April 6, 1980
Every so often, along comes a flamboyant performance bY an actor new to the screen which sets everyone raving no matter the quality of the vehicle in which the incandescent apparition makes its bow. Latest to make this kind of debut is the irrepressible Bette Midler.
A name known to followers of jazz and pop music, Miss Midler has been hitting it big for some time in concerts in the U.S A. and some other offshore spots. Her act seems to combine some of the best features of that scene, particularly her own singing when she’s not screaming down the bass guitar in noisy rock, and some of the crass vulgarities of old time burlesque, so outrageous as to be funny anew.
In Britain, she completely captivated audiences for the most popular TV chat show â€” host: Michael Parkinson – with her brashness combined occasionally with a modicum of modesty. Her costume was unbelievable including feathers mounted on the rear which made her look for all the world like a feminine rooster and her line in jokes would send any self-respecting Sunday School teacher diving for cover under the nearest pew.
While overwhelming her host on that show, she nevertheless managed to communicate two things, a natural liveliness, a bouncing baby doll in great contrast to the pallor and the artificiality of the usual pop star, and a healthy recognition of her stage persona as being no more than a well-tailored commercial dressing to establish her in the world of entertainment.
Parkinson asked her to tell a particular joke Oh dear, do I really have to do that, asked she, it’s pretty crude. Oh well, here goes. And the glitter turned on and she went ahead And it was pretty crude. It was also very funny. She then proceeded to try to crawl all over her host which was quite amusing what with her rooster rig and her being so short her feet couldn’t touch the floor when she sat in the guest chair and he being a good six foot plus.
Bette Midler is no beauty. She looks like a plain Barbra Streisand – and you know what Streisand looks like. Midler’s face is perhaps narrower, longer and more horse-like than the other lady and she frames it in hair turned into those permed, or whatever they do to them, strands that wind up looking like a clump of seaweed bleached blonde and light brown; the sort of thing which seems obligatory right now for all singers, male or female, so long as they’ve still
got enough of a curly mop left to do it with.
And she struts in her perilously high heels bringing the similarity to a cock chicken closer This is the image, as carefully designed as let’s say Liza Minelh’s and bidding fair to be equally successful It could not be long therefore before someone would want to launch so exhilarating a new deal on the screen.
The Rose opened in London providing that launching for Miss Midler and. deservedly, every film reviewer fell to the floor in full salaam to welcome a new star into the firmament The vehicle itself was secondary but enough to allow
this bundle of energy to drive it at open throttle all the way. The foot on the pedal showed no sign anywhere of letting up, only the sound of further revving.
The screenplay is said not to be based on the life of Janis Joplin, that cult heroine who eventually burned out in the ashes of. too much dope, loo’much drink, too much hyper-ed living; but it is pretty close to what one might assume to be the sort of path she followed Perhaps one might look at it as a sort of synthesis of all the sing stars who’ve shot in tremendous popularity through their recordings and their appearances and who have become such hot properties that the commercial interests behind them have pushed them beyond the limits of their emotional endurance.
And that is indeed the sentimentality of The Rose underneath Midler’s tough brawling performance Ii presents little more than one more variation on the theme of solitary person rocketed unpreparedly to the heights because of a particular talent, without any personal reserves to fall back on, who is forced to function machinelike while the going is good and the shekels roll in until either the bearings seize or the product loses its sales value.
In terms of plot, “The Rose” does not attempt to put much forward. It introduces us to Rose when she is already at the height of her popularity and has been so for some time Her manager, Roger. (Alan Bates), keeps the bookings flowing from one fest to another and the promotion of the ‘wild’ image He has madeheand owns part of her. contractually and he intends to make every penny he can while shes still on tOP
It does not seem to matter greatly to him that her private life is empty of any sustaining factors, that she has become reliant on all the wrong stimulants and that she is near physical and mental collapse What he does know is that she can t let go of this success either, that she will never chicken out on a professional engagement whatever her state and that her greatest desire is to return to play her home town as a star (After all, she was the sort of girl who, at school, one night took on armorusly the entire school football team.
So this cellulose family circusses across America in the private plane with the Rose Emblem painted on its nose coming closer and closer to The film’s climax which is the show in the home town where we know exactly what will happen. And it does En route, Rose grabs at a happiness attempt with a powerful buck (well played in ultra casual style by Frederic Forrest) an army deserter working temporarily as a chauffeur He s there on and off for a while on the junket.
When he leaves, there’s another similar candidate wait. The progession is sustained by Midler’s Rose, behaviour unpredictable, brawling marvellously, giving back obscenities as good as she gets, screwing her nerves to the pitch, sinking further and further into total exhaustion from which she must rise to project the image of raucous sex to the thousands waiting to mob her in the stadiums and Bowls, reacting from moment to moment, losing herself in the business of recording dates, rehearsals, performances, promotions. The nearest she finally gets back to her family is a phone
call when she persuades her parents not to come to the final concert.
For Miss Midler, however, “The Rose” is a big personal triumph. You go out of the cinema ready to head for the next Bette Midler film. There’s the question. After a debut like this, what can Miss Midler possibly follow with. In this
commercial world, she will undoubtedly be made to follow with something and one can only wish her the sincerest good luck with the second outing.