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A Star is Born: 9 ways Bradley Cooper paid homage to older versions of the Hollywood classic

Melody Lau

Hollywood is seemingly stuck in a cycle of remakes and reboots, but sometimes these films really work.

The new Bradley Cooper-directed film A Star is Born is not a new story. In fact, this will mark the third remake of the 1937 classic love story. (There was one remake in 1954 starring Judy Garland and James Mason, and another in 1976 starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.) And while many advised Cooper against making this movie, he went ahead and did it anyway and cast a newcomer to the big screen, pop star Lady Gaga.

In order to create an updated version of A Star is Born, Cooper made a few changes and focused on making this a deeply intimate portrait of music, family and addiction. Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a country-rock icon whose career is slowing down due to a growing drinking problem. But one night he meets Ally, a struggling artist who can write a good hook but has been told by industry professionals that she doesn't have the looks to make it big. The two hit it off immediately and Maine helps Ally achieve her dreams, but it's a rocky romance that faces some big hurdles.

Cooper truly makes his own mark on A Star is Born, which has so far led to lots of Oscar predictions for both him and Gaga, but the first-time director does stick to some of the story's biggest plot points. Take a look below and see what Cooper's film has in common with its classic predecessors.

1. The names — sort of

Cooper and Gaga’s characters don almost entirely different names from the ones in the other three versions, except there’s one small nod to the 1937 and 1954 films. In those first two movies, the male protagonist is named Norman Maine. (Kris Kristofferson plays a rock star named John Norman Howard in the 1976 remake.) Cooper’s character is renamed Jackson, but his last name is Maine. Gaga’s Ally strays completely from past films, all of which named its female protagonist Esther.

2. The meet cute

While each film has its own unique take on the scene where its two leads meet, all four versions have one thing in common: in every film, the male star is drunk when he first lays eyes on the female lead, who is always a struggling unknown actress or singer at the beginning of the film.

In the original, Esther is handing out hors d'oeuvres at a Hollywood party. In the 1954 remake, Esther has to drag a drunken Norman offstage during a big production where he stumbles into the spotlight. The 1976 film is the closest to the 2018 one because, in those two versions, Kristofferson and Cooper both enter a random bar and witness performances by Streisand and Gaga, respectively.

Unlike Cooper and Gaga's first meeting, there weren’t immediate sparks between Streisand and Kristofferson's characters. John repeatedly interrupts Esther's performance and even makes a scene, starting a brawl with a man who is starstruck upon spotting John sitting in the audience. (This is actually referenced in a later scene in Cooper’s film, where Ally punches a man who approaches Jackson and asks for a photo.)

3. That famous line

It’s one of the key moments from the newest A Star is Born trailer that has quickly transformed into a meme. Jackson rolls down the window to his car and shouts “Hey!” to Ally. When she turns around, he says: “I just wanna take another look at you.” It’s a moment that has elicited eye rolls, laughter and even some swooning, but it’s actually an iconic line that has been included in all four versions of A Star is Born. It’s a line that plays an unexpected but important role in the plot, so pay close attention.

4. Bathtub scene

In a long, and perhaps cheesy, scene in 1976’s A Star is Born, Streisand and Kristofferson have sex for the first time and their rendezvous continues in a bathtub where she applies makeup on his face. There’s a very similar scene in Cooper’s film where Jackson and Ally are taking a bath and she applies fake eyebrows on his face — a callback to the night they met where she stripped down her Edith Piaf look in front of Jackson after she performs “La vie en rose.”

5. Being pulled onstage

Another cue taken from the 1976 remake is the scene where John pulls Esther onstage to perform. At first, Esther hesitates but she eventually gives in and it becomes a star-making moment for her. This scene is replicated in Cooper’s film, and can be seen in the trailers as well, where Jackson runs sidestage to convince Ally to perform.

6. Getting married

All four films include a quick low-key wedding, to avoid public attention. It’s an impulse decision that isn’t entirely approved by Esther/Ally’s management. In Cooper’s film, this creates the most tension and leads to a pivotal conversation between Jackson and Ally’s manager, who strongly implies that he is destroying her career.

7. The big award show moment

This is another scene that has been represented in every incarnation of A Star is Born. In the original, as well as the 1954 remake, Esther’s star ascends all the way to the Oscars, where she takes home the award for best actress. This is repeated in 1976 and 2018’s A Star is Born, but at the Grammy Awards. In all four cases, the star’s husband ruins this moment of glory by being belligerently drunk and interrupting her acceptance speech.

8. The ending, part 1

A Star is Born is a love story, but as each and every version of the film reveals: it’s a tragic one. The two Normans, John and Jackson, all succumb to their addiction at the end of the film and die by suicide. The two Normans walk into the ocean; John crashes his car; and Jackson hangs himself in his and Ally’s garage. It’s a sacrificial moment where the man is giving up his life in order for his wife to continue thriving professionally. But whereas the original takes on this harrowing scene as grandiose — the image of a man stripping down and walking into the water is one of the early films’ most striking shots — Cooper brings it back to its dark reality, playing the scene in sombre silence.

And remember that famous line mentioned above? It’s Norman/Norman/John/Jackson’s parting words to Esther/Ally.

9. The ending, part 2

Following the male lead’s tragic end, all four films end in a similar manner. Esther/Ally makes her first public appearance since her husband’s death and greets the crowd, or is introduced to the audience, by her married name. The 1976 and 2018 films end with Esther and Ally performing one last song, a number that was written by their respective partners. No matter the version, the viewer is bound to shed a few tears so make sure you have some tissues on hand.


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