Or Bust (1984)
Midler, The Harlettes
Director: Thomas Schlamme
fine a song interpreter as there is in this country, Bette Midler
remains something of a puzzle. Given the range of her talent-
singer, comedienne, actress, raconteur- she seems oddly overlooked
by a public that ought to be hungering for this sort of entertainment.
Art or Bust won't provide any answers to this puzzle, because
here she's dazzling as ever, singing splendidly, cracking wise
and bawdy at every turn, demonstrating impeccable timing and pacing
throughout the set. Moreover, director Thomas Schlamme hasn't
settled for your average concert video setup: at key moments he
employs some wonderfully-conceived computer animation to augment
Midler's performance, and he's also included, as a bit of perspective,
footage from Midler's final performance at the Conti- nental Baths
in 1971 and a segment from Midler's appearance on a 1973 telethon
for Israel (in which Midler offers, for a $5000 donation, to "drop
my dress for Israel"). Midler herself makes this concert
video especially satisfying, but the judiciously used special
effects and found footage place Art or Bust a cut above the standard
fare in this genre. -D.M.
beneath a pcasso-esque set and wearing more pastel schmattes than
a kindergarten class,
Bette Midler brought her thirty-five- dollar-a-seat stage show
to New York'~ Radio City Music Hall last month. Ably supported
by the vampy Harlettes and a six-piece band led by Bobby 41e,
Midler camped, her way through a two- and-a-half hour performance
full of torchy songs and tacky jokes. There were riffs on Jane
Fonda ("Did you ever think she would embrace capitalism with
such fer- vor?"), video recorders ("I don't know the
difference betWe~n a VCR and an IUD. And my friends say I should
find out soon") and home computers ("I got into show
business so I wouldn't have to be a data processor").
to mention some first-class singing. The Roll ing Stones' "Beast
of Burden" emerged as a vigorous declaration, and Peter Gabriel's
"Here Comes the Flood" was witty and moving at the same
time. Marshall Crenshaw fans blanched a bit at her cover of "You're
My Favorite Waste of Time," but who could complain about
the return of the world's worst lounge singer, Delores Del Lago
? She, along with her three sisters, dressed up as mermaids and
cruised about the stage in wheelchairs singing "We Are Family"
in a tribute to the death of disco.
the show, patrons headed for a fancy-pants party at Club A, where
Bette sliced a Fiorucci-fashioned cake ("I like this part,"
she said, giggling), twirled on the dance floor and posed for
starts by singing the definitive version of "Don't Look Down"
in a big, boxy, red minidress, then out comes
the mermaid costume again. Ignore the Devo-esque choreography
and savor her singing "Chattanooga Choo Choo" in a New
York bathhouse, circa 1971, and flirting with the audience during
a United Jewish Appeal Telethon: "Thank you, thank you, and
kiss my tuchis." B
Midler performs live at the University of Minnesota. Set against
a renaissance art background, the program features "The Divine
Miss M" in a variety of colorful costumes. Titles featured
include "The Rose," as well as songs from her latest
album, "No Frills."