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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Lady Sings the Blues (Recommended)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Scott Kimball, Dec 8, 2005.

  1. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

    May 8, 2000
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    Lady Sings the Blues - Special Collector's Edition

    Studio: Paramount

    Year: 1972

    Rated: R

    Length: 143 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, Anamorphically Enhanced

    Audio: Dolby Digital English 5.1, English Mono

    English Subtitles

    Closed Captioned

    Special Features: Commentary, Featurette: Behind the Blues, 7 Deleted Scenes

    Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 USD

    Release Date: November 8, 2005

    My apologies for the lateness of this review.

    Lady Sings the Blues is a biopic much more notable for the incredible film debut of Diana Ross than it is any semblance of a true story. The script hits some of the high points, and low points, of Billie Holiday’s life, but it takes a lot of dramatic license and leaves out many darker aspects of the singer’s life, as well.

    Starting with her life as a teen as she first discovers music, the story follows the girl through her life of poverty - sugar coating her early work as a teenaged prostitute. She quickly meets Louis McKay (much more quickly in the film than in life). McKay (Billy Dee Williams) was a mafia enforcer - a fact barely brought to light in the film. In real life, Holiday was married at least once to a band member (perhaps twice) before meeting McKay. While there are hints at promiscuous behavior with the band in the film, there is no mention of a marriage, and only hints at anything else.

    What seems to get a lot of coverage is Holiday’s drug addiction. In the film, her addiction began on the road with the band, though it is far more likely that her addiction began during her work as a prostitute than while on the road.

    At any rate, the truth isn’t important for this film to work. Diana Ross portrays Holiday quite believably. And, while not replicating the raspy, bluesy sound of Holiday’s later years, Ross delivers a singing performance that captures the essence of the Blues singer, even if her sound is more gentle and silky. Ross does manage to present a changing voice, representing Holiday’s changing style as drug abuse changed her voice. Ross even delivers much of the phrasing and emotional qualities of Holiday’s limited range. Her performances are not copies of the original - they are reinterpretations that maintain the spirit of the original.

    Ross’s singing isn’t the only thing she brought to the role, either. She delivers an impressive performance throughout the film, with solid support from Williams and from Richard Pryor.

    This is not an uplifting film - how could it be when the primary character was an abused, drug abusing jazz singer who died in her prime? It is, however, compelling entertainment with great music and great performances.

    The film is the finest work of director Sidney J. Furie, backed by producers Berry Gordy, Jay Weston and James S. White. The film received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress, Art Direction, Costume Design, Score and Screenplay.

    The Transfer
    Lady Sings the Blues is presented in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1, and it is anamorphically enhanced.

    The source print used for the transfer is in very nice shape for a film of its age. Only an occasional fleck or scratch is present in the source.

    Grain is present to a mild degree, as intended. Detail is good, if not excellent, delivering a sufficiently sharp image. There are some mild soft focus effects, by design. Contrast is very good - black levels are strong while revealing good shadow detail. Whites are bright and neutral, rarely clipping.

    The photography is warm overall, by design. Colors look good, and are adequately saturated.

    There are no obvious or distracting artifacts from sharpening or compression.

    Overall, an impressive transfer of a 33 year old film.

    The audio is presented in a choice of a mono track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The mono track sounds fine, offering pretty good frequency response and minimal noise. Dialog is always clear and intelligible, and music sounds fine.

    The 5.1 mix is excellent, opening up the music wonderfully, and adding a bit more bass response. Mild surround effects and panning effects are added, as well - but not to the point of sounding forced or faked. I recommend the 5.1 track for the added depth and frequency response in the music, which is so important to this film.

    Special Features

    Commentary by Berry Gordy, Sidney Furie and Shelly Berger

    There are stories behind the casting, performances, music, the genre, shooting schedules, preview audience reactions and more. Of particular note is the historical perspective of the significance of this film as a “black film” in the Seventies. The unusual steps of Motown music tours overseas to coincide with the film’s engagement, and the success of Motown’s promotion for a film which was thought wouldn’t play in markets abroad are also discussed. While not really deep in any one area, this commentary adequately covers a diverse selection of topics.

    Behind the Blues: Lady Sings the Blues (23:05)
    This featurette is not anamorphically enhanced.

    Diana Ross, Suzanne de Passe, Billy Dee Williams, John M. Forbes, Sandra Evers-Manly, and Bob Mackie discuss the film.

    Topics include the transformation of Motown’s biggest star (Ross) into a movie star. It was a tremendous risk for Ross, but one that paid off. Ross talks about “becoming” Billie Holiday. As an untrained actress, she did it her own way. She didn’t try to copy Holiday’s sound, but rather, interpret it.

    Other topics: Furie’s direction, Berry Gordy, Williams’ casting, historical and musical perspective, costume design, improvisation, etc.

    This featurette gives some good perspective on this historic film.

    Deleted Scenes
    7 deleted scenes, totaling approximately twenty minutes. These are from poor quality source prints and are not anamorphically enhanced - but they add some perspective on the film.

    The scenes include:
    Billie’s Party
    Billie and Louis Come Home
    Billie and Harry
    Louis Threatens Harry
    Just Get Some Sleep
    Billie Visits Mama
    Billie Goes to Jail

    A Personal Note
    This is my last official review for the Home Theater Forum. Life and work responsibilities have conspired to make it impossible for me to continue to provide quality reviews in a timely fashion. I’ve enjoyed my tenure here at the Home Theater Forum immensely. During my time here, I reviewed over 200 titles - many of which were films I would not have ever seen if it weren’t for my position as a DVD Reviewer. I look forward to a continued membership here, reading and posting as usual - just not in an official capacity.

    I thank you all for your support. I’ve learned much from the membership, here.

    Final Thoughts
    Lady Sings the Blues is an impressive and entertaining film. Great performances, great music. Paramount offers up a fine transfer of this classic and under-appreciated film - and provides a pretty good assortment of extra features as well.

  2. Felix Martinez

    Felix Martinez Screenwriter

    Aug 27, 2001
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    South Florida
    Great work, as always, Scott. We'll miss your "official" reviews!
  3. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

    Jun 15, 2001
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    Glad to have this film at last. Thanks for your efforts! [​IMG]

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