Bette Midler exploded onto the screen with her take-no-prisoners performance in this quintessential film about fame and addiction from director Mark Rydell. Midler is the rock-and-roll singer Mary Rose Foster (known as the Rose to her legions of fans), whose romantic relationships and mental health are continuously imperiled by the demands of life on the road. Incisively scripted and beautifully shot—by Vilmos Zsigmond, with assistance on the dazzling concert scenes by a host of other world-class cinematographers, including Conrad L. Hall, László Kovács, Owen Roizman, and Haskell Wexler—this is a sensitively drawn and emotionally overwhelming melodrama that made the popular singer into a movie star as well.
Mark Rydell’s The Rose gets a Blu-ray somewhat surprising upgrade from The Criterion Collection. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz presentation is taken from a new 4K restoration scanned from the original 35mm negative.
When the film opens it looks a little blown out and hazy, looking exactly like what it is, a product of the 70’s, but once we get past the opening credits and into the first concert sequence the presentation turns into an absolute knockout. It’s a very colourful film, particularly the concert sequences, which make use of a variety of coloured lights that includes reds, greens, magentas, yellows, blues and so forth. The colours look pure and accurately rendered, with no notable issues in the reds or any of the brighter colours. Outside of the concert sequences the colours still look rather gorgeous and natural. Black levels are rather rich, looking pure and inky with no signs of crushing.
Though the opening bits may come off a bit hazy, this appears to be intentional. Past this, though, detail is impeccable throughout the remainder of the film. Every nuance of detail shines through, with even long shots of the concert sequences looking spectacular. Film grain remains and is varying degrees of heavy (in his interview on the disc Vilmos Zsigmond talks a little about this) but the encode handles it rather well. Some darker scenes look a bit unnatural and grain can look pixilated, but on the whole onscreen it looks good. I also don’t recall any damage or marks showing up. In all it’s an incredibly impressive transfer, and the film looks quite new.
The disc sports a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround track. A majority of the film does sound more mono/stereo in nature, most dialogue sounding to be simply focused to the front, with some sound effects moving between the fronts. This is aspect isn’t overly active, but sound quality is strong, with great fidelity and range.
Where the surrounds kick in is during the concert sequences, which sound quite good. The music is loud, vocals are clear, and it nicely envelopes the viewers. The screaming crowds sound to accurately move around through the speakers and it does do a nice job of making you feel like you’re there. Clarity and detail is superb, and the volume levels are nicely managed as to not drown out vocals or any dialogue that does pop up.
For supplements the release comes off a little underwhelming as a whole but it does feature some genuinely good features. Unfortunately the audio commentary featuring director Mark Rydell isn’t one of them. Recorded for the Fox DVD back in 2003, Rydell simply covers various aspects of the production, from how it started out as a Janis Joplin biopic, his convincing of the studio to cast Midler in the lead role (the studio wanted a star who could then be dubbed over during the concert sequences), and of course filming the concert sequences. The concert sequences prove to be the most fascinating element to the track, as Rydell recalls how his director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond, was able to gather together some of the top talent in the industry to help with the concert sequences including László Kovács, Haskell Wexler, Conrad Hall, and others, which helped give a certain documentary feel to these moments. Though these moments prove interesting, along with a few other things scattered about, there’s a staggering amount of dead space, and on the whole it’s not a particularly interesting track.
Thankfully most of the interesting material covered in the track can be found elsewhere within the new interviews found on the disc, the first of which being with star Bette Midler. She first talks about coming to be involved with the project and the long period between when she was first approached and when they actually started filming. She shares a few great stories (particularly about working with Harry Dean Stanton, which was obviously a very negative experience for her as we learn from here and elsewhere on the disc) but what proves to be most fascinating is when she talks about being a female performer on the road, and the obstacles and problems that come up, relating this all with her character and her performance. She also attributes a lot of the success of the film to the more technical aspects, like the costumes, sets, and particularly the photography. It’s a very engaging, funny, and personal conversation, one of the stronger features on the disc. It runs about 17-minutes.
Mark Rydell also provides a new interview for this release, talking about the film with his friend, filmmaker Charles Dennis. It runs 15-minutes. It really just condenses what he talked about on the older commentary, but has the benefit on focusing and expanding on the more interesting items. He goes into detail about working with Midler (who he had to manipulate he admits) and talks quite a bit more about his working relationship with Zsigmond (who he met on the set of The Long Goodbye, a film Rydell was an actor in). He even talks about his music background, which includes attending Juilliard. Though he still doesn’t cover everything he talks about in the commentary (which again was recorded around 12 years ago) I would probably still recommend this piece over it.
The jewel to this release, though, is the fantastic interview with director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond, conducted by John Bailey. It’s of course highly technical, and Zsigmond goes into great detail about the film’s look, particularly its lighting and how he was able to get some of the more difficult sequences lit (I never realized shooting a scene in a heavily lit high rise could be so difficult). He even talks about how he used the grain of the film to create a feeling to certain moments and explains some of the accidental discoveries he made along the way. And in probably the most fascinating element to the interview he talks about how filmmaking differs today, particularly in the use of light, which differs because digital, where filmmaking is going, isn’t as dependent on light. The whole interview, which runs a lengthy 30-minutes, is an invaluable resource and easily one of the best interviews Criterion has produced in recent memory. (Interestingly, all of the supplements up to this point suggest that the reason the Janis Joplin angle was dropped was because nobody was interested in doing a biopic on the singer, but Zsigmond seems to suggest it was dropped because the family would not give permission for the film to be made.)
Following this great supplement are a couple of archival features starting with a 5-minute clip from a 1978 episode of NBC’s Today with Tom Brokaw visiting the set of the film. We get to watch the filming of an exterior street scene and then Brokaw interviews both Rydell (who talks briefly about his duties as a director) and Midler (who talks about what it’s like to act in a film). It’s actually not a bad piece as it doesn’t glamourize filmmaking, instead pointing out the repetitiveness of shooting scenes and that a lot of work does go into making a film.
We then get a 1979 interview between Bette Midler and Gene Shalit, which would have aired around the time of the film’s release. Shalit asks her about the role, and suggests that the role she plays is more in line with Joplin’s style than Midler’s own (I’m under the impression Shalit didn’t know the film started as a film about Joplin). She also talks about her personal life, surprisingly touching on drugs, and then going over her inspirations. It’s a good interview, not at all pandering, and Midler comes off very funny and open. It runs 14-minutes.
Paula Mejia then writes an essay for the film’s insert, presenting the film as a type of Greek tragedy and focusing on how it represents the time periods during which it was made and depicts. I haven’t seen the original Fox DVD so I’m unsure if anything is missing from that release.
Commentary aside (which I wasn’t particularly enamored with) it’s not a bad set of features, the Zsigmond segment easily being the best thing on here, followed by the Midler interviews. These features add a lot of heft to the release, which otherwise feels fairly sparse.
A decent special edition with a couple of great supplements, but it’s the transfer that is the edition’s real selling point. Admirers of the film (or Midler herself) will want to pick this edition up just for the presentation alone.