Lady Sings the Blues

Movie Information

In Brief: For reasons unclear to me now, I didn't see Sidney J. Furie's Lady Sings the Blues when it came out in 1972 and just never bumped into it until this screening came along. I'm glad to have finally seen it, but I doubt I'll watch it a second time. It's pretty much a basic biopic of the cram-an-entire-life-into-two-hours school. Even at a very long 144 minutes, it's an impossible undertaking that relies on the tricks of the trade — up to and including those late-in-the-film montages that feel rushed in a "just get it over with" manner. (Being from 1972, it at least spares us a bunch editorializing titles at the end.) It's not bad for what it is, but what it is isn't anything as outstanding as was made out in 1972. Ross is surprisingly good, as is Richard Pryor. Billy Dee Williams does what he can with an underwritten and sanitized role. (Gee, the character he plays was the film's "technical advisor." That couldn't account for the whitewash. ...) It is typical of its type in that the movie is more interested in Billie Holiday's drug addiction than what drove it — or, for that matter, what informed her music. The one such attempt with "Strange Fruit" just plain doesn't work. But as a stock biopic, it's OK.
Genre: Biopic
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Starring: Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, James T. Callahan, Sid Melton, Virginia Capers
Rated: R

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Lady Sings the Blues Sunday, May 22, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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