It’s funny how we all go about our everyday lives convincing ourselves that we’re ok. Never dropping that public mask, it’s the perfect defence. The cracks remain, however, through which unexpected emotion can seep and, like a catalyst, reawaken that which is buried inside rendering the mask void. We went to see Judy at the cinema last night. It hit where it hurts!
There are few films which can lure me into a cinema today. Why? The exorbitant prices? The horrendous adverts? Both play their part; however, it is the dread of sitting amongst Joe Public for two hours which brings me out in a cold sweat! Suffice to say, on each successive occasion, I venture into the darkness with an open mind only to have my opinion re-affirmed – none of them has ever heard of the great metaphysical poet, John Donne, let alone his famous quotation, ‘No man is an island, entire of it self.’ More reminiscent of feeding time at ‘McDonalds’, it is merely an excuse to sit down and relax whilst chomping through gratuitous family-sized tubs of popcorn washed down with fizzy, sugar-powered drinks. Fine but, if I arrive in plenty of time to choose a seat suitably distant from those suffering from food deprivation, why is it, then, that they follow me?! Never fails. Last night was no different. Five minutes to go and, with most of the house in situ, we chose our seats far forward and to the left, hindering no one. The familiar Pearl & Dean music – can’t believe it has survived – heralded the onslaught of the obligatory mind-numbing adverts, also marking the moment of triumph: the realisation that one has successfully out-manoeuvred the public. Don’t be ridiculous! Halfway through the marketing bombardment came the familiar sound of the door opening as the latecomers struggled in with their booty … and chose to sit square in front of us! Big ladies obviously hellbent on becoming bigger, they had big voices to match and a big void with regard to social courtesy. Not wishing to sample their ‘big’ vocabulary, at this point, however, we simply got up and moved to their inevitable great hilarity. As they continued to include the entire auditorium in the narration of their riveting lives throughout the adverts to which I, now, desperately wanted to listen, we were, once again, faced with our minority status. Does Google not recognise the word ‘respect’? Perhaps the idea of cloning isn’t so ‘out there’ after all …
So, a jolly night out at the cinema? Well, I never expected the subject matter to make for jolly viewing but the adverts? I’ve never been forced to sit through such a depressing conglomeration in my life! Cancer, starving children, mental illness, cruelty to animals …. emotionally wrung out before any mention of the yellow brick road, we were hardly buoyed to cope with the truth: that it was, actually, the road to hell.
It’s very hard to do justice, in words, to Judy. A lifelong interest in the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, I was always going to go and see the film but Renée Zellweger is Bridget Jones so how convincing could she be? Funny, but, in character, the legend that is Judy Garland all but erased Bridget – and Renée – and one was completely absorbed. A biopic which follows her desperate attempts at a comeback when homeless, broke and fighting for the custody of her two young children, she is forced to accept a run of shows at the Talk of the Town in London in the winter of 1968/9. Now, a tragic, lonely, incredibly frail figure, Dorothy is long gone and, in her place, someone tired of enduring life. Deprived of a childhood, she was the property of MGM where she was subjected to the bullying and psychological abuse of the formidable Louis Mayer. Plied with uppers, downers and appetite suppressants to keep her awake, make her sleep and ensure Dorothy never grew up – nor out – Judy was the victim of her inimitable voice and vulnerability. While the yellow brick road may have, ultimately, led Dorothy ‘home’ – opening her eyes to what really matters in life along the way – ironically, it was to ensure Judy never found the solace she craved.
It’s 80 years since The Wizard of Oz was first released and it is still as beloved today. Forever on television through the decades, it is a film, above all, affirming the power of belief;of hope. Good triumphs over evil and the moral lies in recognising the true value of all that we take for granted. Who doesn’t long for respite, over the rainbow, from this increasingly dark world? Opening in black and white, an effusion of colour erupts as the little girl in the blue gingham dress and pigtails is transported, in her imagination, to the Emerald City via the yellow brick road. Accompanied by the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man – searching for courage, wisdom and a heart, respectively – Dorothy’s adventure is a metaphor for the innocence of childhood and the mistaken belief that the grass is always greener. The ruby slippers? Well, they represent something she had all along: the power of self-worth and the ability to find her way ‘home’.
Judy Garland will forever be synonymous with the song she made her own, Over the Rainbow. As Dorothy, she sang of a land where ‘skies are blue’ and where ‘the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.’ A song of hope, of longing for a better life, the lyrics are all the more poignant in hindsight as the sixteen year-old was singing from the heart aware that there was no such idyll. There never was an Emerald City; the yellow brick road never existed and her dreams would never come true …
A superb film, Renée was totally convincing as the beloved Judy who, despite it all, never lost her spark of humour nor her power to endear. The costumes were both stunning and authentic and then there was the music … the gift which kept on giving! Somewhat surprisingly, Renée, herself, sang rather than miming to the original recordings but it took little away, so mesmerising was she as Judy. A performance deserving of an Oscar.
Never under-estimate the power of the ending. Something I learnt a long time ago. Judy does not disappoint. Aware she has blown it, she returns to the Talk of the Town stage one last time and, of course, sings Over the Rainbow. Choked with emotion, she is struggling until the audience comes to her aid with an outpouring of love for the little girl with pigtails who, in her inimitable voice, once sang of hope but, tragically, never learnt to fly.
Go and see Judy but be warned, this poignant film will seep through all the cracks …
‘A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.’
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
This is Trish, signing off.