Whilst the title is a misnomer, since this 90 minute documentary covers all of Garland's life and comparatively little on her last days, there is enough material not seen in other doco's on her to sustain interest in Judy's tale.
There is surprisingly little sustained footage of Garland performing. The only examples of her film work are The Wizard of Oz, Till the Clouds Roll By, poor quality versions of the notorious takes from her Annie Get Your Gun, and Judgment at Nuremberg. Otherwise there is Judy on television in snippets, with even a filmed radio broadcast of her singing Over the Rainbow edited.
Her songs can be heard behind the narration by Christina Pickles which actually works against the intention of highlighting Garland - rather we wish she would be quiet. However the opening burst of Some of These Days from her TV show is evidence of Garland's genius and also ironically how she was too `big' for television - which was Sid Luft's objection to Judy signing for her own network variety show. Though the camera is kept further away than in her earlier forays where she threatened to devour us eg the 1955 Ford Star Jubilee, a weekly exposure to this kind of talent is exhausting. This no doubt made the idea doomed to failure, even if she hadn't been positioned to compete with Bonanza.
There is unidentified film footage of Judy as a child as `Bubbles' where she is frankly awful, and of her older singing Silent Night. The A Star is Born premiere, wardrobe tests for Valley of the Dolls, and a montage of footage from her 1961 Judy Live at the Palladium concert. Newsreels, interviews with Judy done for television in the 1960s, audio from her unpublished autobiography and her radio shows, home movies, newspaper headlines, photographs and stills. One photo of the hepatitis-bloated Judy is particularly unflattering because she is posed with the young Elizabeth Taylor.
For to-camera interviews we hear from Jerry Herman, Gerald Clarke the `Get Happy' biographer (who is an unctuous authority), Margaret O'Brien, Robert Osborne, Harry Rubin, John Carlyle (who cries in memory), Freddie Fields, Ronald Neame, and John Meyer. We also get the usual suspects - Alan King, Marcella Rabwin, Ann Miller, Mickey Rooney (as embarassing as always), Lorna Luft, Dona Massin, Mort Lindsey, George Schlatter, Matthew West, and archival interviews with Vincente Minnelli, Liza, Joe Mankiewicz, and Mickey Deans.
There is much talk of Garland's drug addiction, which is said to have been initiated by her mother Ethel pre-MGM, and her inability and unwillingness to overcome it being the cause of her downfall. An anecdote of Ethel driving her car over bumpy roads when pregnant with Judy to induce an abortion, feeding into the notion of the animosity between mother and daughter and Judy's legendary insecurity. Judy's abortion while married to David Rose, Clarke's story that Judy walked in on Vincente and a man in bed as the reason for a suicide attempt. Marcella Rabwin claiming her husband Mark is the one to be thanked for Judy being released from her MGM contract. And an interview with Judy where she tells of how the lot gateman refused her access to her dressing room after she was `fired'. Garland's flight from Hollywood is presented here once again as her failure, rather than an example of a supremely gifted artist unable to be productive in the factory mentality of studio moviemaking of the time.
After we hear comments about her death and the summation of her life, with Clarke saying that one can only make sense of the end when one knows the beginning, Judy performs two songs from her television series. The Battle Hymn of the Republic shows off the power of her voice, and Here's To Us appears alongside the closing credits, with Judy in clown make-up and outfit, improvising when she removes the cap and messes her hair. The footage makes the clumsy editing unnecessary, and is a reminder of how often those who meant to represent her did her poor service. To appreciate Judy as the great entertainer she was, all they had to do was keep the camera on her.
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