Judge Brett Cullum is the wind beneath our wings.
"Nothing about Bette Midler is ordinary."
There will never be another woman like her. Around the world, thousands of gay men in gay clubs and cabaret shows dress up like her, and lip-synch her music. She is a beloved homosexual icon of dizzying proportions, due in no small part to the gay men of New York City, who were first to discover the chanteuse as she performed in gay bathhouses for throngs of naked and toweled male audiences. Did Madonna, Barbara Streisand, or Judy Garland ever do that? Hell no. Bette Midler has balls, and those other divas can't even come close. Cher would probably lose in an alley fight with Midler, and I'd say the odds would be even money between her and Tina Turner. She's a tough broad with a big mouth, big nose, big boobs, and an undeniable talent for delivering big ballads. She's kind of like a Jewish Billie Holiday, or a frumpy, Caucasian Nina Simone. She established what would come to be known as "the white woman's blues"—and even though Celine Dion tries, nobody can steal her throne. The Divine Bette Midler is an intimate look at the lady who belted her way from the bathhouse to the silver screen, over a career that has spanned five decades and shows no signs of stopping.
The Divine Bette Midler is a two part A&E special, now presented in its entirety with some extra features. It is an entertaining, in-depth look at Midler, from her childhood in Hawaii to her recent stint in The Stepford Wives. It's full of talking heads, including Midler herself, Danny DeVito, Barry Manilow, Bruce Villanch, Tony Basil, producers, friends, managers, co-stars, and people whom she passed by once on a subway, all yammering away endlessly about the unlikely star who became a phenomenon—and a has-been—several times over. If you're not a major fan, it may well be more Bette than you'd care to see in one sitting, which makes chapter stops a critical DVD feature.
The presentation is what you would expect—fullscreen with a basic stereo mix. You don't need much more than that, but once the music comes on, the thin sound is suddenly revealed as a detriment. One of my major gripes with The Divine Bette Midler is this: there sure is a lot of talking about how wonderfully she sings, but little chance to actually enjoy a song or two in its entirety. To rectify that situation, the producers of the DVD have included three performances of songs as a special feature. You get "From A Distance," "The Wind Beneath My Wings," and "Do You Wanna Dance." They are all presented in the standard stereo of the disc. Also included are "extended" segments with more of the interviews you see in the main program. The problem here is that most of it is rehash—you realize you are watching the same footage from the feature, with just an extra second or two added. But there is a generous amount of the footage, and it plays like a rough cut of the main program.
Fans of Midler will eat this disc up, and people who casually like the singer will learn more than they ever wanted to know. It's a nice look at an incredible career. I wish they had integrated more of what makes Bette Midler special—her singing. I've found her a little too big of a personality for most movies outside of the comedy genre, although I admit she was robbed of an Oscar for her feral performance in The Rose. This documentary seems to spend a little too much time showing clips from well-known movies like Beaches and Ruthless People. There are some more obscure clips, though, such as Midler singing with her castmates from Fiddler on the Roof at the Tony Awards. For the hardcore fan, The Divine Bette Midler is a fitting testament to a woman who knows a brassy voice coupled with a bawdy sense of humor will deliver you from steamy New York basements into the stratosphere of celebrity. I'd say this one's for the fans.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Song Performances: "From A Distance", "Wind Beneath My Wings", and "Do You Wanna Dance?"
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