1937’s “A Star is Born” is the one that started all of this, and is the only one without any songs. Its trailer, which you can watch on YouTube, labels it “Hollywood’s first true story.” It is not based on a true story.
The movie, carried by its endearing lead, Janet Gaynor — who was in a way being born as a star herself in this transition from silent film — is just fine. What is most fascinating eight decades later is its staggering separation from life and the entertainment industry in 2018. In one scene, a woman at a studio tells Gaynor’s character, Esther, an aspiring actress, that her chances of making it in the industry are “one in one hundred thousand.” Today, that’s a pretty good shot. Also, famous adult human beings in this movie drink full glasses of milk with their dinner.
The awful, and very dim lighting throughout is a victim of its time: in the 1930s, lighting wasn’t necessarily considered an art form that could be played with yet. All that really mattered was whether or not you could see anything, so it’s almost unfair to compare it to Cooper’s, which uses lighting and thoughtful camera placement to highlight important things about the characters.
But the first version of this story still has one major thing in common with Cooper’s 2018 version: the skepticism surrounding fame and Hollywood which, ironically, might be ingrained into the industry and our culture because of this story that Hollywood can’t stop telling.
This version of “A Star is Born” is available to watch with no additional charges on Amazon Prime.