"Hello, everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine."
For the past twenty minutes, I've been bawling my eyes out. I've seen 1954's A Star is Born a handful of times, but the ending never fails to tear me to pieces. Every time, I ask the screen "Please, can everything just work out this go-around?" and every time it doesn't happen. The sacrifice of James Mason's Norman Maine and the pain of Judy Garland's Esther Blodgett have been imprinted on my brain ever since my first viewing of the film almost a decade ago, yet each time I see it again, the heartbreak and the tears come as if I've never seen it before. A Star is Born has one of the richest and most complex production histories. That statement applies to both the 1954 film and the material in general (which we will once again see on the big screen next year!).
Growing up at MGM alongside such beauties as Elizabeth Taylor and Lana Turner made Judy's insecurities worse. She felt hideous and unlovable compared to them, yet no one else captured people's hearts like Judy did. The moment where Esther is made unrecognizable by the studio feels really poignant to me. After a few hours in the make-up chair, she doubts everything. Norman takes one look at her and immediately restores her back to the Esther we love, telling her "Your face is just dandy!" I like to imagine that this scene was retribution for Judy, that Norman was an audience surrogate assuring Judy that we adore her for exactly who she was.
While the whole film is magnificent, I must admit that my favorite scene is when Norman proposes to Esther. She is recording a song, but when the orchestra takes over, she rushes over to Norman, who has been watching her lovingly. We can't hear their conversation because the music is too loud, but when the song is played back, Norman and Esther are surprised to hear their voices -- a sound technician had pushed a microphone towards them!
I love watching Mason and Garland in this scene. They are so playful and cute together, making the loss all the more profound at film's end. Their recorded conversation is amazing, too, not because it's romantic, but because it shows that Esther recognizes Norman's faults. She isn't exactly a wide-eyed innocent, so when she accepts his proposal, she is demonstrating a leap of faith. It's such a well-executed scene. You can admire it here.
This is my first contribution to the Judy Garland Blogathon. Celebrate the brilliant woman by checking out the other entries here.