"Judy Garland was just a normal abnormal great talent."
Documentaries about beloved show business personalities tend to be either overly worshipful or gleefully iconoclastic. The best such programs manage to present a balanced, overview of the individual. The BBC Ominbus production JUDY: IMPRESSSIONS OF GARLAND, which debuted three years after the singer's tragic death in 1969 at the age of forty-seven, is an excellent, unsentimental, straightforward look at her life and career. The two quotes listed above were provided by the two people who probably knew Judy Garland better than anyone else: her oldest daughter, Liza Minnelli, and her friend and most frequent collaborator, Mickey Rooney. They share their stories and memories with love and humor, as do the other interviewees, Garland's show business colleagues and friends, some of whom knew her as a child.
From her years as an MGM contract player (1935-1950), there are memories from producers Arthur Freed and Joe Pasternak, lyricist E.Y. Harburg (THE WIZARD OF OZ), co-stars Peter Lawford and Ray Bolger, and Dottie Ponedel, her personal makeup artist and friend. Vincente Minnelli, her second husband and frequent director, provides some insightful comments about Garland's experience as a child star, saying that "it was a dreadful thing to grow up in that atmosphere". Charles Walters, the director and choreographer who worked with Garland and was a close friend, has some of the best stories to tell. One rather surprising thing he says is that Garland started taking singing lessons during the last five years of her life in order to preserve her voice because that was her "rent money".
Other individuals interviewed include George Folsey, a cameraman at MGM, Mort Lindsey, her frequent conductor and arranger, and Mickey Deans, her fifth husband. Also included are two dedicated Garland fans: Wayne Martin, who turned his home into "Judyland", a storehouse of Garland memorabilia, and fan club founder Albert Poland, who discusses Garland's status as a gay icon during the 1950's and 1960's. Actor Dirk Bogarde is also interviewed. He was a close personal friend and also co-starred with Judy in her final film I COULD GO ON SINGING (1963).
|A dramatic scene from I COULD GO ON SINGING with Dirk Bogarde and Judy Garland.|
Bogarde obviously had a lot of love and respect for Garland, but he is honest about the difficulties she caused for the cast and crew during the making of the film. In spite of those difficulties, he praised her work as an actress. A clip from a crucial scene from the film is included in the documentary. In the scene, singing star Jennie Bowman (Garland) is confronted by her former lover (Bogarde), who tries to convince her to go to the theater where she is already hours late for a concert. It was a true-to-life situation for the singer. Jennie swears that she's not going to the theater "ever, ever again", and that "It's not worth all the deaths that I have to die." And she asks: "Do you think you can make me sing? You can get me there, sure, but can you make me sing?" As Bogarde describes the scene:
"That was the actual woman saying the actual truth, acting it brilliantly, and being it, which is a very different thing. She knew exactly that it was a playing scene, but it was about her. It was her."
Indeed, this scene is one of the best examples of Garland's acting talent in her entire career. It goes on for over three minutes, an unbroken, unedited stream of emotional dialogue between the two characters. Her work in this film is so marvelous, both the dramatic scenes and the musical numbers, that it makes a memorable finish to her film career. Other segments from the film are included, as well as clips from many of the actress's musical films.
|Judy performs "A Great Lady Has An Interview" in ZIEGFELD FOLLIES (1946).|
|One of the biggest treats in the documentary is the entire "Get Happy" number from SUMMER STOCK (1950), Judy's last film at MGM.|
The documentary also chronicles her post-MGM years as a concert performer. Judy Garland left MGM in 1950 after making twenty-seven films in fourteen years. She was twenty-eight years old. In 1951 she debuted at the London Palladium. This was followed by a nineteen-week engagement at the Palace Theater in New York. More legendary triumphs would follow over the years, including two Academy Award nominations and an amazing comeback concert at Carnegie Hall in 1961.
For those who love Judy Garland, this documentary will provide a perfect tribute. And for those who aren't familiar with the scope of her career beyond yearly viewings of THE WIZARD OF OZ, this is a wonderful way to get to know her. The final interview segment is, fittingly, from Liza: