On Saturday and Sunday, the Gund Gallery hosted a double film feature: Both movies were adaptations of the 1937 film “A Star is Born.” The first feature, made in 1954, stars Judy Garland, the actress featured in the Gallery’s current Valley installation. The 2018 version stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper; this adaptation provides a modern take on the psychological toll music idols endure.
All four adaptations of “A Star is Born” follow a similar storyline. Each depicts the rise of a young woman who dreams of notoriety and her tragic romance with a declining star. In some adaptations, the young woman aspires to be an actor, and in others, she pursues a music career. The two adaptations featured at the Gallery differ in one notable aspect. In the 1954 version, Esther Blodgett, played by Garland, pursues stardom within musical film, whereas in the 2018 adaptation, Aly, played by Gaga, is a country-rock singer. These differences between the two versions are indicative of their cultural context and the types of media that were popular at the time. But regardless of cultural context, both the 1954 and 2018 adaptations of the story expose the immense suffering many icons endure, whether it is substance abuse or the loss of a partner. The message is clear — the glamor of Hollywood fame comes at a great cost, including their own psychological well-being.
For Garland, the star in the 1954 adaptation, the cost of fame meant years of enduring abuse and, ultimately, her death. Her experiences in the film industry are examined more closely by visual artist Suzanne Bocanegra in her video installation Valley. Grace Peterson ’22, post-baccalaureate fellow for academic access and curricular initiates for the Gallery, wrote in an email to the Collegian about the psychological distress Garland experienced: “Judy Garland had experienced a lifetime of exploitation by the entertainment industry [and was] forced to take barbiturates to stay awake and smoke cigarettes to stay skinny from a young age.”
Fittingly, both the film feature and the installation cooperatively expose the hardship Hollywood stars such as Garland endure. Peterson wrote that the Gallery featured the 1954 and 2018 adaptations as a tribute to Judy Garland’s legacy and to further conversation about the cost of stardom within the performance industry. Garland’s experience within the industry further strengthens the claim that artists experience undue psychological distress because of their fame.
Likewise, in the 2018 adaptation, Cooper and Gaga have exceedingly successful careers as an actor and a musician, respectively. Their performances as artists struggling in the music industry are doubly powerful considering their private lives. Peterson, commenting on the connection between the lead actors’ personal experiences and the characters in “A Star is Born,” wrote, “Bradley Cooper, who plays Jackson Maine, an alcoholic rock star, has spoken publicly about his own struggles with addiction. Both Cooper and Gaga are also major stars in their respective industries, so we hoped including the 2018 ‘A Star is Born’ in a second screening would provide an opportunity for viewers to think about how the story of ‘A Star is Born’ continues in the present.”
Featuring both the 1954 and 2018 adaptations exposes how the cost of fame continues even to the present. Peterson wrote, “We wanted to encourage attendees of our film screening to think about the experiences of the ‘icon’ today and how the exploitation and addiction present in the performing arts industry in the past remains relevant today.”
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