There are a couple of factors that make LADY SiNGS THE BLUES (1972) and THE ROSE (1980) stand out among the many films past that have used music and tragedy to shape their characters stories. Both revolve around the lives of professional women; each struggling in their respective personal and professional lives. The heroines in LADY SiNGS THE BLUES and THE ROSE are played by real-life singers-turned-actresses who surprised audiences and critics with these debut roles. DiANA ROSS and BETTE MiDLER went on to receive Best Actress nominations, continuing the singer-turned-actress trend.
In LADY SiNGS THE BLUES, DiANA ROSS surprised everyone by trading in the sequin BOB MACKiE gowns and cooing vocals she had gained success with as lead singer of THE SUPREMES. Instead Ross was ready to leave Motown and opt for a more serious reputation as an actress. LADY SiNGS THE BLUES was the perfect vehicle for Ross at the time, who prepared herself to play the real life BiLLiE HOLLiDAY by submerging herself in to HOLLiDAY’s music and life story. Apparently the work paid off well. It’s impressive to watch Ross strip herself of her own glamour girl exterior and wear the notoriously difficult life of BiLLiE HOLLiDAY so effortlessly. And I do love a good transformation. For example, LADY SiNGS THE BLUES opens with HOLLiDAY’S 1947 arrest for narcotics and subsequent admission into an asylum; all the while strung out on heroin. It’s a far cry from HOLLiDAY the performer. Yet, just as Ross was able get raw for the camera, she was equally adept at singing HOLLiDAY’s music and becoming the star. Listen to Ross sing My Man/Mon Homme and you have a different yet equally impressive interpretation of HOLLiDAY’s original. All at once you get a beautiful dose of song and self-destruction combined – thanks to the troubled life that was BiLLiE’s, and the talent that was DiANA ROSS.
Similarly to how Ross lost herself in Billie Holliday’s world of self-destruction and blues, BETTE MiDLER got lost in her own tragic world of showbiz and excess as a rock star on the verge of a nervous breakdown in 1980’s THE ROSE.
By the late 1970’s MiDLER had already established herself a name in the music business. With THE ROSE, MiDLER propelled herself further into the limelight. As The Rose, MiDLER dove deep into the life of a tired rock n’ roll superstar ready to quit the crazy life, that is after one final show in her hometown. And not just any show – this show was meant to be the iN-YOUR-FACE show to all those in her hometown who had stepped on The Rose in her youth. This show was meant to be a vindication yet from the moment we meet The Rose and follow her tumultuous time on and off the stage, you do have to wonder – will she or won’t she get out alive? The Rose is unafraid to self destruct on stage. For example, in The Rose’s final hours, and ironically enough in her final hometown show, she gives the ultimate performance with Stay With Me Baby. Wailing and screeching through every desperate line, its as though she is clinging to any last chance at hope to make it out alive and find some peace of mind. There’s formidable strength in her pain and suffering. Another strong example of how you can combine a tragic heroine with a song and create a beautiful cinematic moment.
Like Ross, MiDLER received a Best Actress nomination but never took it home. Check out these videos below for more on LADY SiNGS THE BLUES and THE ROSE.