Saturday, May 25, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Don't Look Down

"Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation - not judgment. Camp is generous."
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

Herewith a Very Special Edition of SSCE, an old familiar treasure I was lucky enough to stumble upon this morning.  It's one I suspect will be familiar to many a Gentle Reader, but it remains as wonderful the thirty-oddth time as it was all those years ago back in the summer of 1984.  It's Bette Midler's epochal Art or Bust tour, seen in its full version (rather than the sadly trimmed hour-long HBO special that omitted, if memory serves, the incredible medley of "Broken Bicycles," "Everyone's Gone to the Moon," and "Here Comes the Flood").  It's all here - her swaggering "Pink Cadillac," the great bits of video from the Continental Baths and her breakthrough appearance on the AJC telethon, her Dolores DeLago disco marathon (in which the Harlettes prove they are troupers in every way), and finally a breathtaking "Stay with Me."  It holds up.

Art or Bust came out just as I turned 21, and watching after very nearly three decades (and many, many viewings in the interim), it struck me how much it was part of shaping my taste, shaking me out of the solemnity of studying Art History and showing me that it was possible to take things - funny, sad, loud, mad - right to the edge and then that little bit beyond.  We may none of us have the unstoppable momentum, the half-crazed inspiration, of the Divine Miss M. (I didn't then, and heaven knows don't have it today), but how lucky we are to bask in her glow, to draw on her energy - her extraordinary generosity as a performer - even now.  If you've got a spare hour-and-a-half this Decoration Day weekend (for all you Statesiders), enjoy.


  1. Snap, darling! It was indeed this opera-length extravaganza, when broadcast in the UK, that shaped the embryonic "me" - to the degree I have adoped (a slight variant of) the "Dolores" nickname... To my mind, Bette never bettered this performance.

    The joy of the bathhouse footage is unbeatable! Check out my own blog from aeons ago for my research on the lady to whom I believe Miss M owes a debt for inspiring her "Vicky Edie" character - Eleanor Steber. Jx

  2. Caro- Thank you so much. I remember how I adored this when I saw it (especially the costumes) all those years ago and have been on the lookout for it for years.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this!

    I saw this show in Pittsburgh and was totally enthralled through out. My Favorite Waste of Time and Here Comes the Flood were highpoints but Stay With Me at the very end brought me to my feet. And then, I looked around the theater and saw that I was the ONLY one on my feet! She got nothing more than polite applause for that song. I felt so ashamed for Pittsburgh at that moment. And moved to Seattle the next year!

    I also felt that the costume with the gunmetal metallic corset and pink skirt was my favorite Bette stage outfit.

    Oh, I found the ticket stub for that show in my Art or Bust record album and the show I saw was July 7, 1983 so I don't remember her singing The Rose that night. This show was filmed in 1984 so maybe she have added it during the tour. And we didn't see the Continental Baths/UJA clip at the concert. I wonder if they were added to this film or if they played them on screen at some of the shows.