Mary Rose Foster aka The Rose ( Bette Midler ) gives a tour de force performance in Mark Rydell's 1979 movie of the same name, which the Criterion Collection has just released in a new, remastered version. The Rosea fictional queen of rock loosely based on Janis Joplinis a cyclone of conflicted feelings as she embarks on what will prove to be her final concert tour, ending up in her hometown.
Joplin often cited not just the commanding presence and blues wail of Bessie Smith as an inspiration but also her hard-living, take-no-prisoners lifestyle. Smith's stormy life is chronicled in Dee Rees' biopic Bessie ( now playing on HBO ), starring Queen Latfiah, who is tremendous in the title role. Smith's forthright bisexuality was also embraced by Joplin ( Going Down with Janis, by her female lover Peggy Caserta, was a must-read for Our People back in the day. ) The Rose, too, has her own lady-in-waitinga prim, English lass who uses a sensual shampoo as an attempt at seduction and turns her nose up at The Rose's latest male conquest when he walks in on the women.
That scene, Midler reveals in a new interview included among the special features in Criterion's Blu-ray of the film, was unfamiliar territory for her. It was also one of the few aspects of the character that didn't harken back to her own life, so closely does Bo Goldman's rewrite job on the script weave in aspects of Midler's curious path to fame. For example, when The Rose and her new beaua down-to-earth chauffeur ( a marvelously understated Frederic Forrest ) who is AWOL from the Armyvisit a drag bar, Midler's rise to prominence via her gay bathhouse and bar gigs can't help but underscore the scene.
This segment is just one of the film's many electrifying sequences. ( It offers a rare glimpse of disco singer Sylvester, who impersonates Diana Ross. ) And in a movie filled with more than its share of melodramatic ups and downsmostly downsit's blissfully joyful. As the camera whirls around the room, capturing both the performers and the patrons ( a delightful collection of freaks and geeks ) galvanized by the music and the shared camaraderie, the feeling of outsiders united in a fabulous and shared secret underworld is palpable. There it was on the screen more than 35 years ago for all the world to seethe exhilaration of a gay drag bar in all its unapologetic glory. That's one of the reasons why The Rose remains such a singular movie.
The first and foremost reason, of course, is Midler's sensational, powerhouse performance ( which, as I've stated in print at least a dozen times, should have netted her the Best Actress Oscar for which she was nominated ). The movie, directed with a tremendous feel for the rock 'n' roll mileu it artfully captures, was helmed by Mark Rydell. He guided Midler to what remains her crowning movie achievement ( and in 1991 he would guide her to her second-best performance in the underrated For the Boys ). This remastered edition looks spectacular. For the uninitiated, familiar only with Midler's comedies and delightful onstage antics, it will be a revelation. It's available now.
Speaking of bisexuality…
Jack Black and James Marsden play a nebbish loser and the dreamy object of his obsession in Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel's very dark comedy The D Train.
Taking charge of his 20-year high school reunion, Black and his cohorts aren't having much luck convincing their former classmates to join. But when Black spots Marsden ( who was the class jock ) in a suntan lotion commercial, he decides that getting him to the reunion will convince everyone else to attend and in the process elevate his own popularity. What ensues is a bromance that goes beyond bromance when, after a drug-fueled night on the town, Black and Marsden hook up.
The movie has gotten a fair amount of critical drubbing for not being laugh-out-loud funnya valid criticismbut that view doesn't take into consideration the film's fascinating central focus on Black's discovery that his sexual boundaries aren't what he always assumed and that the hook up is presented without the usual gay panic. The movie, from IFC Films, is now in theaters. http://www.d-trainmovie.com/
The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name
That's the name of a new film series devoted to Victorian era queer themed movies. The Queer Film Society ( of which I'm president ) and the Chicago Public Library are presenting a quartet of movies the first four Mondays in June at the Bezazian branch, 1226 W. Argyle Ave., at 6 p.m. as a celebration of Pride month.
The screenings include 1945's classic The Picture of Dorian Gray; the 2009 Italian lesbian romance Purple Sea; 1995's Total Eclipse, with Leonardo DiCaprio and David Thewlis as lovers; and 1997's Wilde with Stephen Fry as author ( and gay icon ) Oscar Wilde and Jude Law as his petulant lover. The screenings are free. http://queerfilmsociety.org/pages/events.html#event2
Upcoming movie calendar
Highlights from films opening in Chicago, May 22 and May 29 ( or available digitally )
Beautiful Boxer ( 5/21 )The fifth annual Cinema Q film series continues at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington ST., with a rare screening of 2023's Beautiful Boxer, the jaw-dropping true story of the transgender Thai kickboxer Nong Toom. The Queer Film Society, Reeling, the Legacy Project and the Chicago Cultural Center are presenting the film. http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/cinema_q.html
I'll See You In My Dreams ( 5/22 )Blythe Danner takes center stage in this story of a widow who improbably finds herself choosing between two suitorsher young pool boy and a courtly gentleman she meets at the retirement center home of her best friends. Sam Elliott, Mary Kay Place, Rhea Perlman and June Squibb costar.
Tomorrowland ( 5/22 )This sci-fi mystery from Disney Studios is purportedly based on their same-named theme park area. George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie and Kathryn Hahn co-star.
Poltergeist ( 5/22 )"They're here…" said little Carol Ann in Tobe Hooper's 1982 paranormal suburban mystery thriller that Steven Spielberg produced. Now, they've been reimagined in what is reportedly a much darker vision of the original. Sam Rockwell, Jared Harris and Rosemarie Witt co-star. Zelda Rubinstein's character, the diminutive psychic Tangina, has morphed into several different characters.
San Andreas ( 5/29 )The disaster epic, one of my favorite guilty pleasure genres, strikes again with this man-vs.-the-elements big-budget schlock. Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino head the cast.
Saint Laurent ( 5/29 )It's a biopic ( the second in the past year ) of the young gay design wunderkind Yves Saint Laurent, who took the fashion world by storm and whose sexual and drug indulgences later threatened to engulf him and the relationship with his business partner and lover.
Unfreedom ( 5/29 )Director Raj Amit Kumars's debut, which features a lesbian love story set against the background of a terrorist plot, has been banned in India, Kumars's home country, so that it won't "ignite unnatural passions." The film plays in theaters and will be available VOD. The movie's website contains a link to a Kickstarter campaign and a petition to lift the ban and show the film in India. www.unfreedommovie.com/