Directed By: Sidney J. Furie
Starring: Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, Paul Hampton
Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections.
I recently watched the documentary Billie (2019) Review HERE (Please note this will open up in a new browser.) prior to sitting down and watching this movie. This is because though I've heard of the late great Ms. Billie Holiday I sadly knew very little about her life and struggles. This release by Paramount also comes on the heels of a new film on Hulu original film entitled The United States Vs. Billie Holiday which premiers Friday February 26th. Talks of a film about the life and tragic end of jazz icon Billie Holiday has gone on for a long time with a rumor that Oscar nominated actor Dorothy Dandridge was to play the part before her own untimely death. Attempts to bring Holidays story to life had stalled until Motown founder Berry Gordy got the project off the ground as a showcase for Diana Ross.
Lady Sings the Blues tells the story of jazz Billie Holiday as she struggles with systematic racism and drug addiction all whilst channeling her amazing singing voice. The movie opens with a strung-out Holiday being locked up and put in a padded cell complete with all the melodrama of and subtly Tennessee Williams play. I mention this scene because not only is it a jarring when to open a film but sets the stage for a, shall we say uneven and at times clunky musical bio-pic.
My biggest issue is, especially after watching the excellent Billie documentary is how director Sidney Furie over-simplifies the story of Holiday. The movie glosses over things like erasing her bisexuality and indeed, it strips her of any kind of sexuality which she translated on and off the stage. To the films credit though it does retain her fiery spirit and moxie. Though Diana Ross is key to this film she does tend to go overboard with her acting choices. Though the movie has its share of powerful moments it very much skirts this line of camp which makes for a tonal problem.
Its not to suggest this movie is all bad and Lady Sings the Blues does showcase great performances by Ross, a pre Empire Strikes Back Billy Dee Williams with all his swagger and Richard Pryor being the brilliant actor he was. The film has a nice production design capturing the time and place quite well. Overall though its a movie that lacks the heart, soul and grit of Billie Holiday. Its par for the course for bio-pics to gloss over real life events or even make things up but, Lady just feels hollow despite Ross's best efforts.
Lady Sings the Blues is a good albeit misguided bio-pic and, though Ross brings it to vivid life the writing and tonal shifts makes and doesn't seem to have much to say in nearly two-and-a-half-hours of screen time. Still, you cannot deny that Diana Ross vocals and acting (for the most part) are worth the price of admission.
Picture: As stated in the title, Lady Sings the Blues makes it HD debut. Its presented in a 2:35:1. Lady Sings the Blues has a very muted color tone to fit its '30's-'40's era. I mention this because the movie is not going to be visually stunning in 1080p as the film never presents any big bold color flourishes. Indeed, the color looks drab and flat. As it stands now the clarity is overall well done with sharp details in the sets, costumes and locales. There is a scene where there is a few lines in the print visible but, honestly its not distracting. I was really impressed with how fine the grain is for the most part. I think this is a very nice job from Paramount and though I've never seen a previous home media version of this film I can't imagine this movie ever looked better.
Sound: Lady Sings the Blues has a lossless DTS 5.1. For being a movie filled with music you might expect a soundtrack with more of an impact. This is a solid audio experience that gets the job done with dialogue and sound design/music coming through nicely. Though, its not as robust and full sounding as you might have hoped for.
Extras: This includes Behind The Blues: Lady Sings the Blues (23min) this vintage featurette includes interviews with cast, crew and experts on the making of Lady Sings the Blues.
Deleted Scenes (7 in total) Total Runtime: 21mins