Can skills actually be passed on like some material possession?
In 1992, Robert James Waller, the American novelist, came up with the best-selling heart-throbbing novel about a middle aged woman in 1960s in Iowa, reigniting the passion, the spark, that was long gone after panned by her family, that may love her or need her but doesn’t value her. And then comes this stereotypical lover with a machismo personality and ruffian clothing, showing her everything that her family- and not only her partner- failed to show her.
This crowd pleasing concept already had a major head start, as it fiddled with the complaints and the issues that each common man- or more precisely, woman- find exhaling himself or herself from on a regular basis. But that is not why or what novelized this electrifying- mind you, I insist on using this word as it is the only thing that ages elegantly in this tale, but more on that, later- tale. It was the maturity on the practicality of the concept that traveled impeccably to everyone. In fact, later on, this theme is explored on multitudes of platforms like Damien Chazelle’s gorgeous film La La Land, Andre Aciman’s novel Call Me By Your Name and even Annie Proulx’s short story Brokeback Mountain.
But, all of this was later on, James Waller, was over the moon, then itself. After signing the novelization of his work into a film by none other than Clint Eastwood. The hype was elevated into a whole new level, when Meryl Streep too joined in, on the project, as a sort-of comeback in the lead. The beginning of the 90s, was a tough time for Streep, her attempt to cast a light image (she tried few comic roles that didn’t go as anticipated) on screen, created quite a lasting vacancy on her catalogue. She was also claimed to be a victim of the “actress in her forties” syndrome, incredibly common in a show business. Luckily, this was an exception case, Streep always has been. And when an opportunity so rich came on to her lap, she grabbed on to it so tightly, that never in her career, after then, up till now, has she ever found herself hovering around the danger as she was back then. And acknowledging her performance was, of course, Academy Of Motion Picture Art And Sciences, first in the queue.
And then, decades later, came this. Bradley Cooper’s long awaiting A Star Is Born (Nominated for 8 Oscars). Now, this film itself is a property that has been out there since 1937 (Nominated for 7 Oscars), long before when Robert James Waller came up with his sensational novel. Cooper who admittedly worked for almost six years on this film, is taking the germ of the idea from not the original 1937 version but the 1976 (Nominated for 4 Oscars) version by Frank Pierson; in total, it has been remade thrice, the remaining one is the second and also the most popular and acclaimed version by George Cukor in 1954 (Nominated for 6 Oscars). Now, the ’37 version is yes, the root of all this fandom, but also a bit dry news-like informative, just as the films in that stage used to be- Note, that the film wasn’t of musical genre but just plain old gritty drama and yet beautiful, too. And updating that very scheme with a more celebratory note, comes the ’54 version that gives a respectful clean ode to the musicals. Followed by the raunchy ’76 version whose agenda to bend the rules, I presume, comes from.. well, being in the 70s.
My personal favorite, obviously, is the current version. This is something that everyone goes through. Take Star Wars, for instance. Back in those days, that was the ultimate sci-fi dream for the film goers and the very establishment of a cultural phenomenon. And yes, I do love them and I think they were more ground breaking and cinematic than the Marvel Cinematic Universe or even the latest iteration of Star Wars. But, the cinema has aged well, more better than the other field has. And with more in quantity comes betterment in quality. The competition challenges the potential and the potential fully captured by the artists- very few in an industry so large as such. Cooper is one of them. Digging deep in the characters, consequences and the thread of the plot that links all the material into one big concert, he has given us a new dimension in the world that we have seen over the decades.
Now, let’s back up. For, I want to focus on the word that we, beforehand, kept it aside. Let’s analyse that. Electrifying. If listening or reading that word, in here, showcases an electric guitar in your mind, then you need to watch A Star Is Born (2018). But let’s back up one more time. To the beginning. In 1992, Robert James Waller came up with a sexy book. Yes. I said it. Because they did too. Back in those days, the book was claimed to be incredibly provocative- not in a bad way, I would recommend you to read it. The electrifying attraction that the lead couple has for each other, is the core truth of the tale and Eastwood’s adaptation too. I saw, The Bridges Of Madison County, a year ago, and the only thing I remember is the conversation in the kitchen. The electrically charged fight that they have is something that I haven’t yet encountered in a film.
Cut to, Bradley Cooper, in an interview, expressing his gratitude to all the filmmakers that he has worked and observed and learned, from their methods. From David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Lining Playbook) to Todd Phillips (The Hangover Trilogy) or from James Gunn (Volumes of The Guardians Of The Galaxy; he can add songs to any situation and you wouldn’t even notice the difference) to Clint Eastwood (American Sniper, The Mule). Now, this is where it gets tricky, after watching A Star Is Born, I found that same electricity pulsing through the film. Now, does it actually happen? Does innuendos deliberately or unknowingly can be carved out in a story completely different, about characters completely different? For, similar movies or concepts, that I mentioned before, doesn’t have that charge that both of them has.
Let’s go over Cooper’s project, first. His film has a difficult second half. In the sense, that it has to paint a train of events like some highlights or memories shared. They don’t follow any particular timeline, it jumps, it slows down and it might even pace up (the rehab phase is fast forwarded or almost skipped). And this is where you know that Cooper was snubbed majorly in the director slot from the Oscars- and NO, it wasn’t Pawel Pawlikowski who should be replaced. Cooper, being aware of his second half, shatters the first half into bits. The first half, undeniably charming one, had the flamboyancy to move fluidly without any stops. Yet, he, keeps his film symmetric. Watch the first act of the film once again, there are plenty of scenes in the first night, they meet. He goes from changing the background color in the bar, to the backstage with normal tone, and then again in the bar with a different set and then once again changing the tone, by visiting a supermarket that has much clean and clear visual. Now, as a viewer, you find it tedious, if you think where you have been from, switching places and locations, you will feel that you have come very far and instead, you have just reached the first act.
As much as easy those conversation may look like, the charm comes from the up close camera shots whenever Cooper or Gaga comes in contact, removing stick-on eye brows or appreciating Gaga’s long beautiful nose, with a magical touch of drums played by The Allman Brothers in “Whipping Post” in the background. Yet, it has to go over a big transition. From that splashy attitude to pathos dive on Cooper’s family drama. And that entire film hinges upon that moment, after Gaga finally accepts her fate and the world is humming over the “Shallow”. The first time they express their love in that hotel, is that scene. Now, if you go back to Eastwood and Streep struggling and resisting to not fall in love, what Eastwood does in an entire film, Cooper has to carve it out in one scene. And watch closely how, beautiful a job he has done. He teases you at first just like how Eastwood does, just like Christopher McQuarrie does (In both the Mission Impossible installments. The opera house sequence in Rogue Nation. And the build-up sequence of when Tom Cruise is about to pick up Sean Harris; personal favorite. Watch that scene once again, if you can, and see how beautifully McQuarrie maps out each element of the film using even the last inch of the frame, that he, evidently, is going to break down into nothing) and just like he, himself does, in his last scene with the cowboy hat. How Gaga prepares herself and then finds Cooper unconscious, later on and then she even goes out, seeking advice from her friend and then gets tangled with Sam Elliot’s character. All of this teases you, smartly, but this is where Cooper hits the final nail in the coffin. Finally, after he wakes up and expresses his feeling to Gaga, there is no resistance, no shock, nothing.
This is something that is visible in Streep and Eastwood’s chemistry too. They are always in sync. And it is not that, both Eastwood and Cooper, are afraid of disenchanting the viewers, but that there is humbleness in their expression of love. Once again, go back to the book, The Bridges Of Madison County, that crowd pleasing concept may get your attention just like A Star Is Born does, but what breathes meaning and purpose to their storytelling is how humble they are. How equal they are. It is not a cry or a shout to some political correctness. Sean Penn, once in an interview, described A Star Is Born as a passionate project peeling off one and one emotion only, out of these character and that is “love”, he concluded. Both the lead couples, in their own version, are always seeking comfort, pushing their own boundaries, worrying about the other half. That very notion is soothing and long lasting. Even, in the lyrics of the song, the songwriters uses words like “Maybe” or “If I could” or “Is That Alright?”. Exception being, “Watch, as I dive in..” I KNOW THAT.