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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

A Star is Born

The outstanding George Cukor 1954 production of A Star Is Born has been reissued by Warner Home Video as a two-platter Deluxe Edition. The first version of the 176-minute feature was fit onto one side of a single platter, with special features placed on the other side. The new release splits the film onto two sides of one platter and moves the special features to the second platter. But not to worry. If you don’t feel like getting up at the Intermission and turning the DVD over, there is a Blu-ray release that presents the entire film on one side and comes with the DVD platter of special features. Before we even get to how gorgeous the BD looks, however, we must say that the new DVD is a substantial improvement over what was at the time a very nice looking initial release. Contrasts are compromised on the earlier version and blacks are not as rich as they are on the new release. Other colors are not quite as intense, either, and some shots on the older version look a little pasty. What the BD brings to the new transfer, however, is an atmosphere of image. Colors are bright on the DVD, but bright and glossy on the BD. They are more solid and more film-like, and therefore transport the viewer more readily into the film’s glossy, Hollywood milieu. The BD’s DTS sound is even more of an improvement over the DVD’s 5.1-channel Dolby Digital. The sound quality appears to be the same as it was on the first DVD, bringing an older but still thrilling dimensionality to the music and some nice directional effects to conversations and incidental noises. You can’t push the sound too high, however, without it breaking up, but with the DTS, you can push it higher and still hold onto the purity of the orchestrations and Judy Garland’s vocals. The DTS sound has more stability and more weight, and it is difficult to go back to the DVD once you’ve had a decent sampling of it.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The film’s cinematography is outstanding. The widescreen framing is meticulously composed and balanced, and colors and light intensities are strategically applied in support of the film’s emotions and themes. The movie is a musical, but it is most importantly a love story, with the songs that Garland sings being offered as one method of expressing the feelings of the characters in a graspable abstraction. The other method of expressing their feelings comes from the performances of the two primary cast members, Garland as the upwardly meteoric movie star, and James Mason as the alcoholic star on the downswing of his career, who discovers and supports her success. Garland’s performance is amazing-not just her singing, which is always amazing anyway, but the depth and complexity she brings to her relationships. Mason, however, and overshadowed because he does not sing, is equally outstanding, and it is because the romantic scenes between the two seem so real and so anxious that the whole film sustains its spellbinding power from beginning to end.

The BD comes in one of those jackets that looks like a small hardcover book and contains souvenir program-type layouts on the pages between the platters. Both the DVD and the BD have an alternate French track in stereo and a Spanish track in mono, with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The first DVD contained a revelatory 17 minutes of alternately shot versions of the film’s best-known number, “The Man That Got Away.” Although lip-synching to the same recording, Garland’s performance is very different in each version-she’s also wearing different outfits-as Cukor gradually moves away from showcasing her abilities to integrating her performance with the reality of the scene and the point-of-view of Mason’s character. That footage is expanded to 22 minutes on the new special features, with an explanatory voiceover and more peripheral outtakes, and an absolutely thrilling split-screen sequence where you see Garland doing almost the same things but not quite as she works her way through the song. The minute-long outtake of another song that appeared on the earlier DVD is also featured on the new release, but in addition, there are 15 minutes of fresh alternate takes and outtakes (including footage that reinforces the parallel between Mason’s character and Errol Flynn).

Also carried over from the previous release are the 6-minute exhibitor’s reel, the 29-minute TV special about the film’s premiere and a trailer. Newsreel footage from the premiere was also included previously, but it has been expanded and reorganized on the new release, running a total of 10 minutes. New materials include the very funny 7-minute color Looney Tunes cartoon from 1956 called A Star Is Bored in which Daffy Duck is a studio janitor jealous of the stardom of Bugs Bunny, and becomes Bugs’ stand in; a 1942 Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the Janet Gaynor and Frederic March version of the story with Garland and Walter Pidgeon, running 55 minutes (and demonstrating that the story does not advance as tightly when the heroine’s talent is simply acting ability and not singing as well; it would be interesting to know just exactly how long Garland had her eyes on the project); a 3-minute audio interview with Garland by Louella Parsons in promotion of the film; and finally, 40 minutes of recording sessions that not only let you bask in the score, but include the very precious conversations that occur between takes, and other unguarded moments (including a full and amusing, prompting-style performance of one number by Garland’s long time accompanist, Roger Edens, who was moonlighting from MGM).

by Douglas Pratt

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The Ultimate DVD Geek

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon