Today At The Clinton Street Theater
CST & KBOO Jazz Series presents LADY SINGS THE BLUES
Lady Sings the Blues Movie Review
January 1, 1972
My first reaction when I learned that Diana Ross had been cast to play Billie Holiday was a quick and simple one: I didn't think she could do it. I knew she could sing, although not as well as Billie Holiday and certainly not in the same way, but I couldn't imagine Diana Ross reaching the emotional highs and lows of one of the more extreme public lives of our time. But the movie was financed by Motown, and Diana Ross was Motown's most cherished property, so maybe the casting made some kind of commercial sense. After all, Sal Mineo played Gene Krupa.
All of those thoughts were wiped out of my mind within the first three or four minutes of "Lady Sings the Blues", and I was left with a feeling of complete confidence in a dramatic performance. This was one of the great performances of 1972.....
"Lady Sings the Blues" has most of the clichés we expect—but do we really mind clichés in a movie like this? I don't think so. There's the childhood poverty, the searching for love, the unhappy early sexual experiences, the first audition, the big break, the years of climbing to the top, the encounter with hard drugs, the fall, the comeback, the loyal lover … we know the scenes by heart.
What brings the movie alive is the performance that Diana Ross and director Sidney J. Furie bring to the scenes. As a gangly adolescent set out to work as a maid in a whorehouse, the diva Ross somehow manages to actually look gangly and adolescent. When she is transformed into a great beauty later in the film, it is a transformation, because she was brave enough, and good enough, to really look awful at first: "You got a long way to go," the madam tells her accurately, "before anybody gonna pay $2 for an hour of your time."....
Pop star Diana Ross portrays legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in this biographical drama. Beginning with Holiday's traumatic youth, the film depicts her early attempts at a singing career and her eventual rise to stardom, as well as her difficult relationship with Louis McKay (Billy Dee Williams), her boyfriend and manager. Casting a shadow over even Holiday's brightest moments is the vocalist's severe drug addiction, which threatens to end both her career and her life.