The logic of casting

Yesterday, Mike Fleming reported that Nick Cassavettes was in talks to direct the fourth, or possibly fifth — depending on how you reckon it — version of “A Star is Born,” a perpetually successful property that dates back to the 1930s.

You can complain about remakes all you want, but this is one story that really begs to be remade with every generation, as it’s always pretty much always relevant and only more topical with each new decade. In case you’ve never seen any version, it’s the story of a young actress and/or singer on the way up who becomes involved with a star very much on the way down, mostly because of substance abuse. Apparently the thinking is to once again make the on-the-go female a singer, as in the now iconic 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason directed by George Cukor, and the commercially huge but critically dissed 1976 Barbara Streisand/Kris Kritofferson version directed by Frank Perry and, perhaps, an uncredited Streisand. Names like BeyoncĂ© and Alicia Keys are being mentioned for the female lead.

The two male stars Fleming mentions are interesting. I don’t need to say why Robert Downey, Jr. is either too on the nose or absolutely and utterly perfect for the role. Real-life parallels and method acting possibilities aside, he’s a intriguing choice also because of his own forays into singing. Could make for a dramatic duet or two.

The other name being floated according to Fleming is Jon Hamm of “Mad Men.” This would presumably take the film more in the direction of the 1954 version, which featured James Mason as the alcoholic movie star in love with Judy Garland’s singer. Hamm’s a terrific and versatile actor and I’m sure he’d be very good. I just hope, however, they’re not just mentioning his name because just he does a great impression of Mason.

This Mason, by the way, is mainly inspired by his “A Star is Born” character. In real life, it was Judy Garland who had the drinking and drug issues. As for Hamm, let’s hope we see his impressionistic skills again — and the writers can again figure out something funny for him to do with them — when he returns to SNL later this month.

  

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A remake for its time? Probably.

Yep, another story about a remake, this time it’s “A Star is Born” which, depending on how you reckon it, will either be the fourth or fifth version of the story of a woman who begins a relationship with an established star, only to eclipse him in the fame game as he gradually self-destructs. The confusion here is that, in 1934, George Cukor directed a film called “What Price Hollywood?” which was apparently close enough to William Wellman’s 1938 “A Star is Born” that RKO considered suing producer David O. Selznick. Just to make matters confusing, Selznick had offered the “Star is Born” gig to Cukor, who turned it down — but who eventually did direct the most famous version of the story in 1954, which I guess means that you could argue that he’s another example of a great director remaking an earlier hit.

Not that any of it matters. There’s a reason this one keeps getting pulled out of mothballs. Consider the clip below from that last version with Judy Garland and James Mason. Does the drunken behavior of Mason as declining superstar Norman Maine remind you of anyone in show business you’ve been hearing about lately around the water cooler? Several people? Everyone?

  

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