“What Price Hollywood?” (1932)

A tip of the ten-gallon hat to The Self-Styled Siren for turning me on to George Cukor’s What Price Hollywood?, the first and (I think) best of all the A Star is Born movies. Aside from one funky character it’s got a really modern feel, and it needs to be seen for Lowell Sherman’s brilliant, upsetting performance as a burned-out movie director who, like Wild Bill Hickok on Deadwood, just wants to go to Hell his own way. Four or five moments in What Price Hollywood? are so creative and intense that you have to pinch yourself to remember that it was a studio picture from 70 years ago. After Constance Bennett becomes a star, a near-riot breaks out when she and her husband try to exit the church after their wedding, with her fans nearly tearing them limb from limb. That’s a great scene, and so is the one where Bennett keeps rehearsing a silly line of dialogue over and over again, until she nails down the delivery that lands her her first movie role, and so is the scene-within-a-scene where she sings a French ballad as Cukor’s camera wanders freely around the soundstage, taking in the crew’s muted, affectionate reaction to her performance. But the kicker is a montage by Slavko Vorkapich which captures the final moments in a man’s life with the nightmarish elision of Menilmontant’s axe-murders.

Normally I’m not that big a Cukor fan but he put it together in this one…

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