WSR Score5
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HBO Home Video
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Dee Rees
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Bessie (Latifah) offers an intimate look at the determined woman whose immense talent and love for music took her from anonymity in the rough-and-tumble world of vaudeville to the 1920’s blues scene and international fame. Capturing Bessie's professional highs and personal lows, the movie paints a portrait of a tenacious spirit who, despite her own demons, became a celebrated legend. Throughout the years, Bessie Smith has served as an inspiration for such illustrious singers as Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, and Nina Simone, among others. Nominated for 12 Emmy Awards® including Outstanding Television Movie. (Gary Reber)

Special features include the featurette Bessie: A Creative Journey (HD 18:35), Filming In Georgia (HD 03:43), and an UltraViolet digital copy.

The 1.78:1 1080p AVC picture, photographed using the Arri Alexa digital camera system, is gorgeous with a warm, richly vibrant color palette. Hues are nicely saturated yet naturally rendered throughout. Every production set is effectively and creatively stylized with wonderful lighting effects. Costumes are incredibly beautiful and colorful. Contrast is excellent with deep blacks and revealing shadow delineation. Fleshtones are perfectly natural throughout. Resolution is superb, with fine detail exhibited in facial features, hair, clothing, and elaborate intricate costumes, and object texture. This is a perfectly executed picture that is mesmerizing to watch. (Gary Reber)

The DTS-HD Master Audio™ 5.1-channel soundtrack is wonderful, with excellent dialogue and musical vocalizations by Queen Latifah and small group accompaniments. During many of the intimate segments, the sound is frontal focused. Atmospherics and sound effects nicely capture the sounds of the time during the 1920’s vaudeville setting. The orchestral score is beautifully lush and well recorded, as are the blues performances with the small group backing Bessie. Deep bass is occasional but supportive. Dialogue spatial integration is well done. This is an engaging soundtrack that nicely supports an intriguing story. (Gary Reber)