A Star Is Born
Moss Hart, Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Robert Carson,
William Wellman, and George Cukor, 1954
#4 (chronologically) in Mike D'Angelo's list of twelve films
to which he would give a score of 100 out of 100.
A declining, alcoholic actor, infatuated by a nightclub singer,
calls in a few favors and gets her into a movie which makes her
a huge star. They marry. But his career and life continue to
go down the tubes.
I was dreading this one, because I had no desire to spend
three hours listening to Judy Garland belting out showtunes.
However, I was pleased to find that skipping over the songs
still leaves a movie that's my favorite of the D'Angelo Dozen
so far. (Which admittedly isn't saying much.)
A graph of this movie would be pretty simple. Judy Garland's
character would be a line with a slope of 1 and James Mason's
would be a line with a slope of -1. At first, she's an
unknown and he plucks her from obscurity; when the lines cross,
they marry; then she's a big star and he's out of work. For a
while I thought that A Star Is Born was going to go the
route of Sister Carrie and have the ingenue leave her
sponsor after he's spent enough time schlepping around the
house is his bathrobe. But no — she has no qualms about
supporting him, as she both genuinely loves him and feels she
owes him her career. So everything would be fine if not for
the fact that he can't handle the idea of people looking down
on him for living off his wife and therefore offs himself.
Even so, the last line of the movie is Judy Garland's character
telling a packed house, "This is Mrs. Norman Maine," followed
by thunderous applause.
Did people in the 1950s really not realize how twisted this is?
I mean, what exactly is the message here? "Hooray! You've
completely subordinated your identity to that of your husband!
He may be a dead alcoholic, but he's male, and therefore as a
woman you will never be anything but his shadow! And yet you're
proud of that! We've trained you well! Hooray!" I mean, okay,
yes, you can't really expect stories to routinely transcend the
backward ideologies of the cultures that produce them. And this
movie was made in a time when men were expected to be breadwinners
and women were expected to consider themselves Mrs. Dudesfirstname
Dudeslastname. But, but— we've just seen this ideology
kill the leading man! Now we're supposed to clap for it?
I was interested to read that, for the first time, women in their
20s who work full time in some major American cities (New York, Los
Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, et al.) now have higher median
incomes than men in the same age range. (Note that this statistic
involves no small amount of cherrypicking.) The articles about this
tend to be accompanied by interviews in which (cherrypicked) female
yuppies complain about how they can't date guys who make less money
than they do, because either the guys freak out about it, or else
they are fine with it and thereby prove themselves to be
losers. Apparently there's a lot of cultural baggage mixed
up with the question of who should pay for things. They should do
what I do and date someone who lives in a foreign country. Then
you always know who should pay: the one whose money works.
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