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  • Writer's pictureMike Gould

Myth and 'A Star Is Born'

Man playing acoustic guitar

Last night I watched an age-old story unfold, a simple myth re-told for the fourth time (at least) and if you count the numerous similar narratives, probably re-told many more times over.

Yes, I'm talking about 'A Star is Born' which I saw last night at our local cinema. Now, the problem with myths is that we're kind of familiar with the stories, and SPOILER ALERT, most of us know what is coming. Even in its most basic summary form we are aware of this ancient tale: it is the one where an older mentor suffers a fall from grace in direct proportion to the rise of his or her younger protegee. As the latter reaches for the stars, the former falls from the skies. And yes, we've seen it all before, and even if we haven't it's buried deep in our consciousness.

Take Thomas Hardy's 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'. For Bradley Cooper's Jackson Maine, read Michael Henchard. For Lady Gaga's Ally, read Farfrae, the young Scotsman who has replaced his mentor and once friend as mayor, and who in the final stages of the novel marries his daughter Elizabeth. Both have endings that will break your heart. I find it almost impossible to read the final chapter of 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' when Michael's will is found in the lonely hut where his life finally subsides.

Michael Henchard's Will

That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me. & that I be not bury'd in consecrated ground. &that no sexton be asked to toll the bell. &that nobody is wished to see my dead body. &that no murners [sic] walk behind me at my funeral. &that no flours [sic] be planted on my grave. & that no man remember me. To this I put my name. Michael Henchard. (45.27)

The fact that much of Michael's misery and downfall has been self-afflicted does not soften the effect of this; indeed, it increases it. To be human, to be fallible - these are at the core of great stories. In 'A Star is Born', the will is replaced by a song, a ballad penned by Jackson, the lyrics of which were tucked away, hidden inside Ally's songbook - a sort of songwriter's will, as you were.

The thing about myth and tragedy is that you are meant to be hurt. We know at the start of 'Romeo and Juliet' that the 'star-cross'd lovers' (hmm, there's that thing with 'stars' again) will die. The pleasure, if one can call it that, is in the suffering, in the pain. The Greeks called it catharsis - and it seems like we need our great myths and tragedies as much now as we ever have.

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