The Twenty-First Book I've Read This Year.

Books   None of you will remember my startled tweets of a few years ago on seeing A Star Is Born and how sections look like Loose Cannon reconstructions of missing Doctor Who stories.   A quick glance online revealed this was an attempt to restore scenes from the film which had been cut during the initial release, this new version having become the de facto version on shiny disc releases.  Ronald Haver's brilliant book is the story of the tumultuous making of the picture and his later attempt at producing that complete restoration, his search for missing footage and how this version of the film is as good as its going to get.

Although Haver does cover the gossip about Judy Garland's behaviour on and off set, much of the main section of the text describes the technical nitty-gritty of film making, the lighting, costume and photography.  There are staggeringly detailed and completely fascinating discussions about the development of various screen ratios and how the film began in production on a cheaper Cinemascope knock off, Warnerscope, before that footage was scrapped and reshot in the more superior format.  Similarly, Technicolour was not the original choice but the results were just too good to pass up which is why the film now has such a ravishing image.

On completion, A Star Is Born was just over three hours long and even at that length beloved by audiences and critics on initial release.  But the bottom line men at the studio complained that it limited the number of showings per day and outside the supervision of the director George Cukor and any sense of film editing, went in an gutted the release prints to remove key blocks of scenes (including whole songs) reducing the running time by half an hour.  Instructions were sent out to cinemas to replicate these changes and the cut footage was sent back to the studio for destruction.

A young Haver saw the shorter version and then spent the rest of his life on a quest to see the longer version, assuming it must be out there somewhere.  With some friends and the eventual backing of the studio, he searched dozens of film vaults and connected with private collectors and although the key sequences were lost, he did find a complete audio track for the full version which became the basis for the reconstruction, a miraculous achievement in 1983, long before digital restoration.  This is a first rate book for anyone interested in filmmaking history and the fight to preserve that history.

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