Sunday, April 10, 2005

Pauline Kael

“…. In The Rose, she was probably able to give her passionate, skilled performance by drawing from the same source that Streisand drew from in Funny Girl: these "untrained" artists had invented their own training--they had been treating each song they sang as an encapsulated, highly emotional story. Midler--a comedienne who sings--and Streisand are very different, though. When Streisand sings, her command of the audience is in her regal stillness; she distills her own emotions. You feel that she doesn’t need the audience—that she could close her eyes and sing with the same magnetic power. Streisand’s voice is her instrument; Midler’s audience is her instrument. She plays on us and we bring her to life, or at least she makes us feel that we do….”

“…. Divine Madness shows us a great entertainer, though it’s not stirring, like The Rose, where we could see the dramatic reasons for the incontinent changes of feeling….”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, November 19, 1980
Taking It All In, p. 95-96
[review of Divine Madness]

“…. [Rose] sings frenziedly, trying to reach her emotional limits…. [A]s one of the Dionysian stars (such as Janis Joplin) who ascended to fame in the 60s and OD'd, all within a few years, Midler gives a paroxysm of a performance--it's scabrous yet delicate, and altogether amazing…. [T]here are sharply written, beautifully played dialogue scenes …. [F]our female impersonators--Claude Sacha, Michael St. Laurent, Sylvester, and Pearl Heart--… do a wonderfully ribald number number with Midler. She has eight others that she does virtually alone … She's a great performer.

Pauline Kael
5001 Nights at the Movies, p. 641
[ LO a little]

Stephen Schiff

“Bette Midler, as it turns out, is an actress. Not a controlled actress or a tasteful one, but an actress nevertheless: a screen presence of extraordinary conviction and power. In The Rose …, her first movie, she plays a burnt-out rock singer who bears no small resemblance to Janis Joplin, and she goes all the way, driving herself to paroxysms of pain and greed and degeneracy. There's something sordid, even freakish, about her performance; it has a hypnotic ugliness. Her hair has been teased and bleached and curled until it looks vaguely inhuman--like tendrils--and when director Mark Rydell and his marvelous cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, get her onstage for some concert footage, they bathe her in otherworldly pinks and greens. Her make-up runs beneath her eyes--so she resembles Alice Cooper on a binge--and her slave-woman-of-the-moon costumes glint and shimmer. She grimaces, bares her fangs in that hyena grin of hers, twists her improbably curvaceous body into rubbery knots, claws the air. And then she grips the mike and shrieks "When a Man Loves a Woman" or "Stay With Me," songs of monolithic yearning and tenderness. She's Quasimodo, Superstar.

“…. It's not about a star's rise and fall, just about her fall, so there's nothing in it of glory or ambition or artistic commitment. We never see what makes Rose a great singer or what made her long to become one…. The rock 'n' roll trail, with is drugs, its demented crowds, its outrageous fashions and electricity and noise, comes to seem a glamorous hell. We are here to watch the last days of a fallen priestess.

“From the moment Midler first emerges from her private plane, cringing at the sunlight and then taking a drunken tumble down the steps, we know she's doomed….

“…. The central incident of Rose's youth, we are asked to believe, is the time she was gang-banged by her high-school football team. This all-too-juicy tidbit is flashed at us in so many ways and from so many different angles that it comes to seem nearly as monumental as the black slab in 2001. The filmmakers want us to think it explains everything: Rose's orgiastic, inviting stage presence, her lust for success, her drug problems, her insecurities—everything….

…. [Schiff relates a prank, involving an "innocent young actress", that Rydell played on a film preview audience.] Innocent young actresses, needless to say, have to watch out for guys like that: I wasn't surprised to hear Bette Midler … say that she had felt uncomfortable and even embarrassed when she first watched her performance in The Rose. "I don't imagine myself that way at all," she said. "I guess I think of myself as tall and pretty, and more dignified." Midler hasn't yet developed the techniques experienced actors use to protect themselves on screen, to make their meanness less unattractive, their anguish less ignoble. Throwing herself at men, spouting obscenities with an unseemly gusto, clunking across the stage in a passable imitation of Donald Duck in high dudgeon, Midler doesn't know when she's looking grotesque or coarse or stupid up there. And so she winds up looking grotesque and coarse and stupid quite often. She may play a scene impishly, but it's cut and shot to make her look like a braying harlot; she goes for pathos and the filmmakers go for hysteria.

“Rydell can't stop taunting his star. And though The Rose may often seem as if it's about Janis Joplin, Rydell reserves some of his sharpest digs for Midler herself. Surely the New York drag bar to which Rose and Forrest repair in one episode is Midler's turf, not Joplin's…. Midler joins [Rose's] lookalike … [onstage, where] they are quickly surrounded by a corps of screeching transvestites … [T]he scene becomes a baroque satire of femininity itself, and Midler the central attraction in a sideshow of hags. Later, when she chases Forrest into a men's steam bath … we can't help remembering Midler's own beginnings as a cabaret performer at the Continental Baths … [LO a little]

“These scenes seem to be straining to say something about what it means to be a star and a sex symbol, and so does one of the concert scenes, in which Rose delivers a delicious monologue on how it's a raw deal to be a woman, sitting at home with the pots and pans, waiting for your man. The irony, of course, is that the lady speaking those lines hasn't seen a pot or pan in years and is, in her way, about as typical a woman as Cleopatra. This is a real dilemma for artists working in a democratic medium like rock 'n' roll…. Rudge [her manager] takes Rose to visit a legendary-country singer named Billy Ray …, one of whose songs she's covered on her last album. Billy Ray snubs her; in his eyes, she's a floozy and an imposter, and the pain and vunerability Midler conveys in this scene are among the most eloquent statements on the precariousness of fame that I've ever witnessed.

‘The Rose is strange that way. Before your eyes, it leaps over its own fatuities, winding up closer to the way life feels on the rock 'n' roll trail than any fiction film ever has….

“Forrest is so terrific he almost steals the picture from Midler…. Undoubtedly, though, the film is Midler's, and if her character's swings in mood (from girlish spite to girlish acquiescence) are sometimes hard to believe, her concert performances are utterly convincing. Rose may be on the skids, but, unlike Kris Kristofferson in A Star Is Born, when she climbs up on that stage, we know why millions adore her. The Rose ranks with The Last Waltz and The Buddy Holly Story in the way it captures the aura of rock performance….

“Is it Bette Midler on the stage or Janis Joplin? The Rose is an unstable compound of the two personalities, but the filmmakers roundly deny that their story's about Joplin at all…. [Rydell], Midler, and producer Marvin Worth all insist that … the current Rose is a mishmash of Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, even Judy Garland. True, Midler onstage employs an incredible array of gestures--not just Joplinesque gropes and foot-stomps but also Mick Jagger prances and headtosses, Joe Cocker spasms and Patti Smith catatonia. That voice, however, that croaking, fogged-out voice--that sounds like Janis to me. (Midler avows it's her imitation of Sam Cooke.) It's not expressive, and sometimes Midler seems to be concentrating so hard on it that she loses touch with the rest of her performance. No matter: the voice is harsh and poignant and convincing. As a movie, The Rose may collapse beneath all those cliches, but Midler deosn't; she gets at the truth behind them. It is lonely at the top. In Midler's scuffed-up warble, you can hear the pain of that discovery, the hurt of every fame-crazy rock 'n' roller who's ever hit the big time only to realize that you're never famous enough.’

Stephen Schiff
Boston Phoenix, November 13, 1979

David Thomson

“The Rose … is not a great film. It offended some people because it was not competely Janis Joplin, because the music was not always "authentic," and because the atmosphere at the concerts was "wrong." No matter. Bette Midler--who was nominated for best actress Oscar in what was really her debut--was remarkable: without ever being conventionally beautiful as movies measure that myth, she was pretty, appealing, sexy, needy, disturbing, and repellent. There was a commitment to the performance and the singing that legitimately carried the film. To be so good so far out on a limb is a way of indicating how "uncastable" a player may be. Ms. Midler ran into very difficult times from which she has only emerged as a comic, camp gorgon--often very funny, and usually defiantly likeable. But ther is a hurt in her cocky grin, as if to say we have let the rose wither. . . .

David Thomson
A Biographical Dictionary of Film
Third Edition, p. 508

David Denby

‘…. A southern white woman who talked dirty onstage, [Janis Joplin] begged the audience for love in tones so palpably erotic that not even a child could have misunderstood what was going on. Her scared, acid-toned singing was a paradox of tortured phrasing and uncanny breath control. Flinging her head back, she sang rock blues not as a dignified protest against pain but as an outraged demand for release. Audiences knew what had produced that mesmerizing voice: The booze-and-drug-shadowed private life, notoriously a mess, became a rather sinister public propery, enjoyed by everyone …. [Joplin] was a woman trying to get away with a male star's swashbuckling style. By the end, Joplin had become both victim and monster, both rock martyr and old-fashioned, tantrummy, self-destructive star.

“…. The filmmakers seem eager to show up Janis/Rose as egocentric, helpless, pathetically lost: they want to punish her even though she's dead. And they've got a star, desperate to act, who goes along with that strategy: In her screen debut, Bette Midler does enough masochistic wallowing to make Susan Hayward's tear-drenched sufferings in the fifties seem restrained by comparison. Yet there are moments of tenderness and warmth in Midler's performance, and the movie as a whole is ennobled by the gallantry of a life lived at the extremes ….

“…. [T]he picture is hell to sit through …. In the concert scenes, which should release the tensions built up in us by all the bickering and suffering, we can see Bette Midler struggling hard to sing in a style alien to her, and so our emotions stay earthbound….

“Lurid and synthetically plotted … The Rose nevertheless captures something grimly fascinating--the desperation of a woman who needed to get high, stay high, and then jerk herself up, when she was past the point of exhaustion, to still another high. "Drug, sex, rock and roll!" chants Rose at a concert, and Midler's performance shows you the hell of a life in which nothing else matters. What a storm of acting! Midler loads her own brassy, elbow-swinging, big-mama sluttishness on top of Janis's childlike egocentricity, and the results are emotionally kaleidoscopic, draining, yet clear as a series of trumpet blasts. A natural actress who puts her whole body into every emotion, she's temperamentally drawn to very broad effects. When she tells someone off, she thrusts her jaw out, her eyes flash murderously, and she bites off the profanities as if snapping celery sticks with her teeth. When she goes slack, she really goes slack--the jaw crumbles, the eyes fill with tears, and mascara runs down her face in thick black stripes. A lot of the time Midler looks awful, partly because she doesn't have the training to protect herself against the camera and partly because she doesn't want to protect herself. Instead, she wants to make you feel her pain--at the risk of leaving you appalled.

“I usually resent an actor or actress who grabs me by the collar, but I was still amazed by Midler's power. Like earlier singers who became actresses (Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli), Midler seems to have none of the inhibitions that trained actresses usually have. There's a startling sequence in which she revs herself up in front of a mirror before a concert: Beating her fists rhythmically against her body, she gasps with every blow, until, at the climax, her eyes, which have been tightly shut, suddenly pop open in terror, like the eyes of someone in a demonic-possession movie. But of course this is a domonic-possession movie. Midler's Rose may be too drunk to walk, but when she comes out onstage and the crowd roars, she goes into a full-bodied vamp, shoulders twitching, breasts swatting the air--the transformation is exciting even after you've seen it three or four times. Midler's singing, however, is a bit of a letdown. Forcing her voice, lurching around the stage, sigging whiskey from bottles, she roughens her camp cabaret style as much as she can. Considered by itself, her singing is very good--it's only in comparison with Janis Joplin's death-defying wail that it seems tame, smoothly professional, soul-by-rote.

“Midler's acting keeps slamming across one of the screenwriters' points about Rose--that she feels everything more intensely than other people, and her lack of measure makes her both a great performer and an awful human being. The filmmakers never quite decide if she's more a victim or a victimizer, but they make her helpless before her contradictory impulses (she is vile to people, then immediately repents) and uncontrollably whorish, needing to attract men everywhere as an emblem of her power and then driving them away when they want to claim some part of her life. The harsh combativeness of these scenes gets awfully wearisome ….

“Frederic Forrest … is a revelation …. The wily, super-relaxed Forrest … steals scenes just by tossing off happy comments out of the corners of his mouth; he makes being straight in the middle of a crazy situation appear very glamorous indeed ….

“Having created Rose as a self-flagellating whirlwind, the filmmakers seems mesmerized by her--they forget to create much else. There's almost not feeling for the sixties atmosphere … Nor do we ever find out how Rose/Janis became so inexorably locked into disaster. She isn't, in any significant way, understood; she is simply presented, in all her misery and glory, as a baffling and infinitely moving human possibility.”

David Denby
New York, November 19, 1979

Stanley Kauffmann

“She's a lot better when she doesn't act. More accurately, she's better when she's Bette Midler than when, as in The Rose, she's doing a hyped-up Janis Joplin rerun….”

Stanley Kauffmann
New Republic, date ?
review of Divine Madness

Stephen Farber

“…. At first glance Rose (Bette Midler), a boozing, burned-out rock star, may seem to be a more aggressive firebrand than the wronged heroines of Back Street or Madame X. It's true that she talks dirty and pursues sex brazenly. But underneath her tough exterior, she's just a sad, lost, lonely girl looking for love.

“…. [Rose] does shoot up by herself in a moment of despair, but the melodramatic plotting shifts too much of the responsibility away from Rose. She's portrayed as a victim pure and simple, and although a lot of women who feel mistreated by men may identify with her plight, there's something uncomfortably masochistic and self-pitying about the fantasies that this film feeds.

“My own feeling is that this subtle whitewashing of Rose's character makes her considerably less interesting than the real Janis Joplin. Self-destructive performers seize the public's imagination because they take enormous risks and break taboos. If they destroy themselves in this fearless pursuit of danger, at least they burn with a certain majesty. But majesty is the one quality that Rose does not have: She's too pathetic to suggest the courage of the self-destructive artist.

“…. The performances are first rate…. And although Bette Midler is not yet a subtle or polished actress, she generates a raw power, especially when she's singing; her intensity singes the screen.

In terms of craftmanship The Rose is admittedly impressive. The only thing missing is substance. . . . [A]ll they've [the filmmakers] have succeeded in creating is a slick, shallow sudser--Stella Dallas for the freaked-out audiences of the eighties.

Stephen Farber
New West, what date? what date?