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Paramount Home Video presents
Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

"I don't want to see the upstairs, Miss Edson, 'cause my mama told me you had a job for me as a cleaner."
- Billie Holiday (Diana Ross)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: November 07, 2005

Stars: Diana Ross
Other Stars: Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor
Director: Sidney J. Furie

MPAA Rating: R for (adult situations)
Run Time: 02h:23m:51s
Release Date: November 08, 2005
UPC: 097360837445
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B BA-A- B-

DVD Review

Diana Ross will forever be known as the lead singer of The Supremes, but she did do a bit in acting, include starring roles in Mahogany and The Wiz. Her first foray on the silver screen was as legendary singer Billie Holiday in the 1972 film, Lady Sings the Blues. Directed by Sidney J. Furie, the film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including one for Ross. Even though she would lose the award to Liza Minnelli (who won for another musical, Cabaret), such an accolade usually signaled the beginning of a lucrative film career for a young actress. However, Ross would eventually choose to return to singing.

Lady Sings the Blues has similarities to the recent biopic, Ray, where the performance of the actor portraying the real-life figure is better than the film itself. Like Jamie Foxx, Diana Ross seems to become Billie Holiday, causing the audience to forget that they aren't actually watching Lady Day herself. Kicking off with a bang, we are introduced Holiday in some sort of a drug detox center. Clearly drugged out of her mind and in a great deal of pain, she is going through a forced withdrawal. Via flashbacks, we are transported back in time to find a young, innocent woman living in Baltimore where she does the cleaning in a brothel. When one of the patrons has his eye on her she declines his advances, but he follows her back to her home and sexually assaults her. After being shunned by her own mother, Billie has had enough of this life and travels to New York City. She soon meets Louis McKay (Billy Dee Williams), who hears her sing and realizes that she is the girl for him.

Billie has changed her entire attitude, as well as her look, and is now a glamorous nightclub singer under the tutelage of McKay. Before long, the pair fall very much in love with each other. However, even their bond can be challenged by the hardships involved with a singing career, especially one that involves drug abuse.

The strength of Lady Sings the Blues definitely lies in the performances of Ross, Williams, and even Richard Pryor, as the aptly named Piano Man. Ross and Williams dominate the screen time and make a very believable loving yet greatly troubled couple. It's hard to believe that this is Ross' first major acting work, as she never falters as Billie Holiday. The audience hardly has any time to warm up to the thought of this famous singer playing such a serious role thanks to the initial harrowing scenes in detox, and the shattering of these preconceptions works in the film's and Ross' favor. Billy Dee Williams is superb as Louis. What he has to go through with Holiday's drug problems and other shortcomings wouldn't be wished upon even the evilest of individuals, and Williams succeeds in causing the audience to feel his pain along with him. Williams is suave and debonair as well, becoming a sex symbol as a result of this role, as well as his other pairing with Ross in Mahogany. It's unfortunate that he didn't receive the same recognition that Ross did come awards season, as Lady Sings the Blues wouldn't be the same without him.

At nearly two and a half hours, the film is far too long. While the story of Billie Holiday is very interesting, the story might have been more gripping had more time been spent on Holiday's troubles with drug addiction. The relationship between Billie and Louis is very engaging, but this is mainly due to the actors' talents. The surface of this material is dull and uninvolving, while the first and third acts that chronicle Billie's early life and sad final days are what really make Lady Sings the Blues irresistible.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Lady Sings the Blues is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the film looks better than it ever has on any format. There's still no mistaking this for a more recent film, but for one that is over 30 years old, it's difficult to ask for more from this transfer. The era comes to life with the rich, vibrant colors of the various locations and fashions of the time, and the rendering of these colors is great here. Image clarity never falters, and the inherent grain and dirt is kept minimal, which is an achievement in itself for such an old movie.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Purists can enjoy the original mono soundtrack, but the new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is definitely the way to go. The film's music is one of its major strongpoints, and it has never sounded this full and rich before. Tight, aggressive bass is evident during many of the numbers, and Ross' lyrics remain clean and easily decipherable throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Executive producer Berry Gordy, director Sidney Furie, and artist manager Shelly Berger.
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There are a trio of nice extra features, beginning with an audio commentary track featuring executive producer Berry Gordy, director Sidney Furie, and artist manager Shelly Berger. Some interesting casting choices and omissions are gone over by Gordy, but Furie and Berger dominate this very informative track.

Behind the Blues: Lady Sings the Blues is a 23-minute documentary that has some great, recent on-camera discussions with Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams, as well as writer Suzanne de Passe. Hearing Ross and Williams reflect on their work in Lady Sings the Blues is the reason to check out this doc, as the rest of the divulged info doesn't differ much from what we learn in the commentary track.

There are also seven deleted scenes, cut for timing purposes, which are actually worth a look, especially given the film's already bloated running time.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Lady Sings the Blues is a biopic along the lines of Ray and Chaplin, all pictures that featured stellar performances by actors that truly embodied their real-life subjects. This work by Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams make the film well worth a look, and this nice, new DVD makes the film even more appealing, thanks to excellent audio and video, along with a few great extra features to boot.


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