Drama starring Bette Midler
as a singer with a self-destructive personality.
Stars: Bette Midler, Alan Bates, Frederic Forrest, Harry Dean Stanton
Director: Mark Rydell
Midler turns in a magnificent performance as a dissipated, Janis Joplin-like rock
singer. Exhausted from touring, Rose (Midler) tells her manager (Alan Bates) that
she wants a year off to rest, and when he resists, the singer goes into a tailspin.
One night she picks up Dyer (Frederic Forrest), a chauffeur, and embarks on the
most fulfilling romance of her life. Dyer cannot deal with the penalties of fame
that come with Rose's success, however, and eventually he leaves her to her music.
A triumphant performance before a hometown audience turns out to be her last as
the troubled singer resorts to a fatal combination of booze and drugs. Midler
successfully brings her charged stage persona to the screen, presenting a convincing
portrait of the backstage life of a rock 'n' roll performer. Forrest, as the chauffeur,
and Harry Dean Stanton, in a cameo as a country singer, add an earthy contrast
to the glamorous aspects of rock stardom. Only Bates is wasted in a relatively
minor role as the manager whose hunger for success is greater than Rose can handle.
sex and rock 'n' roll," shouts Bette Midler as THE ROSE, a rock superstar
of the '60s. Rose is
clearly based on the late Janis Joplin, although the makers of the movie will
contend that she's really an amalgam of several of the self-destructing deities
of the cultural revolution, such as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. But the tripartite
manifesto that Rose hurls into the hysterical audience at one of her lumpen-Dionysiac
concerts has special relevance for a woman, and Janis Joplin was the one woman
who attained the mythic power and pa thos of the great male rock stars. Almost
certainly Joplin's friends, associates and many of her old fans will accuse "The
Rose" of distortion, sentimentality, vulgarization and other crimes. They
will not be entirely wrong, and yet Mark Rydell's film has a certain coarse, splashy
integrity. And it has a remarkable, going- all-the-way performance by Bette Midler
in her first movie.
understands that going all the way is the whole point about Rose. When she sings,
in the concert sequences that 'are the best ever in a fiction film (much better
than the ones in Streisand's "A Star Is Born"), she takes a number like
"When a Man Loves a Woman" or "Sold My Soul to Rock'n' Roll"
and wrenches it out of her guts, her chest, her mouth, in twisting screeches of
ravaged melody. Midler isn't a rock 'n' roller, she's not a blues belter, she's
a cunning theatrical musician who can embody and personify a style. She captures
the exultant anguish of Janis Joplin much more successfully than Diana Ross, a
great singer, captured the quality of Billie Holiday in "Lady Sings the Blues."
Rose's concerts, with their freaked-out fans and the star's saturnalian gyrations
onstage, become scary metaphorical gang- bangs in which thousands of delirious
-"communicants-of both sexes-trample over a very young woman who needs love
the way : a desert needs water.
The film never really tries to investigate this searing, consuming need; the
entire movie is really the long coda in the life of Rose, whose current tour is
taking her back to a climactic concert in her Florida hometown, where she passed
an unhappy childhood and which she's now going to wow with her superstardom The
stops on the tour become a kind of profane Stations of the Cross; Rose is acting
out the passion of a sacrificial deity in the rock culture of the '60s. Rose wants
to let the cup pass; tired, hungry, beat and blotto from her performing and her
boozing, she wants to take a year off from the killing rites of rock, but the
imperatives of the superstar business, in the person of her English manager Rudge
(Alan Bates), won't let her stop. So we see this hippie-freak queen, with her,ratty
blond curls, her extravagant costumes, her gaily obscene language, swirled about
in a maelstrom from her private plane to the limos to the stinko bars and bleak
coffee shops, where her adulation by the freaks and rejection by the squares add
up to the same desolation of spirit.
movie's main fault is that we never see the vision that keeps her going. Dyer,
the Texas stud (well played by Frederic Forrest), doesn't have the dimension to
convince us of Rose's ineradicable need for him. Rudge (who has saved Rose from
her early heroin addiction) is also unconvincing as a bad-guy/good-guy embodiment
of rock-business greed. More seriously, we don't see the roots of Rose's passion
for music. The film evades the race question; instead of the blacks from whom
Rose- Janis derived her musical impulse, we are given a scene in which Harry Dean
Stanton Ias a white country singer angrily tells Rose he doesn't want her recording
his songs. And the bisexuality of Rose-Janis is also inadequately handled in a
weak scene in which a Vassar type from Rose's past turns up to nuzzle her. But
Bette Midler gives us Rose complete with flower and thorns. It's a fevered, fearless
portrait of a tormented, gifted, homely, sexy child-woman who sang her heart out
until it exploded. Midler~s performance is an event to be experienced.
Tom Allen, Publication
a vibrantly joyous revelation very early in The Rose. Bette Midler is playing
a composite superstar of
the '60s, loosely modeled on 'Janis Joplin. The woman, called Rose, is on a boozing
jag away from a tyrannical manager when she ducks into one of her old haunts down
in the meat-packing district. Emcee Michael Greer darkens the stage with a hush
impossible love affair on the run wIth Frederic Forrest's remarkable incarnation
of quiet, tolerant, redneck machismo. And, of course, there are the 10 or so concert
numbers casting Midler in the torchy Joplin hell-bent mold. Each time the wild
adulation of the '60s rock-concert experience flows on stage, Rose opens up for
an orgasmic affair with the microphone.
The Rose is ragged, and hysterically filled with every cliche about the rock media
crucible from Payday through The Way of the World, but it has a charismatic screen
pre~ence in Bette Midler. The mov- ie also has an uncanny paradox going for it
that transforms the tragic into the ex- hilarating and that won't hurt its box
office. The Rose inverts Judy Garland's A Star Is Born. We knew Judy was killing
herself when she was telling us that Vicki ~ester was conquering the world. Here,
the Rose dies. but Bette Midler's star is born., and then appears as a drag Rose
in a parody of wailing, rock blues. Rose is enticed on stage and into a duet.
A trio of Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, and Mae West impersonators slink out of
the wings, and the quintet explodes into a rambunctious chorus.
Midler, in her goodbye to camp and hello to stardom, is vastly enjoying herself.
Winging off a torch song and convulsed in laughter, she's a fully alive, incandescent
performer consuming the spotlight. The Rose is telling us that Bette is the new
first lady of song. And I buy it. Midler is more of a screen natural than her
peers. The Rose neither elevates her in intellectualized professionalism, like
Streisand in Funny Girl, nor debases her in melodramatized bathos, like Ross in
Lady Sings the Blues. The movie, capturing the frenetic chaos of a live concert,
conveys the spectacle of a. raw, unprotected icon fearlessly burning its own shrine
on the screen.
Rydell's film is far from a smooth launching debut, but I have to give it credit
for rewarding an actress with the type of grand gestures usually reserved for
male juggernauts, like Scott in Patton, De Niro in Taxi Driver, and Pacino in
Dog Day Afternoon. Midler is fixed in a tragic bind from the opening minutes and
forced to be "on" for every scene. The four points of her lethal compass
are liquor, drugs, a stardom that drains her energies, and a past anonymity locked
in ugly-duckling nightmares of sexual exploitation. The Rose kills herself ( a
little every time she connects with one of these points, and most of all when
she brawls with her mephistophelian manager, Alan Bates.. But there are brief,
invigorating highs also, and most of these are focused in an impossible love affair
on the run with Frederic Forrest's remarkable incarnation of quiet, tolerant,
redneck machismo. And, of course, there are the 10 or so concert numbers casting
Midler in the torchy Joplin hell-bent mold. Each time the wild adulation of the
'60s rock-concert experience flows on stage, Rose opens up for an orgasmic affair
with the microphone.
Rose is ragged, and hysterically filled with every cliche about the rock media
crucible from Payday through The Way of the World, but it has a charismatic screen
presence in Bette Midler. The movie also has an uncanny paradox going for it that
transforms the tragic into the exhilarating and that won't hurt its box office.
The Rose inverts Judy Garland's A Star Is Born. We knew Judy was killing herself
when she was telling us that Vicki Lester was conquering the world. Here, the
Rose dies, but Bette Midler's star is born.
Producers haven't flinched from picking the scabs off
the body of 1960s rock-and-roll. While there are certainly
similarities to the tragic story of Janis Joplin, The Rose emerges as its own
What's puzzling is that the screenwriters have
chosen to dwell solely on the downward career spiral of Bette Midler's character,
known on and off-stage as The Rose.
Revolving around the star are various
satellites, including boyfriend Frederic Forrest, manager Alan Bates and road
manager Barry Primus.
Result is an ultra-realistic look at the infusion
of money, sex, drugs and booze into the simple process of singing a song, a chore
Midler does faultlessly in several excellent concert sequences.
initial impact of singer Bette Midler as a performer and actress is undoubtably
sensational in the opening sequences of The Rose. It must be added that, at well
over two hours of film, you may find Ms Midler at full throttle in this kind of
drama a trifle wearing, as with the film, a powerful no-holds-barred portrait
of a rock star of the Sixties (supposedly modelled on Janis Joplin). She's on
the run from drink and drugs and vainly seeking either stability in her life or
respite from the constant strain. Little concession is made to the period, particularly
in the star's frothy hairdo, yet the film remains an unforgettable if draining
experience, thanks to its supercharged star, who was nominated for an Oscar.
Siskel, The Chicago Tribune, 9 November 79.
Good Bette, an old story
Midler is very impressive in her feature film debut as a rock singer caught in
the fast lane of drugs and death. She's always compelling, never boring, and she
plays the part without ever once breaking character and playing her own stage
persona as "the Divine Miss M." As for the film, well, let's face it:
At its heart, "The Rose" is a routine show biz saga of the lonely life
at the top of the heap. It perpetuates the myth that a successful female entertainer
must be a hard woman who's unlucky in love. And so we follow Midler on the all-too-predictable
path of rejection by men, acceptance by the crowd, still more rejection by men,
and the descent into the hell of booze and smack. Yes, you've seen this story
before, but you haven't seen Midler perform it.
role is quite close to Janis Joplin, the Texas blues-rock singer who died of a
heroin overdose in 1971 at age 27. Joplin was a flower child who impressed young
white people with her willingness to slug it out with the best of the black-dominated
blues field. She sure could scream, and her penchant for swilling Southern Comfort
during a concert only added to her sweet-but-tough-mama image. Midler plays a
character nicknamed "Rose." She hails from a poor part of Miami. She,
too, has that captivating energy. As the film opens, she stumbles off a private
jet carrying her on tour. She's apparently bombed out of her mind on booze, and
her bearded, Mephisto-like English manager (Alan Bates) gives her a knowing look.
He's a macho shepherd holding together this fragile star out of the goodness of
his bank balance. A great moment in the film occurs when we see Midler backstage
for the first time. Just before going onstage she does some deep breathing exercises
that sound like a long-distance runner hyperventilating. Actually it's a scary
moment. For the first time in a backstage story we get a sense of just how physically
tough the entertainment business really is.