BetteBack September 27, 1980: Bette Midler On Film: ‘Divine’ Entertainment

Santa Ana Orange County Register
September 27, 1980

Bette Midler

Divine Madness” is divine entertainment — an energetic and enjoyable non-stop assault of music, comedy and four-letter words, as delivered by the phenomenal and decidedly uninhibited Bette Midler. This R-rated concert film underlines Midler’s brassy spirit and also reminds us, once again, of her amazing range.

For whether strutting her stuff as a mermaid (and having some double-entendre fun with coconuts hanging from a palm tree), or belting out a teary, soulful ballad, Midler is the consummate performer. The repartee may be ribald, but the Midler stage journey is also a sentimental one. This is a film experience that is as stirring as it is fun.

In her film debut in “The Rose,” Midler proved herself to be a formidable acting talent. With “Divine Madness” we see the foundation of that awesome ability, as her skillful, high-energy stage presence showcases the boundless Midler spirit. She is a performer who knows no limitations.

Decked out in a ridiculous, leopard-spotted get-up, she does a searing punk-rocker routine, then moves into that biker love song, “Leader of the Pack,” and finally, dons the movement, and meaning, of a wonderfully whimsical old woman. And always, Midler makes us believe.

Flanked by her famed alter ego, “The Divine Miss M,” Midler goes on to become Delores DeLago, the Toast of Chicago (Midler’s tribute to “the itinerate lounge show act”), a World War II bathing beauty (all the better for a rousing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” routine) and a bride and groom, simultaneously, for a walk down the aisle with “Chapel of Love.” And Midler dishes up still other delightful visions — including herself. For the film opens with Bette making an outrageous entrance — served in sumptuous style atop a gigantic serving tray. Midler’s backup trio, the talented and tacky Harlettes, have donned chef’s hats for the routine — which sees Midler going into action after climbing off the platter with a rubber chicken in tow.

And “Divine Madness” offers more courses to savor — notably an interlude with Sophie Tucker (and some unabashedly blue humor), not to mention a very brief, very funny underwater moment with Shelley Winters.

In bringing Midler’s popular, record-breaking Broadway show to the screen, “Divine Madness” utilized 10 cameras during a three-night performance run at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Director Michael Ritchie, whose best films have been marked by a documentary flavor (“Downhill Racer,” “The Candidate”), and film editor Glenn Fair, have done an exceptional job in bringing the film’s viewers a front-row visit with Bette.

We’re at home with the artist — and at the same time, we feel very much a part of the audience. This concert film doesn’t leave us on the sidelines — nor do we get lost in offstage goings-on. With the exception of a hilarious opening sequence (as a timid head usher tries to prepare his crew for the evening’s work), “Divine Madness” focuses on the stage — and Bette.

With her recent Oscar nomination for “The Rose,” not to mention her Grammy, Emmy and Tony honors, Midler seems on her way to additional acting chores. The concert side of her life—which first brought her before the crowds — just may take a backseat to new and challenging career goals. Which is all the more reason to catch a dose of
“Divine Madness.” For it’s doubtful that the movie screen will ever again pay such frenzied, foot-stomping and thoughtful homage to the intense and inspired Bette Midler.

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