In the Queerguru Office right now we are having (yet) another Judy Garland moment. And why shouldn’t we for as gay filmmaker Stephen Kijak has stated it is in our DNA and he’s a kind of expert on both. As we eagerly await to see Miss Zellweger’s star turn in the new biopic JUDY that is just about to hit movie theatres with some very good advance notices, we previewed SID & JUDY a documentary on her life with third husband and one-time-manger Sid Luft.
Regardless of how Oscar worthy Miss Zellweger’s performance there is still nothing like seeing the real thing, and that’s exactly what Kijak’s excellent new film does. Just when you thought you knew all there was to know about the legend of Garland, Kijak proves you wrong. He shows this tough part of her life (not that there ever was an easy part!) with a whole treasure trove of archival footage of concerts performances, plus never-heard-before voice recordings and a wealth of personal photographs
Luft really enters the story in 1949 when MGM fired Garland after she was physically & mentally unable to make the movie ‘Annie Get Your Gun’. Her then husband the (gay) filmmaker Vincente Minnelli completely failed to back Garland up in her fight with Louis B Mayer, but by then she had already met Luft and that just drove her more into his arms. After a stint in Recovery , Luft decided if judy couldn’t get work again in Hollywood he would launch a concert career for her instead.
In most accounts of their relationship together Luft comes off a one of the good guys, whether that was true or not, although just as Judy was about to start her crucial for engagement ot the Palace she found herself pregnant and Luft her alone to arrange the abortion.
The couple were together for a roller-coaster decade where Garland’s violent mood swings affected not just her career but also the precarious state of their relationship. She was by then far too addicted to some many type of uppers and downers that she couldn’t function at all unless she had some sort of fix. When Garland was working she could access any drugs she wanted through her dressers other actors etc but at home Luft tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to make the place a drug free zone.
He seemed genuinely fond of her and was not only her confident and manager it was he that produced the film that Garland had been desperate to make for years, and which would become her second biggest success A Star is Born.
Garland may have been a user when it comes to drugs, but Kijak makes the point that all the men in her life used her as a performer for their own gain and rarely thought of her as a person : an actual human being. Right from the start with MGM giving the 13 year old girl amphetamines to keep her weight down, to the CBS executives who gave her a TV Series which when it didn’t make them the money they expected, they discarded her ‘
Despite all this. the footage of Garland electrifying singing constantly reminds you of her remarkable talent and why we loved her so very much. The clip of her singing a duet with Streisand is worth the price of the movie ticket alone.
The fact that Garland died in London just weeks after the Stonewall Riots (making this 5oth Anniversary of her death too) is yet one more reason why she is, and probably always will be ,the supreme Gay Icon. Like so many of us growing up Garland had no role model at all, and suffered from the extreme measures of being forced to make her conform to other people’s expectations. As she became the emotional queen of tragedy and gay men flocked to her in great numbers. Even without Kijak pointing this out, it was so evident of the pictures of the crowds pressing themselves against the stages where she performed were all very obviously gay men.
There is of course the fact that Garland and her mother and her daughter all married gay men. Sometimes more than once.
Kijak treats both Garland and Luft with respect in this almost affectionate profile. It adds to the picture of the very complex and ultimately sad story of a tortured genius who tragically died far too young. Kudos to him also for the inspired choice of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jon Hamm for reading the words of Garland and Luft.
Regardless of JUDY the movie, don’t miss this film at all. Tt continues to play the Film Festival circuit and then is broadcast of SHOWTIME TV Channel on 10/18