one film at a time, but I figured I'd jot a few cross-comparative notes down here.
First, a disclaimer: I had not seen any of these films prior to last week, except for the 2018 film, and it's possible that I missed some details, especially as I was busy writing my thoughts down. So consider this a first (or first-and-a-half) draft of sorts (though why there would ever be a second draft, I could not say).
Setting: The 1932 and 1937 films are firmly rooted in the movie world, and the 1976 and 2018 films are firmly rooted in the music world. The 1954 film is a transitional film, inasmuch as it is about a musician who gets drawn into the movie world and makes movie musicals.
Introductions: The 1932 and 1937 films begin with their female leads, who have ambitions to get into Hollywood; the two films even begin inside the *homes* of the female leads. The 1954, 1976 and 2018 films all begin with their male leads, in their performance spaces, and the female leads are introduced further and further away from those spaces: in the 1954 film, the female lead is revealed to be singing with a band at the same charity benefit the male lead is participating in; in the 1976 film, we first see the female lead when the male lead goes to a pub where she's performing; and in the 2018 film, the female lead is working in a restaurant and breaking up with a boyfriend over the phone (but at least the 2018 film introduces her before the title comes onscreen, so that the film is more clearly balanced as a story about the *two* lead characters).
Feminism: The female lead in the 1932 film is pretty spunky. The female lead in the 1937 film also has her moments, though she is also pretty naive at first. The female lead in the 1954 film is perhaps the "weakest" of the bunch (especially in the shorter version of the film, which deletes a subplot that showed her taking greater control of her life after her first encounter with the male lead), and the one most likely to be talked into doing things by the male characters; she even sings a song that talks about casting agents taking advantage of her ("So lock the doors / And call me yours / 'Cause you took advantage of me"). The female lead in the 1976 film gets off the stage in her first scene and assertively tells the male lead, "You're blowing my act," and she makes a point of flipping gendered assumptions on their head (at one point she sings a song about "the *woman* in the moon"; at another, she puts a fake eyebrow or something on the male lead while they're in the bathtub together, a scene that is explicitly homaged in the 2018 film; she also declares, when they get married, that it's "the dawn of a new century" so she won't promise to "obey" her husband); however, just before the male lead commits suicide, the female lead tells him, "I'll have breakfast waiting, like a good little wife." And in the 2018 film, it is the female lead, *not* the male lead, who almost gets into a fight with a "fan" at a bar. On the other hand, it was the female leads who proposed to the male leads in the 1954 and 1976 films -- partly out of emotional desperation in the 1954 film, less so in the 1976 film -- but in the 2018 film it is the male lead who proposes, and it becomes just the latest in a long string of scenes in which the female lead is swept off her feet by the male lead's obsession with her. (I can't recall who proposed or how in the 1937 film. The 1932 film is more complicated because the male lead is a movie director who mentors the female lead but does not marry her; instead, she marries a polo player, and there are some screwball-style power dynamics there.)
Emasculation: The 1932, 1937 and 1954 films all contain scenes in which the husband feels belittled when someone calls him "Mister (female lead's last name)". It's a deliberate slight in the 1932 film and an honest mistake in the other films, but the husbands don't like it, either way. Similarly, the male lead in the 1976 film doesn't appreciate it when someone phones the house and asks if he is the female lead's secretary. The male lead in the 2018 film is perhaps the only one who doesn't get into brawls or express any emasculation anxiety.
Identity: The female lead in the 1937 and 1954 films is named Esther Blodgett but takes the more marquee-friendly named "Vicky Lester/Lewis" when she becomes an actress; however, in the very last scene of both films, she publicly identifies as "Mrs. Norman Maine", thereby taking the name of her now-dead husband for the first time. The female lead in the 1976 film is named Esther Hoffman, presumably to reflect the actress's Jewish heritage, and she never changes it -- not to sound more Gentile, and not to sound more married. The female lead in the 2018 film is named Ally Campana, presumably to reflect the actress's Italian roots -- and while she performs publicly as one of those one-named singers (Ally, no last name), she never technically *changes* her name, presumably because it's just not an issue today the way it was in those earlier decades.
Profanity: In the 1932 film, the male lead is on the phone when he says "You don't give a *what*!?". In the 1954 film, the female lead is told by one of the studio staffers to "Go to L" -- because she has been given a new name that begins with the initial L -- and she, unaware that she has been given a new name, mishears what the guy says. The 1976 film has quite a bit of swearing, right from the opening titles (when we hear the male lead's manager swear at the crowd before the concert starts). The 2018 film would lose half of its dialogue if the f-word was taken out.
Addiction: The 1932 film came out during Prohibition (1920-1933), and it takes place over the course of a few years (though it couldn't start any earlier than 1927, since the characters are all working in talkies), so the male lead's alcoholism takes on a certain light there. The male leads of all the other films are alcoholic too, and the 1976 and 2018 films add cocaine to the mix, which reintroduces the concept of *illegal* substance addiction. (Plus, in the 2018 film, the male lead gets injections of some sort, but I don't know enough about pharmaceutical stuff to say what that is all about, e.g. whether it was medically necessary to any degree or purely, uh, elective and/or performance-enhancing.)
Sex: The female lead in the 1932 film makes a point of saying that it was a "novelty" when the male lead did *not* make a pass at her while he was drunk; this may be our clue as to why she decides to pursue her Hollywood dreams through *him*. The male lead in the 1954 film goes to a night club where the manager points out a handful of women that he could pair off with that night, but the male lead has various reasons for saying no (e.g. one of them is young and the male lead has already had a "young week", one of them hit him with a bottle and no one gets to hit him more than once, etc.); the female lead also uses the word "sex" when describing a musical that she is starring in; there's also a brief bit where the male lead pats the female lead's bum as though it was a drum, during a musical number that takes place after they are married. The 1976 film is the first film to feature nudity or premarital sex between the two leads, and it is also the only film of the bunch in which the female lead catches the male lead in bed with another woman; it is also, despite its feminism, the only film that gives us male-point-of-view shots of the lead actress's body (clothed or otherwise). The 2018 film may be unique in having the male lead initiate the first sexual encounter between the two leads while the female lead is still asleep; yes, they were making out in his hotel room shortly before he passed out, and she chose to sleep next to him in his bed after he passed out, but still, there are consent issues one might want to discuss here... (On a related note, the 1976 film is the only one in which the female lead is a divorcee when we first meet her, and the 2018 film introduces the female lead by having her break up with someone over the phone; I don't believe the first three films hinted at any sort of sexual, romantic or marital past for any of their female leads.) And of course, the nudity is a bit more overt, however fleeting, in the Lady Gaga-starring 2018 film than it was in the Barbra Streisand-starring 1976 film.
Weddings: The 1932 wedding takes place in a church filled and surrounded by obsessive fans. The 1937, 1954 and 1976 weddings are all done before justices of the peace, partly to get away from the fans. And the 2018 wedding takes place in a church again, but this time it's a church pastored by a cousin of a friend of the male lead's -- so there is nobody there but the male lead's friend and the friend's family.
Children: The female lead in the 1932 film turns out to be pregnant when her husband leaves her, and she has a son, who she is determined to keep when she thinks the scandal around her director's death might prompt her ex-husband to seek custody of their child. (In the end, her ex-husband asks to be reconciled.) Interestingly, I think the only other time the possibility of children ever comes up in these films is in the 1976 film, when the male lead is driving a motorbike recklessly around his ranch and the female lead asks (rhetorically, perhaps) how will she raise a baby if the male lead is dead.
Other family: The female lead in the 1937 film has stodgy older relatives who disapprove of her love of the movies -- but her grandmother gives her some money and tells her to go make her dreams come true, and then her grandmother reappears at the end of the film to give her the courage to keep on going after the male lead has died. I don't think we ever really learn anything about the families of the female leads in the 1954 and 1976 films, but we definitely see a fair bit of the female lead's dad (and his friends) in the 2018 film -- plus the 2018 film may be the only one that gives the *male* lead a family connection, via his older brother.
The West: In the 1937 film, the female lead's grandmother recalls how "some Injun devil put a bullet through" her husband, and she compares the female lead's dream of becoming a movie star to her own dream of "conquering the wilderness" many years ago. In the 1954 film, we see actors dressed up as cowboys and Indians at the charity benefit, and again in the movies being produced at the studio. But in the 1976 film, the male lead performs at a benefit for the American Indian Relief Organization, and he buys a ranch in one of the desert states and builds a house there (instead of building a house by the California beach, as the 1954 male lead did); when the two leads go out to the property and are about to make love on the ground, the female lead says she doesn't care about the dirt, and the male lead says, "That's the spirit that built the west." In the 2018 film, the male lead says he grew up on a ranch and bought it and gave it to his brother, and he is pissed off when he learns that his brother sold the ranch and it has now been turned into a wind farm -- but there is no reference, at least not that I can recall, to the traditional notions of the west being conquered or built, etc.
Race: The 1932 film features black servants who provide a bit of comic relief, such as it is. I can't recall if there were any black characters in the 1937 film. One of the movie musical numbers in the 1954 film features a couple of tap-dancing black kids (while another number features the female lead singing 'Swanee River' but *not* in blackface the way Al Jolson and others used to do). The 1976 film begins by showing us that the male lead's audience -- and his would-be groupies -- are ever-so-slightly racially integrated, and the female lead is first seen as part of a group called The Oreos, presumably because the female lead is a white woman whose singing partners on either side of her are black; the female justice of the peace who marries the leads is black, too. In the 2018 film, the leads are married in a black church, the pastor of which is cousin to one of the male lead's friends.
Employment: The 1932 film begins with the female lead working as a waitress. In the 1937 film, the female lead takes a gig serving food at a Hollywood higher-ups' party to help make ends meet (and also to introduce herself to some movie-industry people), but I don't think she was working full-time in the food-services industry. In the 1954 film, the female lead is already in showbiz when the movie starts, as a singer with a jazz band -- but after meeting the male lead, she quits the band to pursue a career in Hollywood, and in the *restored* version of the film, she briefly works as a waitress at a drive-in diner to help make ends meet. There is no waitressing in the 1976 film, though the female lead there does take gigs recording commercial jingles, just like the female lead in the 1954 film did. The female lead in the 2018 film is the first one since 1932 who is working as a waitress when we first meet her, but she also has some showbiz aspirations; she sings at a drag bar -- possibly just for fun, not for pay -- and in later dialogue, she tells the male lead that music producers have told her she can't be a pop star because of her nose, so she has apparently done *some* looking into her options showbiz-wise.
Appearance: The 1937 and 1954 films both feature scenes in which movie-studio makeup artists try to give the female lead a makeover; both films even include a line about giving her the "Crawford smear". The female lead in the 1976 film does a double-take when someone comments on the frizziness of her hair. The female lead in the 2018 film says she was told she couldn't be a star because of her nose, and she eventually hooks up with a business manager who talks about creating an "image" for her, which the male lead doesn't react to well.
Journalists: In the 1932 film, the gossip columns say the male lead "stole" the female lead from her job at the Brown Derby, but we know that she was the assertive one in that relationship. The 1937 and 1954 films lean more into the way that studios themselves tell lies for publicity's sake, and in both films the studio publicists are happy to give the male lead a verbal tongue-lashing once he has been let go by the studio; however, after the male lead dies, the publicists go right back to issuing positive-sounding statements about the male lead. The 1976 film features a hostile DJ who flies his helicopter right over the male lead's house, prompting the male lead to fire a gun in his general direction, but after the male lead dies, the DJ claims on-air that the male lead was like a "brother" to him; the male lead also has an affair with a journalist who shows up naked in his swimming pool and offers to sleep with him in order to get an interview with the female lead. I can't recall if there were any journalists in the 2018 film.
Fans: The bridal procession in the 1932 film turns kind of horrific as the fans claw at the bride, and women's clubs ban her films after her director commits suicide at her house. In the 1954 film, the fans mob the female lead at her husband's *funeral*. The 1976 film begins by showing us a really chaotic audience (a toddler wanders unaccompanied through one crowd shot), impatient for the male lead to show up and sing; later, a rather toxic "fan" sees the male lead at a bar and demands that he get up on the stage (where the female lead is already performing) and sing for them. The 2018 film is much nicer to the fans -- everybody at the drag bar is, like, really really happy to see the male lead there, and it is implied that the concert in the closing scene is some sort of memorial for the male lead -- but it does include a scene where a guy asks to take a picture with the male lead because his ex-girlfriend slept with a guy who supposedly *looked* like the male lead, and the "fan" wants to prove that the male lead doesn't look like the guy.
Awards: The female lead in the 1932 film wins an Oscar offscreen. The 1937 and 1954 films both feature scenes at the Oscars where the female lead wins an award and her husband shows up drunk, verbally slams the industry for abandoning him, and slaps the female lead's face. The 1976 changes this to a scene at the Grammys, where the female lead is knocked down accidentally and a hostile DJ accuses the male lead of attacking the female lead. And in the 2018 film, the male lead doesn't express any hostility to anyone -- there is none of the jealousy or contempt that the male leads of earlier films expressed; instead, he just embarrasses himself -- and he pisses his pants, because body fluids are what we do in our movies now. (Incidentally, the 1937 film explicitly identifies the Oscars in question as the *8th* awards ceremony, which took place in 1936. And the male lead is played by Fredric March, so when he says he's already won an Oscar, it was actually true in March's case -- he won for 1931's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and he went on to win again for 1946's The Best Years of Our Lives. The female lead, meanwhile, was played by Janet Gaynor, who was the very first woman to win an Oscar in 1928, for her roles in 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. The 1976 and 2018 films starred Barbra Streisand and Lady Gaga, respectively, both of whom had already won Grammys -- Streisand had even won an Oscar several years earlier -- and both actresses went on to win even *more* Grammys and Oscars for songs that they wrote for their versions of A Star Is Born.)
Sanitariums: The 1937 and 1954 films feature scenes in which the male lead stays at a sanitarium and is followed around by a handler named "Cuddles"; the male lead is visited there by the studio chief, who tries to offer him a comeback role. The 2018 film features a sequence in which the male lead has checked into rehab, and he is visited by the female lead, who has discovered a notebook with songs that he has written.
Suicide: The male lead in the 1932 film shoots himself in the chest while he is staying at the female lead's house. The male leads in the 1937 and 1954 films go for a swim with the intention of drowning. The male lead in the 1976 film drives super-fast through the desert while drinking booze. And the male lead in the 2018 film hangs himself in his garage. The first and last deaths are pretty obviously suicides, but the three deaths in the middle are at least *potentially* accidental, and are reported as such by the media in at least one or two of those films. (In the 1932 film, the male lead says he wants to hear the female lead's voice one more time, shortly before he finds her gun and kills himself; and in all of the other films, the male lead says he wants to look at the female lead one more time, which is usually -- maybe always? -- a callback to an earlier scene where the male leads and female leads were first falling for each other.)
Endings: The 1932 film ends with the female lead's ex-husband, who once denounced the movie industry as "vulgar", bringing her a message from her producer, telling her she can have a comeback role playing a woman who goes to jail for the man she loves; the ex-husband also asks to be reconciled to her. The 1937 film ends with the female lead going to a premiere and identifying herself, to a radio microphone, as "Mrs Norman Maine". The 1954 film also has the female lead identifying herself by her married name, but this time she does it to a crowded theatre at a charity benefit, and the camera pulls back to reveal everyone applauding her, which sounds supportive but has the odd effect of diminishing the female lead visually. The 1976 film ends with the female lead singing a song about herself that she discovered on one of the male lead's demo tapes after he died, and most (if not all?) of the sequence is shot in close-up. The 2018 film ends with the female lead singing a song about herself that the male lead had actually sung to her when he wrote it -- and the film even interrupts her rendition of the song to give us a flashback to him singing it to her, after which she kisses him because she has been swept off her feet again by his intense interest in her -- and then the film cuts to a brief close-up of the female lead's face as she looks directly into the camera.
Other odd bits: The 1932 film begins with music playing over an opening montage, and then we see the female lead walk around in her apartment and turn off the phonograph, at which point the music stops. So the seemingly non-diegetic music turns into diegetic music -- which is almost exactly identical to how Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut began 67 years later. The 1937 film begins and ends with the first and last pages of the screenplay, which is kinda meta. And both the shortest (1932) and longest (1954) versions of this story were directed by George Cukor.
Whew. I think that about covers it for now.