For me, there have been three stand-out singers of the 20th Century. Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Judy Garland.
That's leaving aside opera, which is an enormous world unto itself. What my special trinity have in common is that they each sang from the soul. They just didn't interpret a song -- they made their songs an extension of themselves, singing with utmost conviction and palpable belief.
And yes, each in their different ways led tragic lives. But each also sang of hope and love, particularly France's Little Sparrow, and America's sweetheart, Judy Garland.
This television biopic is based on the writings and memories of Judy Garland's second daughter, Lorna Luft. It starts its almost-three-hour journey soundly focused on Judy's life, from her birth as Frances Gumm, and through her vicious exploitation by the MGM dream-factory. But as it progresses, it also becomes a memoir of her family relations, as Lorna Luft's own memories start taking centre-stage.
Acting is particularly sound. Tammy Blanchett is strong as the young 'Wizard of Oz' - period Judy, even though at times she seems more the young Bette Middler than Judy.
Australia's own Judy Davis is outstanding as the older Judy -- she is maybe not quite so convincing in the early years, when getting hitched to director Vincente Minnelli (Hugh Laurie), but she really comes into her own in Judy's later years. This becomes a tour-de-force performance, as she shows Judy reinventing herself through her legendary concert performances, culminating in the famous Concert at Carnegie Hall.
And some special credit should go to Dwayne Adams, who portrays Judy's early co-star and special MGM friend and supporter, Mickey Rooney. I find it hard to endure the early Mickey Rooney on film -- but Dwayne manages to make his over-eager, hammy qualities actually endurable.
Be prepared. This is a terribly sad story. We endure her teenage addiction to amphetamines, encouraged by MGM and her mother to keep the child working at full-pace. We see the fruits of that addiction throughout her life, as it intermittently destroys both relationships and career, and finally ends her life. But throughout the best and worst days, Judy just kept singing. And she always sang wondrously.
Just as with Edith Piaf, it seemed just impossible that such a big, dramatic voice could be coming from such a tiny frame. And the voice just kept coming -- from the 14-year-old singing 'Zing Went the Strings of my Heart', to the woman in the late 40s belting out 'Swanee'.
Judy Garland was every inch a star, and this documentary is a fine portrayal of the tortured life which gave us so much. If the documentary misses one aspect, it just slightly fails to present the vulnerability that lay behind that great, strong voice. But really, only Judy Garland could combine such vulnerability and strength in that special way. As Cary Grant (or was it Tony Curtis as Cary Grant?) used to say ... Judy, Judy, Judy!
A great teleplay. Judy Garland lovers should not hesitate.
To accompany it, I would suggest these few additions. Firstly, the superb recent American television documentary on the life of Judy Garland, Judy Garland: By Myself, which gives an even finer account of her life. You can get that by purchasing the two-disc US Special Edition of Easter Parade -- it's a bonus feature within that set.
Then, there are a few indispensable movies. Soon to be released is a new Warners mastering of The Wizard of Oz, using their new super-transfer method for Technicolor prints. But make sure you add to that my favourite Judy Garland musical, For Me and My Gal, along with The Harvey Girls, and Meet Me In St Louis.
Later, you might want to add some things such as the reconstructed Warners classic A Star is Born, and the very charming In the Good Old Summertime. And there's a lot more from where they came from.....