The people’s diva

2 years after her Vegas show ended, Bette still proves that ‘The Showgirl Must Go On’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Bette Midler got her start working in New York City’s Continental Baths, the premier gay bathhouse in America at the time. Since then, she’s gotten two Oscar nominations, won four Grammys, three Emmys and a Tony, headlines huge films and audience-grabbing TV specials. But in reality, she’s still just the queen among the queens, camping it up with puns, sexual double entendres and swinging her rack around like a mink stole at a debutante ball. She may be on the Vegas stage with a 13-piece orchestra and throngs of adoring middle-ages couples, but the act is pure late-night drag club.

That’s probably what has attracted the gays to Bette since her earliest days.

We love Liza, care for Cher, bow to Barbra and go gaga for Gaga, but Bette?

She’s still one of us. Fabulous … well, as fabulous as we imagine ourselves to be.

For two years, Bette played the Palace — Caesar’s Palace on the Vegas Strip — with The Showgirl Must Go On, her paean to corny glamour. It’s been nearly two years since the show closed, but you can finally see it with the DVD release. And it’s exactly what you think it will be.

La Bette has always known her base, so she gives shoutouts to “the gays,” who have always appreciated that  she proudly pioneered the “trashy singers with big tits” trend — drag queens with real-girl parts. She’s not letting go of the honor easily. Vegas is a good fit for that, trafficking as it does in that sheen of tinsel and cheap glam — headdresses, scanty costumes (frequently changed), garish lighting and plenty of dazzle alongside the razzle.

Slickly filmed and fast-paced (aside from a quirky intro involving a twister that makes no sense), it’s a dazzling document of the Divine Miss M’s great gifts as a comedian and performer.

Her voice is still in fine shape, from “Friends” (the song that launched her to her first Grammy) through the inescapable tearjerker “From a Distance” (her fourth Grammy), with new arrangements of classics like “Do You Want to Dance” and “The Rose” that are true to the originals without being carbon copies. That almost makes up for the one-liners she does as her alter-ego “Sophie” — Bette admits she’s been telling them for 40 years, but we’ve laughed just as long.

True enough. That’s probably why we like her so much. We both get each other.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday.

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QUEER CLIPS: ‘RESTLESS,’ ‘LOVE CRIME’

7Restless is, at heart, a comedy, but it’s from director Gus Van Sant, so don’t expect an easy comedy. Enoch (Henry Hopper) is an orphan who crashes funerals; at one, he meets Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), a quirky naturalist who seems as curious as he seems withdrawn. But while Enoch is haunted by the ghost of a Japanese Kamikaze pilot, Annabel has her own demons.

Any other director would almost certainly have turned Restless into a maudlin tearjerker (even the disrespectfully crass Judd Apatow made the mawkish disaster Funny People). But Van Sant operates on about two settings: Crazy genius (Milk, To Die For, Drugstore Cowboy) and disastrous boondoggle (his misguided Psycho remake) …. though he throws some impenetrable art films in as well (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days). Restless is really none of those, though it is very good — a lighthearted look at death that never seems off-beat for its own sake. Wasikowska and Hopper, below, make a charming couple, cool but authentic, and its disarming undermining of the cliches of a doomed romance elevate it. It’s overstating to call it a feel-good movie, but you walk away refreshed, as much by the moviemaking as by the story.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Three and a half stars.
Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

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Still1Love Crime opens with Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas, right) and her assistant, Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier). But this work session isn’t at the office; it’s at Christine’s home with the boss being flirtatious, giving her wine and gifts.

In an American movie there’d be a sexual harassment suit in the offing, but Love Crime is French so this will lead to more  — or less.  We learn that neither woman is exclusively lesbian because both sleep with men — the same man Philippe (Patrick Mille) in one instance — though not at the same time.  Isabelle even asks Philippe what Christine’s like in bed.

The women work in the Paris office of an American company.  What begins as a tale of corporate and romantic intrigue takes a deadly turn.  The less you know going in the better.  Just let the story unfold deliciously, because you’re in the capable hands of the late writer-director Alain Corneau.

Corneau admitted he didn’t know if the women have a physical relationship, but Christine is obviously using sex to manipulate Isabelle.  When she gets the younger woman to say “I love you,” the impact is like a vampire biting its victim’s neck.

Love Crime is a mystery Hitchcock would have been proud of.  Sagnier even looks like a Hitchcock blonde as she gives what must be the widest-ranging female performance of the year, and possibly the best.

Lesbian or not, it would be a crime to miss this one.

— Steve Warren

Three stars.
Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Caste of thousands

A sorta-funny thing happened on the way to the ashram in world premiere ‘Bollywood Lysistrata’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

‘A Bollywood Lysistrata’
AIN’T NO TAJ MAHAL-ABACK GIRLS | Women withhold sex to get what they want in ‘A Bollywood Lysistrata.’

BOLLYWOOD LYSISTRATA
KD Studios Theater, 2600 N. Stemmons Freeway, Suite 180. Through Sep. 5.
Fridays–Saturdays at 8:15 p.m.
LevelGroundArts.com

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I’m not sure why so many playwrights feel compelled to adapt a 2,400-year-old Greek comedy and call it new art. I can think of half a dozen variations of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata in the last decade alone, the most recent being the musical Give It Up that the Dallas Theater Center premiered earlier this year. Well, the most recent until the current version, Level Ground Arts’ A Bollywood Lysistrata, now at the KD Studios Theater. Women withholding sex to get what they want? Isn’t that called marriage?

Anyhoo, LGA’s take moves the plot from ancient Greek to Raj-era India, where cricket has become an obsession for British men and their native counterparts — so much so that one sports-widow, Lakshmi (Rhonda Durant), convinces the women, Indian and English, to close their legs until the men give up the game. Talk about a sticky wicket.

And see? That’s one of the problems with the show. The jokes are so obvious — lots of double entendres about men and their bats, what they can do with their balls, etc. — that you tend to make up many of your own during the slow parts.

The adaptation by Andi Allen — who co-directed and co-stars as one of the British wives — is a hodgepodge of styles: The language is formalistic, even academic, sounding like a literal translation from the Greek. Even setting it in the 1890s, why not update it with modern vernacular? It’s also a Wilde-esque comedy of manners and, of course, a Bollywood musical extravaganza with silly acting, pointless dancing and beautiful costumes.

I actually liked the pointless dancing (with the word “Bollywood” in the title, you should know going in what you’re in for), and Jill Hall’s costumes are colorful — I’d enjoy more of both. But the acting? That’s as varied as the play itself.

Allen is one of the best at making her dialogue sound natural, and as the local ranee, Lorna Woodford commands her scenes. Even Camille Monae — who, as the horny Hindu Chandini, gets many of the best ribald lines — and Durant (a dead ringer for Catherine Zeta-Jones) holds the thread of the show together well.

Beyond that, it’s a free-for-all: Inconsistent accents; wildly goofy melodrama from Robert Shores and a low-budget Robert Morley impersonation from the marshmallowy R. Bradford Smith; and the raja is played by Jon Morehouse as a cross between Johnny Carson’s Carnac and Jafar from Aladdin. It’s impossible to stay in the moment who you aren’t sure whether it will be Mumbai or Marx Brothers from minute to minute.

There’s an exuberance, especially during the dancing sequences, that captures what’s fun about the Bollywood format, but I’ll just say thank you, I won’t come again.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens