Feb 19, 2013

Gwiazda byc / A Star is Born (1970)

A Star is Born (Gwiazda byc, 1970) (7:11 min online version, 16mm, B&W, sound)  

The film is directed by H. Urbanczyk, B. Bialek, who were part of the AKF Bielsko club, in Bielsko-Biala, in Southern Poland. The title given here - A Star is Born - brings to mind Judy Garland in the 1954 film of the same name, directed by George Cukor, but of course Judy Garland here is nowhere to be found. According to Google translate (and admitting its less-than-reliable nature), the title can be translated in English as "Be a star". One could speculate that by opting for a title that rings a cinematic bell, someone, somewhere was pushing for this association. Or one could get a proper translator and seek clarification.

The film opens with Elton John's "Daniel My Brother" playing non-diegetically over  shots of women in a dressing rooms with mirrors, getting ready, putting on make-up and combing their hair. As the women come out onto a stage for what appears to be an audition, Elton John's  "Crocodile Rock" kicks in. (One note on music choice for this film: Elton John's album Don't Shoot Me I am Just the Piano Player, from which both tracks were taken, only came out in 1973, therefore suggesting that this film's score was added three years after it was shot.)

The scantily clad women dance around and the camera moves with them, focusing mainly on their faces and shoes but also including periodical close-ups of their buttocks. Some female voice-over narration (which I unfortunately didn't understand) is layered over the song, no doubt describing the aspirations of these young girls. Some girls look straight at the camera while others are more absorbed in their own dance. One girl removes her sweatshirt while she dances and the film cuts to another girl glaring at her and subtly pointing her out to others. Most play with their (long) hair and twirl around, while some attempt more acrobatic stretching. The general attire includes leotards, flesh-colored tights and shoes, though one brave lady opted for a bikini.  

The film cuts back and forth between a few men and one woman in the audience (directors?) watching, smoking cigarettes and talking while the women move on a small stage. The ladies have as their only prop some chairs. This initially lead me to think that this "audition" was in fact an open call for dancers in a nightclub or cabaret. The "casting" for a film is not entirely clear until perhaps the end. The film closes with the group of dancers on stage, in street clothes, listening to the verdict. The film brings the slower, "Daniel My Brother" back in, as the camera frames their faces, watching for reactions. Those who didn't make the cut trickle out the door. Suggested by frequent close-ups of one girl's face, and cuts back to people with paperwork, and a boom-mike, it seems a girl has been chosen. The film overall channels the "wanting to make it". "doing whatever it takes to be a star" attitude found in the later American films Fame (1980) and Flashdance (1984).

The film was recently included in a curated exhibition in Brooklyn, in December 2009, called "Casting", which included a number of other Polish films from the 1960s-1970s looking at women being "cast". http://lightindustry.org/casting

-Sylvie Vitaglione  

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