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Warner Home Video presents
Stardust: The Bette Davis Story (2006)

Mike Wallace: You really said, Bette, "It has been my experience that one cannot, in any shape or form, depend on human relations for any lasting reward; it is only work that truly satisfies."
Bette Davis: Yes. It isn't that many people don't add a great deal to your life, but I'm talking about as a permanent thing, that's the least disappointing relationship you can have.

- from a 60 Minutes interview in the late 1970s

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: May 30, 2006

Stars: Bette Davis
Other Stars: Gena Rowlands, Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda, James Woods
Director: Peter Jones

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:27m:57s
Release Date: May 30, 2006
UPC: 012569753372
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- AA-B+ D-

DVD Review

Bette Davis was and always will be one of the most fascinating personalities ever to grace the silver screen. Fiery, passionate, indomitable, and insufferable are only a few of the adjectives critics and colleagues have used to describe the legendary star, and Davis would be the first to agree with all of them. One quality, however, stands apart from the rest, and captures the essence of this magnetic and immensely talented actress. Integrity was both Davis' strongest suit and Achilles heel, but it enabled her to embrace any role, tackle any situation, and garner the respect and admiration of her audiences for almost six decades. In an era when women often did as they were told, Davis fought for what she wanted, refused to take no for an answer, and, consequently, became a role model for women around the globe.

Stardust: The Bette Davis Story profiles both the actress and the woman, and, through interviews, film clips, and, most compelling of all, the words of Davis herself, tries its best to dissect her complex personality. The task is Herculean, but filmmaker Peter Jones assembles quite a group to discuss, evaluate, and psychoanalyze the diva, including the widows of two of Davis' ex-husbands. Gena Rowlands, James Woods, Ellen Burstyn, and Jane Fonda also weigh in with their impressions, and several archival interviews with various industry titans supply additional perspective. Originally produced for the Turner Classic Movies cable network, the DVD of this insightful, elegantly produced documentary is available only as an exclusive bonus disc in Warner Home Video's box set, The Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 2, which includes such beloved Davis classics as Jezebel (newly restored and remastered), Old Acquaintance (making its home video debut), Marked Woman, The Man Who Came to Dinner, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (presented in a new two-disc special edition).

Susan Sarandon narrates the 88-minute film, which pulls no punches in its frank yet non-judgmental chronicle of Davis' life and career. There's a lot of ground to cover, though—four marriages, three divorces, the death of one husband (which, we learn, Davis may have indirectly caused), three children (one who would turn out to be retarded; another who would mortally betray her with a nasty tell-all book), one abortion, 80 films, two Oscars, 10 Academy Award nominations, a landmark court case (which she lost), innumerable tempestuous love affairs, and celebrated feuds (can you say Joan Crawford?)—too much, really, for the time allotted. The material Jones includes is first-rate, and he presents it in a slick, creative manner, but an extra half-hour would alleviate the need to skip over notable films and gloss over large chunks of Davis' life.

Like Bette's often manic screen persona, the film seems to rush through various episodes and periods, rarely lingering long enough to let us to savor what the star cared about the most—her work. Jones sprinkles a plethora of film clips throughout the documentary, but they're merely tantalizing teases. Oh, we get all the iconic Bette Davis lines, such as "I'd love to kiss you, but I just washed my hair," "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night," "Oh Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon, we have the stars," and of course, "What a dump!", but we don't see much of the minor gems and character parts that really cemented Davis' lofty reputation. We're offered just the faintest glimpses of Davis as Elizabeth I, as Miss Moffat in The Corn Is Green, and as the vain Fanny Skeffington, and that's a shame, because deep down Davis considered herself a character actress, not a glamorous leading lady. (She cherished the offbeat much more than the mainstream, and didn't care about the size of a part as long as it made an impression and she could be true to it.) We also crave more evidence of the horrific early films in which the actress was forced to participate—tripe like Ex-Lady, Housewife, Special Agent, and Satan Met a Lady, to name but a very few, that inspired her to breach her Warner contract and pursue artistic freedom overseas.

Davis herself supplies the film's most revealing moments, and clips of the star on such interview programs as The Dick Cavett Show, 60 Minutes, and This Is Your Life give us the opportunity to witness firsthand her wit, wisdom, and brutal honesty. Thoughtful reminiscences from her adopted son, Michael Merrill, add a touch of poignancy to the proceedings, and go a long way toward debunking much of what Davis' biological daughter, B.D. Hyman (who declined to be interviewed for the documentary), wrote about her mother in her defamatory book.

Davis, as we all know, was no shrinking violet, and she never hesitated to criticize others or herself. She called a spade a spade, made dozens of enemies, and—for better or worse—lived life as she saw fit. We really get to know her in Stardust: The Bette Davis Story, and that intimate contact makes us respect her all the more. Best of all, we come to realize she's not at all a grande dame, just a grand dame.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Fresh from its initial airing on TCM, Stardust: The Bette Davis Story looks pretty spiffy on DVD. The interview segments are crisp and colorful, and Warner uses only the highest quality film clips to illustrate Davis' work.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The stereo soundtrack provides clear, well-modulated audio, with levels remaining stable despite the various vintage media used in the film. Narration, interviews, and dialogue in the excerpted scenes are all easily comprehendible, and pops and crackles only crop up during the most antiquated clips.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 41m:58s

Extras Review: Other than chapter stops, no extras whatsoever adorn the disc.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

It may not be the finest Bette Davis documentary ever produced, but Stardust: The Bette Davis Story provides a cogent, uncompromising, and often illuminating look at one of Hollywood's most respected and enduring stars. Diehard Davis fans won't think twice about purchasing The Bette Davis Collection, Vol. 2 to get their hands on the disc, but more casual admirers should simply wait for a rerun on TCM.

 


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