Graded on a Curve: Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson,
A Star Is Born (OST)

News of a remake of A Star Is Born starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper is causing consternation in capitals across the globe. An official in Pyongyang, North Korea issued a terse communique warning, “We consider this an act of crass, imperialist show business aggression.” And a spokesperson at the International Court of Justice in the Hague said sternly, “A remake of this maudlin monstrosity could well constitute a crime against humanity.”

Why all the upset? If you’ve ever listened to the soundtrack to the 1976 version of A Star Is Born starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson you’d know.

While the movie was harmless Hollywood pablum, the music wasn’t so benign. Composed by such legendary rock’n’roll animals as Paul Williams, Kenny Ascher, Rupert Holmes, Kenny Loggins, and Babs herself, the soundtrack is a nauseating stew of pop schmaltz, disco schlock, and ersatz rock. Rolling Stone scribe Ken Tucker called it “the worst sort of histrionic supper-club stuff, much of it made ridiculous by being cheered raucously by a crowd at a pseudorock festival.”

The film founders on its ludicrous premise. To wit, out-of-control rock star John Norman Howard (Kristofferson) meets up-and-comer Esther Hoffman (Streisand), recognizes her immense talent, and lures her on stage at one of his shows. Where she performs some Cher-quality disco rock–and the audience roars!

Had this really happened in the “Disco Sucks” days of 1976 Barbra would have been pelted with unopened beer cans and used condoms. When Allman and Woman attempted something along these lines in Europe, riots broke out. Had they tried it on America’s festival circuit, God knows what would have happened.

None of this would matter had the soundtrack simply served Barbra’s musical selections straight up. You either love Streisand or hate her. But by attaching the crowd noises and Kristofferson’s introductions and what not, the soundtrack doubles down on the absurdity of the film’s premise.

Minus the ancillary sound effects this is a Streisand LP with a couple of songs featuring (but most assuredly not written by) Kristofferson tossed in. With them, it’s a howl. Just listen to Babs’ fast-singing take on Kenny Loggins’ “I Believe in Love.” Sans crowd noise it’s your standard Barry Manilow-school disco turn; stir in mad applause and what you have is as implausible as a bunch of Kenny G fans roaring their approval for GG Allin.

In short, trying to fit Streisand into a rock context is an exercise in futility, and the closest she comes to pulling it off is on her reprise of the John Norman Howard Speedway song “Watch Closely Now.” Her rock turn may be dizzyingly awful, but it’s within the realm of possibility–when it comes to rock singers, I’ve heard worse.

To compound matters, Kristofferson is nobody’s idea of a rock god. And I’m not talking about his turn as an on-camera badass, although I’m not buying the “Only a crazy man would ride a motorcycle on stage” business–I once saw Richard Carpenter, of all people, do it with my very own eyes. As for his shooting at helicopters, that isn’t rock star behavior. I do it all the time.

No, Kris simply doesn’t have the pipes to be a big rock star. His croak on risible funk-rock abomination “Hellacious Acres” is frightening, and on “hard rock” turn “Watch Closely Now” he sounds like a drunken grizzly bear that somehow found itself a flailing guitarist and a horn section. On the country rock-leaning “Crippled Crow” he’s at least in his element, but the larded strings don’t do him any favors and it requires a Kierkegaardian leap of faith to believe that what you’re hearing is a rock superstar.

That said, if you think Streisand’s swell and Kristofferson complements her quite nicely you could do much worse than buy this soundtrack/movie souvenir. “Evergreen” is a Streisand song for the ages, and “Everything” is quite pretty in its awful way (she wants to move into the White House and paint it yellow!). As for duet “Lost Inside of You” is, well, forget about “Lost Inside of You,” because poor Kristofferson is clearly out of his element and sounds like he’s lost inside of a terrible nightmare from which he cannot wake.

As for “The Woman in the Moon,” it’s the number on which Streisand makes her first surprise visit on stage, and Streisand approaches it like Hurricane Yentl. What pipes! What faux-soul minstrelsy! She ought to be wearing blackface! If your idea of a bravado rock performance is David Clayton-Thomas on “Spinning Wheel,” I recommend you check this one out immediately. Otherwise give it a pass.

I have slightly higher hopes for the forthcoming remake, although the trailer gives me pause; they’ve turned Cooper into a country singer, while L. Gaga appears to be reprising Streisand’s role as a large-tonsiled pop chanteuse.

In short, director Cooper seems poised to make the same mistake producers Streisand and Jon “Hair Stylist/Svengali” Peters made on the 1976 version. While it’s true there are plenty of folks out there nowadays who love both country music and pop divas, I’m not sure whether a hardcore country crowd would welcome Lady Gaga–or even a Lady Gaga who has dispensed with the more startling vocal histrionics and outrageous costumes–with open arms.

That said, Lady Gaga is what your showbiz types call an immense talent and produces much better pop music than Streisand ever will, so I have no doubt we’ll get a better soundtrack. Babs fans may not walk away happy, but everybody else will.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D-

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  • Kostis Bitsios

    The same they wrote for “The Bodyguard”.
    People loved it.
    So…

    • Michael Little

      Thanks for commenting my friend!

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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