Review of A Star Is Born (1937)

Moving picture, 111 minutes

Seen in 2019.

The intrusion of the genocide-complicit contemporary strain of the Western genre into the introduction is jarring as seen from 2019: “some Indian devil” shot the main character’s grandfather as if through no fault of his own. Hollywood as the new wilderness would be an absurd metaphor even without this perspective on colonization, the theme is dropped and the grandmother is the best character in all other ways.

The industry self-satire veers into screwball territory, especially in the test shoot and makeup scenes, but it’s otherwise pretty clever in its subtlety, bookended by pages of the script. It makes it difficult to say just how much of the personal lead-on-lead romantic drama is intended as part of the joke about formulae and cheap tricks. The alcoholism is clearly no joke but there’s a quaintness to the idea of a major roguish Hollywood star brought down by a few drunken spectacles after Prohibition. The suicide scene is gorgeously dark with that golden western-seaboard sunset over the waves, threatening to tip the balance toward sincerity.

References here: “A Star Is Hatched” (1938), “Ohana & Osora” (2016).

moving picture fiction