A Star is Born Blu-ray Review – Part Two (final)

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I finally got a chance to make it through the extras offered in this release.

First up – it’s very irritating that the extras are on a standard DVD rather than Blu-ray.  I know I sound like a big HD snob, but it would have been nice to have the same HD quality on the extras.  As they are, the Cinemascope image is much smaller, with a black box surrounding the entire image, rather than simple letterboxing as on the Blu-ray.  Because the extras are so great, and the image quality of the elements looks to be, in most cases, of superior quality, this fact makes one wish Warner Home Video had taken the time, and money, to make this an all-Blu-ray release.That being said, the extras are still great, and thoroughly enjoyable.  We get much more here than offered on the previous DVD release.

The extras are:

The Man That Got Away: We get more alternate takes of Judy in the “brown dress” version.  The section starts with a nice introduction (showing more behind the scenes footage) and goes into the early “pink blouse” version.  I like this version.  It’s more casual, and the look is completely different and I’m not sure if it would fit in the finished film (I love what’s in the film), but I still like it.  The “brown dress” versions are fascinating in that the last two feature two separate takes split screened so you see them both at the same time.  One features the only surviving footage of these versions with Judy in close up.  Fascinating stuff, and amazing that it survived, and in such good condition.  I can see why they didn’t use the “brown dress” version.  It’s very, um, BROWN.  Judy looks older and more tired.  I don’t think it’s flattering to her at all.  What’s in the finished film is by far the best version.

Here’s What I’m Here For: Here we get alternate takes of the charming recording studio proposal sequence.  It’s fun to see so much of it from different angles.

Lose That Long Face: Another alternate take.  In both this and “Here’s What I’m Here For” there is a short introduction explaining what you’re about to see.  Plus we get a peek at the early version, for which the audio doesn’t survive, showing Judy and jazz singer Monette Moore who had a short little solo spot.

Trinidad Coconut Oil Shampoo: More alternate footage.  Very fun, and as stated it’s the only TV jingle Harold Arlen ever wrote!

When My Sugar Walks Down The Street: The cut bit from the “Born in a Trunk” sequence.

Suicide Scene: Another alternate take.  It’s married to the music originally scored for the scene.  In the film, Norman Maine walks out to the beach while Vicki Lester is in the beach house singing.  Her faint voice way in the distance adds immensely to this scene, as proven here with it replaced by the original music.  The music is way too dramatic for this scene.  Overly melodramatic by any standard.  They made the right choice for the finished film.

Film Effects Reel: This features various clips and takes from the premier of The Robe that were used in the opening of A Star is Born.  Featured here are various effects shots not seen in the final film.  Also features is a short clip of the “blue” version of the “Night of Stars” sequence that opens the film.

A Report by Jack L. Warner: Here’s a fun, vintage promotional short made by Warner Bros. which includes a few alternate takes of scenes from A Star is Born.

Huge Premiere Hails ‘A Star is Born’ Newsreel Montage: The newsreel of the premiere of the film is followed by more footage of the premiere, with the DVD narrator identifying the stars and their dates.  What’s funny is he mistakenly identifies Sonja Henie as Alice Faye!  This wonderful footage is followed by  rare footage of the after premiere party at The Coconut Grove, including Jack Warner, Judy and her husband (and producer of the film) Sid Luft, getting up to speak.  Tons of stars – real stars – were there.

‘A Star is Born’ Premiere in Cinemascope: Fantastic color footage of the film’s premiere in Cinemascope.  The DVD narrator identifies the various stars, including “Liberace and his mother (pause) and a date.”  LOL

Pantages Premiere TV Special: Vintage live TV event – the first big premiere telecast on TV.

A Star is Bored (1956 WB Cartoon): Cute short with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam engaging in their usual shenanigans.

We get trailers for all three versions: 1937, 1954, & 1976

Audio Vault: There is much to enjoy here.  Most has been heard before, especially having been traded by Garland fans over the years.  What’s most telling are the two audio sequences that sound like the complete versions that were trimmed a bit in the restored version, due to no stills or footage being available.  They are:  “Oliver on the Phone with the Director Discussing Norman” which is a bit longer and more played out than what’s in the film, and “Norman and Esther on the Roof of the Hotel Lancaster” which is a much longer sequence that sounds utterly charming.  One hopes that ever elusive complete print is out there and will surface.  This sequences really sounds great, and builds the dynamics of the Norman/Esther romance and their bonds.

Also included in the extras (and in excellent sound, some are extended versions of what’s been traded around) are the following “Audio Vault” extras:

Born in a Trunk – early run through

Someone At Last – early run through with Roger Edens
Someone At Last – extended playback
My Melancholy Baby – outtake
Black Bottom – outtake
Swanee – a few takes of Judy working through the song.

12/28/1942 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast with Judy Garland and Walter Pidgeon.  This was the radio program that prompted Judy to want to make a musical version of STAR.  She supposedly took her idea to MGM (her home studio at the time), but they balked at the thought of having “America’s Sweetheart” in such a serious film married to an alcoholic.

Judy Garland Promotional – Louella Parsons interviews Judy.

That’s it.  There are many things to enjoy here.  The extras are just great and well worth the price.

The “DVD Book”:

The last extra is the “DVD book” (I think it’s called).  I really like this idea and packaging.  It’s much better than those big collector’s boxes.  And the book, which houses the discs, is hardbound with the pages printed on high quality paper.  I hope Warner Home Video continues with this format.  It’s sleek, well made, and easy to store.  Too bad the actual contents of the book are, for lack of a better term, boring.  I usually enjoy John Fricke’s writings, overall.  But he’s gotten stale.  I think if I read his comment about the “communicative power” of Judy one more time, I’m going to have to ask if she were really a radio tower!  It’s become rote.  Nicely written, but still rote.

That’s not so bad though.  What really makes the contents of the book useless is the fact that it’s more of a rabid fan’s love letter to Judy Garland than a thoughtful and incisive essay about the film.  If this were part of a Garland boxed set of films this bias approach would make sense.  As it stands on its own, it’s great for Garland fans, but that’s about it.  It’s mostly made up of quotes about how wonderful Garland was:  Quotes from reviewers, critics, film historians, and of course the people who worked with her.  The only person not quoted was the Warner Bros. janitor.  And I’m sure that quote will pop up in the future.  Warner Home Video should have hired a non-Garland-fan historian and real author to write this book.  The film, and this Blu-ray release, deserve a thoughtful, balanced, non-bias approach that a real film critic or historian could provide.  This is hagiography (don’t you just love that word) at best.  It’s definitely not a valid essay about the film by a real author.  For example, Fricke barely even mentions the herculean efforts of Ron Haver in getting the 1983 restoration accomplished.   One gets the impression that it’s only noted because it’s an indelible part of the legend of the film that cannot be ignored.   There is a tiny bit about the making of the film, but it’s not much, and like the Haver mention, it’s there because something should be said about the production.  Perhaps if they had a real editor on the project, it might have turned out better.

As a Garland fan myself, I love anything that’s written about her in a thoughtful, positive way.  But it’s out of place here.  Sure, she was the focus of the film, and one of the major driving forces behind it being made.  That doesn’t need to be shoved down anyone’s throat as it is here.  What’s not clear here is that if Garland weren’t matched in talent and genius every step of the way by those around her, we wouldn’t be talking about the film today.  To relegate the rest of the actors and crew and production staff to barely more than obligatory overviews and mentions (and usually only mentioned because they said something nice about Judy) is negligent.  Anyone looking for a solid overview of the history of the story and the making of the film, should look elsewhere.  Rabid Garland fans (of which I’m one) can go to the front of the line.

Fricke is so bias and hell bent on putting Garland on a pedestal of unrealistic high standards and virtue, he even rewrites history.  Well, maybe not a complete rewrite, but he most certainly glosses over any negative aspects of her life or career.  And needlessly so.  The most glaring statement is:  “…but the vulnerability and sensitivity that informed her ability left the actress ill-equipped to withstand the rigors of such demands [this is lifted almost verbatim from previous writings].  After a decade in which she endured increasing illness and a regime of prescription medication to combat her exhaustion, Garland collapsed in 1950 and was dismissed by M-G-M.  The industry publicly bandied that she was professionally finished; she was twenty-eight years old.”  Wow!  That statement glosses over Garland’s drug problems and the reasons behind them more than Lucille Ball was glossed over when she filmed Mame.  Judy did eventually take her “medicine” (drugs) to get her energy up for those long days – among many other reasons.  But let’s be honest here.  She was originally given the “medicine” to make her lose weight.  Sadly, she had the type of body chemistry that was prone to addiction.  She was an addict for the rest of her life.  That’s not a negative thing.  She wasn’t a junkie on the streets.  She had an addiction problem like so many other people out there, past and present.  And at times she no doubt did use them as a crutch.  This must be the “illness” Fricke mentions, that’s unclear.  To gloss over this subject does Garland and the film a disservice.  One of the main reasons she was attracted to the story in the first place is not only could she relate to the Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester character, but because of her own addiction issues she could also relate to the Norman Maine character.  That’s part of what makes her performance so powerful and amazing.  She really understood the subject matter from every angle.  To gloss over the essence of her humanity and this very important aspect of her performance is, again, negligent.  But Fricke is like many of the rabid fans out there who refuse to admit that Judy had any flaws at all, or that she was in any way human.  In their eternal quest to “set the record straight,” and counter that negative image the generals public has of a drugged out performer, they go too far off the deep end by putting her so high up that no one could ever measure to those standards – not even someone who was a genius like Judy.  For someone who’s such a stickler for endless minutia and factoids, it’s sad that Fricke can’t see through his own warped bias.Of note here is a recent rumor, told to me by a distributor, that supposedly Warner Home Video is preparing a special edition of all THREE versions (1937, 1954, 1976) packaged together in one uber-set.  And documentary filmmaker and historian Ken Burns is supposedly working on a documentary about the story and the films.  THAT will be something to see.  If it’s true.  I have no confirmation of any of this.  This distributor also mentioned a planned Garland boxed set of films, similar to the boxed sets currently being produced by WHV that feature bare bones (no extras) editions of a set (or series) of a star or director’s films.

In the long run, the book doesn’t matter.  What matters are the film and the extras.  Those will always be enjoyed and revisited long after all of us are gone.  People will return to the film again and again, not some liner notes, or in this case “book,” that someone wrote.  These things are usually read once or twice anyway.  The mostly stellar contents of this Blu-ray edition far outweigh what any critic, author, or hagiographer writes.  And that’s as it should be.  Just like The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind, you can package it with all the fancy trappings in the world, all the “bling” anyone can muster, but it’s the films that last and are the real attraction.  It’s the films that will continue to be celebrated and enjoyed for as long as there’s an audience.  It’s the films that we return to over and over again.

This new Blu-ray edition of A Star is Born succeeds in presenting the film in the best possible format for the best possible viewing experience.This is the definitive home video version of A Star is Born to date – until the next technology comes along!


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