Star Is Born, A (1937) (MRA)

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Released 1-Dec-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1937
Running Time 109:54 (Case: 116)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By William A. Wellman
Studio
Distributor
Selznick Intrnationl
MRA Entertainment
Starring Janet Gaynor
Adolphe Menjou
Fredric March
May Robson
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $9.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Not long after reviewing an intriguing and rewarding film from old Hollywood - Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca - I found myself sitting down with another highly regarded production from that era, if a few years before. A Star is Born has an interesting history. Its first incarnation, the one that is the subject of this review, was released in 1937 and starred Janet Gaynor as the laughably named Esther Blodgett. She, having moved to the bright lights of Hollywood with dreams of being an actress, finds that life is much harder than she expected. Offered the opportunity to wait tables at a gathering of high powered movie actors and producers she is spotted by a drunken matinee idol, Norman Maine (Frederic March), who, probably out of a desire to rescue his own career, insists on casting her in his next film. She of course is a huge hit with audiences and fame and fortune beckons. The quiet, innocent country girl has become the glamorous Oscar winner Vicki Lester. Unfortunately her marriage to Mr Maine is not destined for happiness, and her star rises almost as quickly as his plummets. Soon he is a cynical, angry alcoholic with little to look forward to - a victim of his own success, or perhaps of the unyielding malevolence that characterises the world of Hollywood. The screenplay is witty and sharply observant, and much of it has relevance even today (perhaps especially today). It is little wonder then that moviemakers have gone back to its successful story and tried that unenviable task of remaking a classic.

    Perhaps more famous than the original is the 1954 musical version directed by the famous women's director George Cukor and starring a luminous Judy Garland in the role of Esther Blodgett. This film in turn inspired a much feted but disappointing remake in 1976 starring Barbra Streisand. Critics of that incarnation label is as little more than a vanity project, in spite of the fact that it did win Streisand an Oscar for her songwriting that year. Yet more evidence of the story's durability and relevance in today's star obsessed movie industry is the fact that as late as last year ideas were circling for yet another remake, possibly starring Will Smith and Jennifer Lopez and directed by Oliver Stone. Turning back to the original one is struck by both how much has changed and how much has not in that world of Hollywood, which remains, in spite of the glare of its lights, mysterious and most definitely a place where, as screenwriter William Goldman once famously said, "No-one knows anything."  One of the most enduring scenes from the film is its final one, where a tearful Janet Gaynor proclaims to the world, "This is Mrs Norman Maine."  To see why that seemingly simple line has some resonance you will have to see the film.

    In the process of fact finding for the review I was interested to find that the grandmother of Esther Blodgett, who helps her to Hollywood in the first place, was played by May Robson, an actress born in Melbourne in 1858, and incidentally, the earliest born actress to receive an Academy Award nomination.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    I did sing the praises of the last vintage film's treatment on DVD. Unfortunately this transfer is marred by significant problems.

    It is presented at the expected aspect ratio of 1.33:1 without 16x9 enhancement, which I believe to be the original theatrical ratio.

    Sharpness is not particularly good, and the transfer has a haziness that is disconcerting. Shadow detail is barely acceptable although helped by the fact that, typically for a film of this vintage, most of it is shot indoors with artificial lighting, so the potential for problems is minimised.

    This film, unlike many that were originally shot in black and white and later vandalised by studios by recolouring them, was originally shot in colour. It in fact won an Oscar for its colour cinematography. Unfortunately its glory is hard to imagine, as the colour scheme looks tired and badly reproduced. There is little subtlety in the palette, and colours tend to extremes. The whole film has a hazy, blue complexion to it that is somewhat distracting.

    Film to video artefacts are an occasional problem, however, they are masked by the unending barrage of film artefacts, which plague almost every frame. The print was obviously not clean or in any semblance of good condition, and it shows. Scratches, marks, and specks of dirt are common. Occasional juddering of the frame gives me the impression of a VHS tape being put on DVD, it is that poor.

    Allowances must be made for a film of this age, but having seen how vintage movies can be presented I am not inclined to be very forgiving of this unacceptable transfer.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    We are presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track in English - a solitary track that is constricted in delivery and barely adequate.

    Audio sync is not the best, and the picture often lags behind the audio. There is a crackling and hissing that is evident for much of the film, whilst the orchestral score sounds tinny and compressed. Dialogue is a little muffled but is relatively easy to hear and understand.

    The surrounds and subwoofer are, not surprisingly, silent.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are no extras to speak of.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Based on available information it seems that the Region 1 release is equally bare. I haven't been able to find any appraisals of its transfer but would not be surprised if there is a superior version than ours. This is an all region release, so if your TV is PAL compatible this cheap local release is recommendable.

Summary

    A Star is Born is a film that, thanks to a screenplay that is still relevant and cynical, still holds a certain appeal.

    The video quality is poor.

    The audio is marginally better.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Scott Murray (Dont read my bio - it's terrible.)
Friday, July 30, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDYamaha DVR-S100, using Component output
DisplaySony 76cm Widescreen Trinitron TV. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DVR-S100 (built in)
SpeakersYamaha NX-S100S 5 speakers, Yamaha SW-S100 160W subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
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