Thursday, November 4, 2010

Judy Garland in A Star Is Born

Judy Garland received her first Oscar nomination for playing Esther Blodgett a.k.a. Vicki Lester a young girl who becomes a great star and an Academy Award winner in George Cukor's classic, the remake of the 1937 movie, A Star is Born. Nowadays, it's a consensus that Judy should have won the Oscar for this performance and ironically everyone thought that at the time as she was a real front-runner to pick up her award. She had everything: a great comeback role, huge singing and dramatic moments, a 3-hour-long movie. The rest is history.

A Star Is Born is a real classic, a true definition of a must-see. It's a very dramatic look at stardom, love, marriage, cruelty, alcoholism and Hollywood. Everything is very glamourous on the outside, but everything is rotten and pretentious inside. George Cukor was an excellent director, who made quite flamboyant movies, but they are classics and loved by everyone. He had such a talent in directing his actors: James Mason gives an excellent performance as Norman Maine, a desperate alcoholic has-been, who has only one important thing in his life, his wife. Had it not been for Marlon Brando's terrific performance in On the Waterfront, Mason would probably get my vote.

And yet A Star Is Born is not a classic because of George Cukor's directing or James Mason's acting or the great technical part. The reason is two words: Judy Garland. A towering performance rarely comes in any performer's life, sometimes never. But that moment came to Judy Garland in 1954, when she was doing the part of Esther/Vicki, a role of a lifetime. Now, I'm not a fan of Judy Garland. I have never been and I will probably never be, but I can recognize a great achievement. And this is such a work.

The role of Vicki is itself a real miracle: it has such huge opportunities to shine, that it's quite a miracle if anyone, who has at least mediocre talent, ruins it. But Garland went further with it: she created a living, breathing and natural character, who has so many emotions in herself and can only express them with music and singing. Judy really put her whole heart into it and we can see the result, which speaks for itself.

Even when we first see Esther, it's quite obvious that both her and Judy are amazing talents. It's quite complicated to play a talented person as it can easily be confused with the player. Actually, Judy Garland's life was more of a mix of Norman's and Esther's, so it's not the case. Esther is a unique character and her only connection with Judy is that only she could play Esther the way this character deserves it.

There's a brilliant monologue where Esther tries to express how much singing means to her: Garland lives these lines so thrillingly, that for a moment there's nothing else there, just her. Although this performance is full of unforgettable moments, this is the one that sticks with me the most because of its honesty and pure beauty.

Esther's initial doubts about Norman are perfectly handled by Garland. She never goes over-the-top or annoying, she perfectly found the balance. And the same goes for the scenes of grief in the end, when so many emotions come to the surface and the whole thing is just like a volcano. She does not only leave you speechless, but also moves, saddens and entertains you.

Also it's quite interesting how much humor Garland injected to this character. These moments are not too pushy or forced, they are always very natural and simply adorable. Like when she gets a real make-up and ends up being another dull blonde girl, her face is just hilarious.

And she sings too! Garland had an excellent voice, which had such a wide range and was soo powerful. Her musical numbers are simply flawless. Her show-stopping performance of Born In A Trunk is simply one of the best acted musical scenes in history. And this is quite a positive thing as I really dislike musicals.

Her legendary Oscar ceremony scene is also just heartbreaking. Judy displays so many emotions: fear, excitement, nervousness, embarassment, sadness, biterness and love that it almost burns the screen. The most unforgettable moment is when Norman accidentally slaps her and then she tries to help him. It's so incredible.

I have already mentioned the scenes of grief, but let me say something about her very last lines. When she says "This is Mrs. Norman Maine" in a very teary way, it's such an incredibly cathartic moment and it's really no shame if your eyes get a bit teary. Your heart goes out for her and Garland is simply unbelievable there.

If you travel 1000 years in time and see which performances people still remember, Judy Garland's in A Star Is Born will be one of them. Judy Garland's acting achievement is really one of a kind, a true and eternal classic, one that cannot be forgotten or overlooked by anyone who loves movies. This IS a performance for the ages.
So what do you think? It's time to give your last predictions! :-)


Louis Morgan said...

She obviously will win. I agree she is truly terrific, a great and memorable performance.

joe burns said...

Agree! She will win!