BootLeg Betty

BetteBack November 25, 1979: Midler Film Most Controversial Of The Year

Pacific Stars And Stripes
November 25, 1979

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HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — By any measure “The Rose,” a quasi biography of rock star Janis Joplin, should be the most controversial Hollywood movie of the year.

It stars entertainer Bette Midler, famed for her vulgarities in concerts, in the title role and she is virtually assured of an Academy Award nomination and perhaps the Oscar itself.

“The Rose” is a scuzzy story of the thrills and tragedy of the 1970s drug culture replete with heroin, speed, booze, sexual promiscuity, lesbianism and brutality caught up in the driving beat of rock.

The soaring heights of rock stardom as experienced by the character of Rose is accompanied by utter degradation of the human spirit. The gutter patois of the characters spews forth like emanations from the sewer.

Yet the music is perhaps the best rock ever blasted in motion picture theaters with Midler delivering a bravura performance both as singer and actress equal to or surpassing Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.”

The man responsible for “The Rose” is Mark Rydell, the innovative director of “The Fox” and “Cinderella Liberty.” He employed several of the world’s great cinematographers in the film — Vilmost Zsigmond, Haskell Wexler, Laszlo Kovaks, Conrad Hall and Bob Burns.

Rydell is an intense, hyperactive former actor who was, curiously qualified to direct the film. “Having been through the drug culture as a musician and now as the father of young children, I believe this is really an anti-drug picture,” he said.

“I’m opposed to drug use. ‘The Rose’ reflects that. There is certainly the spirit of Janis Joplin in this film. It retains her deprived background, the wish for approval of the multitudes and the price she paid.

“The picture was conditioned and inspired by Joplin’s life but it had to be fictionalized or else I’d have been stuck with a biography and all the restrictions that would have necessitated.

“Rose reflects the background of other top rock stars and many superstars. She deals with the same sort of conflicts that faced Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Jimmy Dean, Montgomery Clift and Jimi Hendrix.

“They were driven, obsessed to fill the bottomless pit of ego gratification.

“I acted in a live TV show for ‘Omnibus’ with Jimmy Dean before he came to Hollywood. We were walking down Madison Avenue one day and he leaped out in the street where the buses were hurtling by at 40 miles an hour.

“He took off his coat and handled it like a bullfighter’s cape as a bus came down on him, executing a veronica. The bus barely grazed him. He wanted the rarified space of danger, a need for the ultimate experience.

“All these people are doomed, consumed by a desire for people to know they are present and appreciated in the world. It’s almost suicidal.”

Rydell was offered the screenplay of “The Rose” eight years ago, at which time the director said only Bette Midler could play the part.

At that time 20th Century-Fox was not interested in Midler.

“I walked away from the project,” Rydell said. “Fox wanted to use an established actress and then dub in a singing Voice. They tried several other directors before coming back to me two years ago. ”

“By that time I’d done ‘Cinderella Liberty,’ using Marsha Mason in her first major screen role. Marsha won an Oscar nomination. Maybe that convinced Fox I could do the same with Midler.”

“I’d seen Bette in concerts and on TV and was convinced she was right for this part. She had director approval and we met in Chicago to size each other up.”

“The first thing I said to her was, ‘This must be very awkward for you’ — meaning sort of auditioning. And she said, ‘It must be awkward for you, too’ — implying the same thing. The mutual sensitivity made it work for us both.”

“As a director, working with Bette was like turning the ignition on a finely tuned Ferrari. She has all the equipment. All you have to know is which buttons to push.”

“There were some difficult moments. I told Bette she had to visit some places inside herself that were very painful to her. She begged me not to make her deal with her own deep loneliness and the pain she’d lived with as a child.”

“Bette didn’t want to go into the battlefields of her subconsciousness. But she committed herself to those black areas she had been trying to forget for all of her 32 years.

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