On Sunday night, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed “Shallow” from A Star is Born, in which the pair played Ally and Jackson Maine, respectively. The film, which marks Cooper’s directorial debut, went largely unrecognized by the Academy. With eight nominations heading into the night, the film walked away with just one win: Best Original Song.
Each year, the Best Original Song nominees perform throughout the ceremony. Though the Academy tried to scratch this for the sake of hitting a 3-hour run time, complaints kept the tradition (mostly) alive.
A Star is Born was released on October 5, 2018 and “Shallow,” of course, went on to earn its Best Original Song nomination on January 22, 2019. Long before nominations were announced, Bradley Cooper revealed to Variety that he already shared ideas with Gaga for their potential Oscar performance, saying, “I started texting her the whole pitch of how we should do it. So we’ll see. There might be a cool, unorthodox way we could perform it.”
There are a lot of different ways they could have performed it (perhaps have Alec Baldwin introduce them a la the SNL scene in the film), but when the time came, it became clear that it wasn’t the performance they had an unorthodox idea for– it was the filming of it.
The camera is filming from the stage as the piano is brought out and Cooper and Gaga emerge from the audience. If it looked weird, it’s because performances are never shown from this angle. The camera is always in the audience, or at least facing the stage. If it looked familiar, it’s because this is exactly how every performance was filmed in A Star is Born.
In all of the concert scenes, which were filmed in between acts of Stagecoach and Glastonbury, the camera is on stage with the performers. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique spoke with Carolyn Giardina on The Hollywood Reporter‘s Behind the Scenes Podcast, sharing that Cooper asked him, “What do you think if we just shot from the stage and never saw the audience perspective?”
In an interview with Film School Rejects, Libatique recalls an early conversation with Cooper:
“Remembering an experience he had being backstage at a show and the feeling that he had. Just being there looking out at the audience amongst the stage and amongst the band and all people around the stage. What that sort of feeling was. He had the idea to shoot it from that perspective only and forget about the audience’s point of view”
This style of cinematography, while ostracizing the audiences within the film, brings the audience of the film closer to the story. The closest we come to identifying with any audience within the film is when Ally’s father sits at home watching his daughter on YouTube with his friends and discusses how many people have seen the video.
Because of the cinematography, we care about Ally’s career on a personal level, not as fans. We feel more important than the audiences in the film– we feel like the friend, the sibling, the parent. The cinematography makes the film about Ally and Jackson as human beings with their careers as an added layer. The film is not treated like a concert with dialogue thrown in the middle.
The camera remains in their personal space not just on the stage, but in personal moments as well. During the wedding montage, the camera is right in Ally’s face. This same framing is used as she performs “I’ll Never Love Again” at the very end of the film. In the final moments of the film, she looks into the camera, acknowledging that we were there the whole time.