Blu Reviewed: The Rose - Criterion Collection

This week, Criterion finally released an updated blu-ray of The Rose

"Everyone worship my fro!!!!"
Initially pitched as a straight biopic of the ill-fated late '60s rock star Janis Joplin before director Mark Rydell and newcomer Bette Midler decided to create the fictional character Mary Rose Foster loosely echoing Joplin’s rise and fall through excess, The Rose represents one of the great studies of the life of a rock star in the heat of the moment.  Infusing much of Midler’s own personal history including her entanglements with her domineering manager, life on the road during touring and the difficulty of trying to balance personal and professional lifestyles, The Rose is a galvanizing and at times heartbreaking epic.  More than anything, the film is best remembered as the movie which put Bette Midler on the map as a multitalented singer and actress.  To say Midler’s performance is positively electrifying is an understatement, as the intensely physical and emotional performer owns the stage even if she can’t seem to own control of her own life.  Equally strong in the picture are Alan Bates as her manager who does nothing to stop her self-destruction and Frederic Forrest as a former chauffer who tries to love Mary but can’t seem to shake her thirst for success.  Full of immaculately photographed concert numbers and hard hitting drama, The Rose hits Blu-Ray this week via The Criterion Collection!

The Video
Shot on 35mm film by renowned cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (The Long Goodbye) with the help of Conrad L. Hall (American Beauty) and Owen Roizman (The Exorcist), The Rose has the authentic look and feel of a concert documentary, shot from multiple angles and shifting styles.  The predominant look is intensely grainy and gritty looking, and Criterion has transferred the material to Blu-Ray beautifully with a very filmic looking image.  Colors are rich and seem to pop off the screen during the concert numbers with kaleidoscopic neon lighting before shifting towards grittier vistas of the troubled rocker’s everyday life.  All in all, it’s a flawless looking picture.  Great job, Criterion!

The Audio
Though shot and generally released on 35mm, Criterion has gone with the six-track 70mm blow-up mix for the Blu-Ray and mastered it in DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound.  Given the film’s age and analogous source, some scenes do present their age sonically with analog tape hiss audible on the soundtrack.  That said, the concert scenes no doubt will blow you away and give your home theater quite the workout.  From the extravagant music to the roar of the crowd in attendance, this is a reference quality disc that renders the concert sequences very well.  Dialogue is crisp and clear with Bette Midler’s vocals unhindered by the age of the film.  It really sounds like you’re there once she begins singing.

The Extras
"I'm sooooooo stoned."
Along with an informative audio commentary by director Mark Rydell, we get three newly conducted interviews with Bette Midler, Mark Rydell and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond.  The Rydell interview sheds a lot of light on how the film came to be, how he met Zsigmond on the set of The Long Goodbye and how he himself came to blows with Midler’s manager before helping to launch her Hollywood career.  Midler also has a lot to say about how she developed the character as a cross between herself and Janis Joplin and how much of the roadie life was drawn from her own experiences.  Also included are two vintage newsreels showcasing behind-the-scenes as well as Gene Shalit interviewing Bette Midler.  As always, Criterion has included a lengthy essay in booklet form with select photos.

The Rose is melodramatic and a bit heavy handed at times but overall is a solid rock drama with a larger than life performance by Bette Midler.  She’ll knock you off your feet in this and would also reteam with Rydell years later in For the Boys, marking the beginning of a long and beautiful working relationship.  More than anything, The Rose is closest to Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous for giving an outsider’s point of view of the rock star lifestyle and how easy it is to fall into the pit of excess.

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-Andrew Kotwicki