Movie Remakes: Revisiting as a Tribute, the Case of A Star is Born

Sometimes a story is so beautiful we cannot help but tell it. As generations go by the telling continues through time, space and memory, and by doing this the story defeats oblivion. This is the case of some legends and fairy tales, but in our modern times even films have been able to tell eternal stories.

These stories are told over the years and become symbolic, this is the case of masterpieces such as Gone with the Wind or The Godfather, for other stories we feel the need to re-adapt them to our time, to tell them again. And this is the case of A Star is Born. On this page of my diary I would like to talk to you about this film, which in 2019 received eight Academy Award nominations, winning the Oscar for the Best Original Song category; because you might not know this film is a remake and not even the first one.

A beautiful story to tell

A Star is Born was first shown in movie theatres in 1937. It was directed by William A. Wellman, starring Janet Gaynor as the female lead in the role of Esther Blodgett, a young girl who arrives in Hollywood with the dream of becoming a famous actress. She meets Norman, a famous actor who falls in love with her and helps her reach success, until her fame surpasses his own. Norman, therefore, decides to kill himself, partly through jealousy of his wife’s fame and partly so as not to get in the way of her career.

This story of love and mistakes relates the dark side of success very well and, maybe for this reason, it was revived also in the 1950s with a remake directed by George Cukor. In this version the role of Esther is interpreted by Judy Garland, while James Mason stars as the male lead. Norman, an actor whose career is in decline, is saved by Esther, from failing miserably during a show. Grateful for her actions, Norman decides to thank the promising young girl by helping her reach fame but, though they end up falling in love, he decides to kill himself because he cannot stand his relentless exit from show business.

The love that doesn’t defeat everything: every remake of this film manages to tear us apart as we see its main characters in love but overwhelmed by life’s hardships. In this sense A Star is Born is the opposite of a fairy tale: love doesn’t always win, and sometimes it makes us act on selfishness (which is none other than love for ourselves).

In 1976 A Star is Born appears once again in movie theatres with a new remake starring Barbra Streisand. In this version Esther is a singer working in a night club, her talent is discovered by a rock singer, called John Norman Howard, whose career is in decline because of alcohol and drugs. The two fall in love and John helps Esther become a famous singer. Pushed by his jealousy for her career, though, John turns back to alcohol and dies in a car crash. Once again a tragic ending.

Love goes on

As in the most romantic cases of reincarnation, where the souls of two lovers keep on coming back to continue their love story, the love between Esther and Norman goes on and reaches our age, when in 2018 the version of A Star is Born directed by Bradley Cooper, starring Cooper himself alongside Lady Gaga, arrives in movie theatres.

This time the main characters’ names change and they take on the identities of Jackson Maine and Ally Campana, who are both singers. Jack is a rock star with a turbulent past and an addiction to alcohol, he meets Ally in a nightclub where she is performing. The two fall in love and start performing together. As they play together she becomes more and more famous, until a manager notices her and offers to help her, asking her, however, to change her style. Ally becomes a star while Jack falls back into alcoholism and starts a rehab program. Once out, he hopes for a new beginning but he realises he has become an obstacle for his wife, so he decides to take his own life and hangs himself.

The love story which started at the end of the 1930s repeats itself in a more modern interpretation, varying details about both characters’ lives but keeping the same tragic ending.

Keeping on dreaming

But why is it we love remakes so much? Personally I believe this is because we already know the characters, we know how the story ends sowe can concentrate on the details, we can dream about a love story we know about already, whose protagonists we have got attached to, whose stories, adventures, misfortunes and desires we already know. So instead of watching the same film again and again, we would rather watch a remake to keep on daydreaming and hoping that this time the ending will be happy.

This way the remake becomes a tribute a director makes to a work they have appreciated, they see potential in, which has moved them and which they would like to add their personal touch to. As for A Star is Born, I believe so many directors have worked on its remakes because it is a timeless story which fascinates not only audiences but also the actors themselves. The theme of cursed fame, fame’s destructive consequences and how hard it is to accept when a pupil surpasses their master have always been themes close to those belonging to show business, and in each of the remakes of this film they are dealt with extensively

So by showing us love and the hardships of life and career, A Star is Born keeps on telling a story which moves and thrills us, exploring different themes in depth every time. This is what makes a remake strong: when working on a well-made product, we can always find new sides to it, give it a new visibility and make it popular with the younger generations, who were not around to see the original being born.