Oscars: ‘A Star Is Born’ Wows Full Houses at Enthusiastic Academy Screenings

Scott Feinberg

“They had to turn people away,” marveled Christine La Monte, a longtime member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ public relations branch, when I reached her on Sunday to discuss the first official Academy screening of Bradley Cooper‘s A Star Is Born for L.A.-based members. It took place Saturday night at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre — which seats 1,010 — inside the organization’s Beverly Hills headquarters. La Monte emphasized, “I have never seen that — ever.”

Academy members — lured out on a weekend evening not only by the much buzzed-about film, but also by the promise of a post-screening Q&A with its talent  — were warned ahead of time on the Academy’s website that, “DUE TO ANTICIPATED HEAVY ATTENDANCE, MEMBERS MAY ONLY BRING ONE GUEST,” as opposed to the multiple guests usually permitted. The turnout was still massive, with people lining up as early as 5 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. screening. “The line went from the front door [on Wilshire Boulevard] up La Peer [Drive], all the way to the next street over, and it just kept growing and growing,” said David Magdael, also of the PR branch.

“I was surrounded by people who I rarely see there,” said documentary branch member Mitchell Block, a regular at the Academy’s weekend screenings, who added: “This is the first ‘sold-out’ [admission is free for dues-paying members and their guests] picture this year that I’ve attended.” Another member who says he is also there almost every weekend, and who asked not to be named, cracked, “It was the High Holy Days of screenings: the once-a-year members [as in, people who usually stay home and watch Oscar hopefuls on screeners] showed up.” He added, “I call them ‘the walker set’ — I have never seen so many old people at an Academy screening.”

Academy members lined up around the block ahead of Saturday night’s screening in Beverly Hills.

A half-dozen Academy members who attended Saturday’s screening and then spoke with THR on Sunday all agreed that the film played extremely well — but not through the roof to the extent of some recent films. “Although the response was very, very warm, I was a little surprised there was no standing ovation,” said Bruce Feldman, another member of the PR branch, who noted that Spike Lee‘s BlackKklansman was accorded one earlier this season, as was Damien Chazelle‘s La La Land two seasons before. “I think people were probably still processing it,” suggested Magdael, “but everyone around me stayed for the Q&A.” And, adds La Monte, “The applause went on for a long time — during the credits, when they [the talent] came on stage and at the end of the Q&A.”

Magdael said the Academy screening actually marked his second viewing of the film. “I was all set to hate it because of the trailer, plus I’m not a Gaga fan, even though they may take my ‘gay card’ away for saying that,” he said with a laugh. “Then I saw it at the Cinerama Dome [in Hollywood] and, from the first frame on, I was in.” Magdael says he was particularly impressed by the songs, the performances and Matthew Libatique‘s cinematography. “The close-up shots of the two of them [Cooper and Lady Gaga] really helped the chemistry,” he suggested, noting that Libatique also lensed the film that topped A Star Is Born at the box-office this weekend, Venom.