Films, TV, and Theatre


Art Or Bust (1984)

Stars: Bette Midler, The Harlettes
Director: Thomas Schlamme

People Magazine

As 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.

Rolling Stone Magazine

Strutting 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").

Not 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.

After 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 snaps.

Entertainment Weekly

She 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


Bette 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."