A Star Is Born | 2018
The third remake of A Star Is Born, following two excellent (and one not-so-much) versions, bore all the hallmarks of turning out to be a vanity project with Bradley Cooper starring, directing, singing and even writing songs – and casting the relatively untested Lady Gaga in the pivotal role.
Against all expectations, the risks paid off handsomely in all departments. Cooper, as hard-drinking Jackson Maine (Norman is so not rock’n’roll), convincingly pulls off every Hollywood actor’s dream of being a rock star in the concert sequences and Lady G, being asked to step into the legendary shoes of Judy Garland in the full-on classic 1954 version, is undeniably a star as well as a damn good actor.
Filming of the concert sequences, entirely from the performers’ POV, was ingeniously fitted in between acts at various real festivals.
This is not so simple as it might sound. To prevent piracy on a massive scale while filming in front of so many people, performers couldn’t do a full-on amplified set but still needed to sing live (to avoid the dreaded lip synching), leaving audiences doubting their senses that between acts they’d seen a couple of people resembling Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga doing a mysterious five-minute silent spot.
The country music festival is held annually in April at the Empire Polo Club, 81-800 Avenue 51, Indio, in the Coachella Valley, Riverside County, about 23 miles east of Palm Springs.
The production took advantage of this and filmed a later scene of Ally (Lady Gaga) becoming a regular at Jack’s gigs at Coachella.
In Los Angeles (though the locale is not explicitly stated), Ally works at a thankless job in the bowels of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, 506 South Grand Avenue, a smart Spanish-Italian Renaissance 1923 landmark, at Pershing Square, Downtown.
This is a different view of a frequent movie location more familiar from its well-known public areas, seen in Beverly Hills Cop, The Sting, Ghostbusters, In The Line Of Fire, New York, New York, Splash, Independence Day, Species and Daredevil among many others.
The ‘Bleu Bleu’ bar, last desperate resort for Jack needing just one more drink and where he sees Ally perform La Vie En Rose, is The Virgil, 4519 Santa Monica Boulevard at North Virgil Avenue, East Hollywood. It’s not really a drag dive but usually an improv-comedy club.
The ‘cop bar’ to which the pair moves afterwards, though, is just that – it’s the Short Stop, 1455 Sunset Boulevard, in Echo Park, not far from the Dodger Stadium and – more importantly – the LAPD Police Academy. Don't be put off – it's a really popular music-dive bar.
It’s also extremely close to the Angelino Heights house Ally shares with her starstruck dad (Andrew Dice Clay), 739 East Kensington Road at Kellam Avenue, just a few blocks south.
This is just across the street from Dominic Toretto’s house in the Fast And Furious movies. With photogenic houses and a great view over Downtown, the locality is a popular area for filming, nearby are locations from Chinatown, LA Confidential, Training Day and Drag Me To Hell.
But before being driven home, Jack has to take Ally to get a pack of frozen peas to soothe her sore fist (she displays a less laidback attitude to fans demanding selfies than Jack does).
I don’t know if late-night frozen vegetables are particularly difficult to get hold of in LA, but Jack and Ally do travel quite a way east, across the LA River in fact, to Super A Foods, 2924 Division Street in Cypress Park, to get those improvised medical supplies.
At first, Ally staunchly resists Jack’s invite to the next night’s gig but, on relenting, she’s whisked away to an airfield and taken by private plane to the venue.
All just a tad ostentatious since the concert, which is where Ally is reluctantly coaxed to sing, is at the Greek Theatre, 2700 North Vermont Avenue in Griffith Park, a spit and a cough from Ally’s house. This open-air venue was of course the ultimate destination for Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) in Get Him To The Greek (there’s a clue in the title) and the site of the climactic concert in 1963 musical Bye Bye Birdie.
Gaining confidence, Ally becomes a regular performer alongside Jack. This is where we return to the Coachella Music Festival.
Since the first small gathering in 1970, Glasto, as it’s affectionately known, has grown to become the major pop and rock music festival in the UK, and a headline spot on the Main Stage is a career peak.
True to Jackson’s Arizona country boy roots, his ‘Topanga’ hideaway estate is a wooden and woodsy, but still stylishly desirable, 1970s house at 481 Cold Canyon Road, Monte Nido, tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains off Malibu Canyon Road, about three miles north of Malibu Pier.
Plagued by increasing tinnitus, Jack is heavily self-medicating when he performs, with deliberate irony, at the ‘Pharmacy Convention’, supposedly in ‘Memphis’ but filmed at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 North Avenida Caballeros, Palm Springs.
Meanwhile, Ally is noticed by pushy British manager Rez (Rafi Gavron). Her own career takes off and she’s soon recording an album and performing her own set (Heal Me) at the Regent Theater DTLA, 448 South Main Street, one of the old movie theatres (this one dating from 1914) dotted along Main Street which have suffered unpredictably random fates – some gutted to become markets, some reclaimed.
Happily, the Regent lives on as an indie concert hall and performance space.
It’s obvious Ally’s hit the big time with a huge billboard overlooking West Hollywood, visible from the balcony of her suite in that symbol of Hollywood success, the Chateau Marmont, 8221 Sunset Boulevard. It’s here that Jack gives Ally a timely lecture on staying honest and true to her roots.
The Chateau was built as a residential hotel in 1929, when West Hollywood was a remote retreat from the centre of the movie business, becoming home to such old-school stars as Boris Karloff, Greta Garbo, Errol Flynn and Jean Harlow. Its low profile and its strict rules on privacy keep it a favourite for stars genuinely avoiding paparazzi.
The legendary hotel is a bit screen-shy but has fleetingly appeared in the jaw-dropping car wreck of a movie, Myra Breckinridge, provided the hotel exterior of (and the inspiration for) the ‘Mon Signor Hotel’ in the disastrous indulgence Four Rooms, and was seen in the Mark Wahlberg heavy metal vehicle Rock Star and in La La Land. Unusually it became the major location for Sofia Coppola’s 2010 Somewhere, with Stephen Dorff.
Jack's warning seems to fall on deaf ears when Ally performs a soulless dance number on Saturday Night Live. Cooper had enough clout for this scene to be filmed with Alec Baldwin on the programme’s actual set in the Rockefeller Center, New York.
One rises as the other falls, and Jack is reduced to play backing for a Roy Orbison tribute at the Grammy awards, where Ally is up for a big award. The glitzy ceremony, at which a very drunken Jack humiliatingly ruins Ally’s big moment, was filmed in the Shrine Auditorium, 649 West Jefferson Boulevard, south of Downtown LA in the Exposition Park District.
It’s hard not to see this as an intentional nod to George Cukor’s classic 1954 version of A Star Is Born, which staged its charity bash – at which Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) first meets the drunken Norman Maine (James Mason) – in the Shrine.
The Shrine is a massive 6,700-seat Moorish fantasy built in 1926 which occasionally hosted the Oscars before the purpose-built Kodak Theatre returned the ceremony to Hollywood. It was here that James Cameron became King of the World in 1998. Another king, King Kong was exhibited here in 1933 (although it was supposed to be New York).
Disgraced and ashamed, Jack goes into rehab but is haunted by both his damaged hearing and the fear that he’s destroying Ally’s career.
Ally plays an enormous concert at the Forum, 3900 West Manchester Boulevard, Inglewood, South LA, a multi-purpose indoor arena north of the then-under-construction Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park and the new Hollywood Park Casino.
While she triumphs, Jack takes the only option he feels open to him.
In 2018, it’s obviously possible for a fiercely independent woman to end with the line “This is Mrs Jackson Maine”, so the film is climaxed with a big emotional number at a tribute concert held back at the Shrine Auditorium – and that’s where the 1954 version ended too.