Life With Judy Garland: Me & My Shadows
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The remarkable story of Hollywood legend Judy Garland is vividly told in this widely acclaimed film, which features amazing, award-winning portrayals by Judy Davis and Tammy Blanchard.
Loved by millions the world over, Judy was the brightest star in Hollywood's Golden Era. Away from the bright lights and brilliant performances, however, her devotion was to her family. But while she loved her children unconditionally, they could only desperately try to hang on to their mother as a powerful dependence on alcohol and prescription drugs consumed her life. Based on the book by Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft, Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows is a deeply moving testament to the healing powers of embracing one's past, facing one's demons and charting a course of self-discovery.
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Robert L. Freedman's teleplay gives Judy Garland's extraordinary life story the epic treatment she deserves. Robert Allen Ackerman's direction is solid throughout. Tammy Blanchard (young Judy) and Judy Davis (adult Judy) give mesmerizing, deservedly award-winning performances. The only real mistake the biopic makes is switching the two actresses much too soon. Blanchard plays Judy from 1935-1943. Davis takes over from 1944 (when Garland made "Meet Me In St. Louis") until her death in 1969. Blanchard should have played Judy through 1949-1950, with Davis taking over the role after Judy left MGM. Blanchard/Davis offer a clear, well-rounded, extremely compassionate portrayal of Judy; the most talented entertainer of the 20th Century, who struggled with countless personal and psychological demons away from the spotlight. Between MGM executives constantly telling Judy she is too fat and forcing a crazy cocktail of pills on her, and her much less than loving or caring stage mother Ethel Gumm, (a strong supporting performance by Marsha Mason), it's easy to understand how Judy developed an inferiority complex and ended up an emotional mess. In one excellent scene, a psychiatrist asks her to tell him about Francis Gumm. An all too aware Judy instantly replies, "Nobody liked her. She was that fat girl. We had to get rid of her. Judy Garland stole Francis Gumm's voice." It's easy to see and understand how the young, eager to please Judy, played by Blanchard, evolved into the vulnerable, volatile, high-strung, needy, diva, adult Judy, played by Davis.
The production values are excellent; far above the typical TV biopic. Both Blanchard and Davis lipsinc perfectly to several of Judy's classic recordings. Scenes from Judy's most popular films ("The Wizard Of Oz", "Meet Me In St. Louis" and "A Star Is Born") and her career apex at Carnegie Hall in 1961 are lovingly re-created. John Benjamin Hickey gives an excellent performance as Roger Edens, Judy's musical mentor and constant champion. Tellingly, Edens, who truly valued her as a person and performer, is the only person who repeatedly calls Judy by her real name of Francis.
Trouble is, those additional 18 minutes don't add much to Judy's saga. The cut scenes seemed to be cut for good reason. The one cut scene that is valuable has Vincente Minnelli (Hugh Laurie) trying to calm an overwrought Judy down in her dressing room during "Meet Me In St. Louis." This is later contrasted with another dressing room drama, during the difficult filming of "The Pirate" in 1947, when Vincente is no longer able to help Judy, deep in drug-addicted paranoia, at all.
Here is a run-down of the additional scenes:
1. Short scene with Judy (Tammy Blanchard) writing poetry in her bedroom in 1940-- after a date with Artie Shaw.
2. Short scene with Judy (Judy Davis) and Roger Edens. Judy does not want to make "Meet Me In St. Louis"
3. Extended Scene: Vincente Minnelli calms Judy down in her dressing room.
4. Short Scene: Vincente talks with doctor about Judy's drug addiction and his worries for her.
5. Sid Luft (Victor Garber) talks with doctor about Judy's drug addiction and how it will affect her pregnancy with daughter Lorna Luft.
6. Judy, ill and without medication, forgets her lyrics during a concert in Australia. Audience members leave, yelling at her and berating her. Judy runs offstage, a complete mess.
7. Lorna (Allison Pill) and housekeeper Lottie witness domestic violence between Judy and Mark Herron (Judy's fourth husband, but seemingly depicted here as a boyfriend). Judy's face has blood all over it. Mark screams and leaves. Lottie helps Judy; telling Lorna to leave quickly and make sure her brother Joe does not see this. Lorna stays behind to clean up a bloody mess on the carpet.
I recommend this biopic. The 188 minute Echo Bridge release is fine; but I think the earlier 170 minutes DVD is better. It is presented as one whole movie (not in two parts). The earlier DVD release (Miramax) also includes a Making of Featurette, and Audio Commentary from Lorna Luft and others involved with the movie's production that is NOT included here.
All the major events in Garland’s life are included, as well as other parts of her story that aren’t so well known. For example, the challenges she went through as an awkward child and the way adults – especially at the studio – treated her. In addition, I had no idea that it was MGM studio that got her addicted to drugs. Regardless of her challenges, which sometimes included her physical and mental conditions, she managed to deliver the goods. Throughout storyline, Davis delivers emotional and nuanced performers that help you empathize with Garland’s ups and downs.
If the portrayal of her career decline is accurate, it’s a shame how the TV executives treated Garland. Her show might not have garnered immediate strong ratings, but in hindsight it might have been because she was ahead of her time.
This bio-pic has a great cast, high production value, and is attentive to the music and its presentation. True fans of Garland must be satisfied with this movie, and the casual fan – like me – will come away with a new appreciate of her life and career. This movie will take you over the rainbow!
This is one of the best biopics about a Hollywood personality that I've seen to date. Oh, it has some of the typical shortcomings of the genre; for instance, in this sort of picture a fair amount of the dialogue has to deliver a lot of exposition, to try and impart as much information as possible to the viewer in a limited amount of running time. This results in conversations that often don't sound entirely natural. And of course there's so much biographical material that has to be left out in a picture that runs just over three hours but attempts to depict an entire life in those few minutes. However, for the most part the events dramatized in the script are fairly accurate. Oh, there are a few bits that aren't true-to-life, but overall this is a decent biography and is far, far more accurate than any number of other biopics I've seen in the past.
The two actresses who play Judy are each excellent in their own way, giving decent impressions of Garland in her earlier and later years. Funny---Blanchard and Davis do not really look alike, but nevertheless they each look like Garland during certain phases of her life. The film only makes one major misstep, and that is the point where the young Blanchard transitions over to the older Davis. This change was made far too early in the picture, when Garland was shooting "Meet Me in St Louis." Davis is absolutely not convincing as Garland at this age; she looks far too old and her characterization seemed off as well---too cynical and bitter for ingénue Judy, who after all was only in her early twenties at that time. It would have made much more sense for the transition between actresses to be made when the film reached the year 1950, the year Judy left MGM and was set to begin the concert-performing phase of her career. I do think this is a substantial problem, but on the other hand it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the picture TOO much.
(One other minor pet peeve, which DID annoy me no end! Man, who was responsible for the orange fright wig used in the "Meet Me in St Louis" scenes! Holy cow, it's horrible---not even remotely close to the colour of Garland's hair in that picture.)
I suppose the one problem with a picture like this is how can anyone, no matter how skilled, depict a unique talent like Garland? The film at least did not attempt to have the actresses mimic Garland's singing voice---nearly all of the musical numbers on the soundtrack are mimed to recordings of Garland's voice. But more than that, I'm not sure that anyone could accurately portray what made Judy so unique. When reading about the actress one comes across the same statements again and again---she seems to have had a magnetic personality, and everyone who met her was instantly drawn to her. Garland had a personal charisma that was overwhelming, and such a trait is difficult to portray on-screen. Still, overall I'll say this film is an admirable attempt to give an overview of the Judy's life, and I'll happily recommend it for anyone who wants to learn a little about the star, or is interested in glimpses of golden-age Hollywood.
Though I had seen this film when it was first broadcast, it's been quite some time since I last viewed it, and I was happy to watch it again. This new DVD release (it only came out a few weeks ago) runs 18 minutes longer than the previous DVD did, and to the best of my knowledge is the longest cut of this film that exists. This new DVD is also presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio to fit modern widescreen televisions, even though the film was shot in standard 35 mm with a 1.33:1 ratio. Now, I thought this would be a problem, because of course this means the top and bottom of the film frame had to be trimmed. However, when viewing the picture at no time did I get the impression that the image was cropped; the composition seemed just fine. This makes me wonder if the film was originally shot in "open matte" 35mm, with some extra space left at the top and bottom of the frame for safety. (Before the advent of widescreen television some US television films were intended for theatrical release overseas, and in those cases they were shot open matte. Don't know if this is the case here, but at any rate the picture looks fine.) The only complaint I have about the display is when viewing on a HD set, the DVD picture has a black border on all four sides. You'll need to use the "zoom" feature on your TV remote to get the image to fill the screen properly.