A Star Is Born ★★★★½

Cukor in many ways is the key Hollywood Director: emerging from Pre-Code to star studded comedies to some noir to Serious Dramas to what is arguably the climatic high of his career, this larger than life color musical that celebrates the system of Hollywood while lamenting its darker sides at the same time (no Hollywood picture is a Hollywood picture without a paradox at the center). Despite being an “epic,” this is a pretty simple picture: one star rises, the other falls, and while only three hours long (I watched the version with the Ken Burns-esque still photo montages) it feels like you’ve lived years with these people. Cukor’s staging is seemingly simple—less expressively dynamic than the black and white compositions of The Marrying King—but he uses Cinema-Scope for excellent metaphorical textures (the guns present in the background of Norman’s firing from the studio; the dual sight of both the real thing and the television broadcast in Esther’s Oscar speech), as well as pure delight: showing us the pre-intermission musical sequence first in 4:3 and then returning to it after the whole big number in epic widescreen.

As I discussed with Sylvia Scarlett, Cukor has a side to the surreal: the abstract audition run-around, the Tati-esque travel through publicity, Norman’s final walk into the sea, but especially the fantastic number enacted through the house. For an actress known for her voice, Garland is her most physical here; her body is a delicate balance between humble grace and ferocious power. This is all with certain elements of realism, the single take through the band of “The Man That Got Away,” and the particularly sublime moment in one of the cut sequences where Garland walks behind an oil derrick to vomit before her first big film (was it always meant to be one long take? What stands today is fantastic). Cukor’s film is tragedy is rise to the top, every movement closer one less for Norman, a walking dead who from the first moment decides to pour all he can into this woman’s talent. Mason’s eyes as he listens to his producer attempt to talk Esther out of her decision to watch movies—that might be the most transcendent shot in the film. Heck, the entire thing pretty much is: a film about the emotional failures of The Genius of The System, as enacted by its greatest translator of it.