Sandra Bernhard: I'm Still Here ... Damn It! [DVD]
Screenplay : Sandra Bernhard
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Sandra Bernhard
There is something refreshingly offensive about Sandra Bernhard. As a sort of anti-Diva with a sneer that could melt even the most hardened stoic, Bernhard has made her career in verbal provocation. In today's politically correct climate, she is a desperately needed antidote to the kind of stuffy liberalism that wishes to repress anything that might offend anyone. Bernhard is a self-stylized, equal-opportunity offender, and nothing and nobody escapes her wicked tongue.
The title of her latest one-woman show, "I'm Still Here ... Damn It!," is a reminder that, no matter how restrictive our society becomes on what is and what is not tolerable as humor, Bernhard will never change. She refuses to soften her act; in this way, she is positively shameless, but it is also her greatest strength as a peformer. While most stand-up comedy has become either pathetically sanitized or repulsively vulgar, Bernhard still tows the line that says comedy should, if anything, raise hackles.
And hackles will certainly be raised with "I'm Still Here ... Damn It!" Bernhard, several months pregnant and clad in a see-thru dress (Bernhard always makes a statement both vocally and physically) goes after every big name in entertainment at the end of the 1990s. No one is spared. From her hilariously self-deprecating story of a brief affair with Courtney Love, to her scathing fictional rendition of a tribute song sung by supermodel Naomi Campbell to commemorate the death of fashion designer Gianni Versaci, Bernhard covers the spectrum. Jokes about Mariah Carey videos and drag queens feel dead-on, but when she starts mocking older acts like Fleetwood Mac and Carol Channing, Bernhard's humor starts to wear a little thin.
"I'm Still Here ... Damn It!" does offer Bernhard the opportunity to show her rather impressive range as a performer. The act is interspersed with songs, most of which are satiric, but what is surprising is Bernhard's vocal range and her ability to mimic different singing styles. She has always been a somewhat uneven actress, ranging from excellent in Martin Scorsese's "King of Comedy" (1983) to downright horrible in the Bruce Willis debacle "Hudson Hawk" (1991), and some of this comes through in her stand-up. While some moments shine with vicious glee, others fall portentously flat.
The show began off-Broadway, then enjoyed a run of packed houses at the Booth Theater in New York. The show filmed for "I'm Still Here ... Damn It!" was captured in San Francisco as part of the travelling act that covered the U.S. from 1998 to 1999. The film, which was originally shot for an HBO special, was directed by Marty Callner, whose credits range from "The Pee-Wee Herman Show" to Bette Midler's concert special "Diva Las Vegas." The solid cinematography is by none other than Haskell Wexler, the consummate pro behind such films as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975).
In the end, "I'm Still Here ... Damn It!" will appeal to Bernhard fans and enflame the animosity of those who didn't like her to begin with. But, whether you like Bernhard or not, one thing you can never say about her: She's hasn't sold out.
16x9 Enhanced: No
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Extras: 30 minutes of previously unseen footage; Sandra Bernhard biography; web links
Video: The full-frame image is generally sharp and clean. The bright colors are intense and well-saturated, and there were only minimal traces of artifacting. Good contrast and detail, especially in the darker shots of the various audience members.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2-channel stereo is clean and audible. It doesn't create a particularly deep you-are-there-in-the-audience effect, but it works nicely for the purpose of a stage show.
Extras: The DVD features 30 minutes of previously unseen footage that was not broadcast by HBO. The extra footage is decent, but it's not as good as what was retained in the original 60-minute broadcast edit (although there is one viciously funny moment where she ridicules Melanie Griffith's collagen-injected lips). The disc also features a brief biographical history of Sandra Bernhard and the origins of the show, as well as various web links.
©2000 James Kendrick