Lady Sings the Blues (1972) - Sidney J. Furie
It's amazing how ahead of its time this picture was. Nearly every cliche of the musical biopic began here. Our story begins in prison then we go back to a time when our young heroine was innocent. She gets violated, goes to the city, washes steps and through the grace of god gets an audition to sing. This film wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter. With little exposition this film becomes about Billie's drug problem, and that's the tune it plays up until the end. The film is epic in length and nearly all of it has Diana Ross strung out. It's a relief to see her cleaned up and you want to reach in the TV and smack her across the face when she talks about using a little. Richard Pryor is excellent in his supporting turn as the Piano Man (who effectively got Holiday her start). Everything culminates in a nice resounding performance at Carnegie Hall (the highwater mark for any musician). What's funny is that the film hides the gruesome ending amidst applause. We are shown newspaper clippings of the sad end of Billie's life, leaving us to feel like she has reached a triumph. Diana Ross' performance is good for the most part, perhaps not the revelation it was proclaimed to be. I admire the fact that as a singer she doesn't even attempt to imitate Holiday, instead singing the songs in her own style and not resorting to parody.
*Lady Sings the Blues was nominated for best actress (Ross), best adaptation and original song score, best art direction, best costume design, best original screenplay