Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Bette Midler, Alan Bates, Frederic Forrest
Director: Mark Rydell
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 134 Minutes
Release Date: May 19, 2015

Where you going...where’s everybody going?”

Film ***

Though it pales in comparison to many of the rock movies I’ve seen throughout my life, The Rose remains an effective piece of this sub genre thanks to some remarkable technical work and a lead performance that’s truly one of a kind. It was Bette Midler’s breakthrough role, and it’s easy to see why.

Originally tailored as a Janis Joplin biopic, and titled “Pearl”, the character was reworked when Midler agreed to play the part. She demanded that her role be inspired by Joplin and not serve as a direct representation. And thus the character of Mary Rose Foster was created, and the film was retitled The Rose.

And Midler fires on all cylinders in what remains her greatest screen performance to date. Rose is a rock music sensation who is adored by fans across the country, as well as those within the music industry. And though she should lead a tremendously happy life because of her fame, it’s very much the opposite when she’s away from the stage and recording booth.

Rose is a ferocious drug and alcohol abuser, no doubt brought on by the constant loneliness associated with life on the road from one venue to another. Her fame is so demanding that she has never been able to establish a real human connection. It also doesn’t help that she can’t ever seem to escape the clutches of her ruthless manager, Rudge (Alan Bates).

One night, though, she appears to find the very thing she’s looking for when crossing paths with Dyer (Frederic Forrest). He’s a limo driver who strikes up a casual conversation with her. Before long, the two begin an intense love affair.

Eventually, though, Rose has to face the truth. In this case, that means realizing that being a famous rock star and wanting to enjoy the simple pleasures in life simply can’t happen, no matter how hard she tries to make it so. And when an inescapable drug and alcohol addiction is added in, there can be no end but a tragic one.

As far as rock biopics go, the highest standard for me remains Oliver Stone’s The Doors. And although various elements regarding music and chaotic addiction were far better depicted in that film, The Rose does equal Stone’s movie in one area; the staging of the live performances. For a film made in 1979, these sequences do astound when considering how many extras had to be handled in the crowds, especially a finale performance done for a crowd of around 6,000.

Story-wise, The Rose is the basic “behind the music” scenario that every other movie of this ilk seems to emulate. It may have been one of the first, but the themes have been handled far better in films released down the road. However, Midler’s galvanizing performance, for which she received a much deserved Oscar nomination, and the filmmaking (particularly in the area of cinematography) both do their individual part in elevating the material.

Video ***1/2

Criterion works their magic once again with a near perfect Blu-ray presentation. The look of this film has long been praised, understandably so, and admirers are likely to be hugely astounded by the appearance of this 4k mastered job observed by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. The color scheme, in particular, is quite a knockout especially in the presentation of the concert sequences. Grain is present here, almost at a distracting rate, but overall we have a true representation of what a 36 year old release should look like in the Blu-ray format!

Audio ****

When you have a music driven film with a DTS HD 5.1 mix supplied by Criterion, that’s all you need to know regarding the sound quality of this release. Every single one of Milder’s live performances are showstoppers here. The final concert scene is without question the big highlight of the presentation. Dialogue delivery is handled wonderfully as well!

Features ***1/2

Criterion applies their can’t miss touch for this Blu-ray release, which includes a commentary with director Mark Rydell, as well as terrific interview segments with Rydell, Bette Midler and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. We are also treated to some archive footage from the Today Show, including Tom Brokaw interviewing Midler and Rydell and Gene Shalit also interviewing Midler. Lastly, there’s a neat insert booklet featuring an essay by music critic Paula Mejia.


The Rose is a truthful and unflinching look at the troubles brought on by the rock star lifestyle, with Bette Midler brilliantly illustrating how and why she became a star. Her performance remains the reason to discover this film!

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