View this film about Billie Holiday as a completely fictional story, and you'll enjoy it far more than you would otherwise. Ostensibly based on Holiday's autobiography, LADY SINGS THE BLUES begins in the early 1930s in Baltimore, where the teenaged Billie (Diana Ross) is raped and then sent
to New York to stay with a friend of her mother's. In Harlem she works first as a maid, and later as a whore, in a brothel. With the encouragement of the brothel's "piano man" (Richard Pryor), she begins singing professionally and eventually becomes the lover of gambler Louis McKay (Billy Dee
Williams)--actually Holiday's third husband but the sole romantic interest in the film.
"Lady Day's" inimitable style begins to win her notice on the club circuit, and she is invited to tour the South with a band led by white musicians. On tour she's devastated by racist treatment and turns to drugs, becoming an addict--a habit which threatens both her professional and personal
success. Things get worse when her mother dies, and Holiday enters a sanitarium in an attempt to get clean. Although she later begins a new life with McKay, her triumph is short-lived, and the film closes by glancing over her remaining, troubled days until her death at age 44.
Perhaps because Holiday's true life story is so well documented, the filmmakers felt they had to alter the facts in order to interest audiences. The dramatized results angered many; jazz critic Leonard Feather, for one, noted that the film made no mention of Lester Young, Jimmy Monroe (to whom
Holiday was married), John Hammond, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and Teddy Wilson--all important associations for Holiday during the period covered in the film. Taken as pure fiction, however, LADY SINGS THE BLUES is an overdirected but fairly watchable movie, aided by a good if not
quite good enough performance by Ross in her dramatic screen debut. Ross's renderings of Holiday's songs, however, are travesties.
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- Released: 1972
- Rating: R
- Review: View this film about Billie Holiday as a completely fictional story, and you'll enjoy it far more than you would otherwise. Ostensibly based on Holiday's autobiography, LADY SINGS THE BLUES begins in the early 1930s in Baltimore, where the teenaged Billie… (more)