July 24, 2012

NetPix: Judy's Last Film I COULD GO ON SINGING

Last night, I went to the monthly Queer Art Film series at the IFC Center, co-curated by fellow filmmakers Ira Sachs and Adam Baran. They screened Judy Garland's I COULD GO ON SINGING, a film I'd heard of but never actually seen. I'm so glad I did get to see it finally, on a big screen and with a wonderful audience too.

The film is practically a documentary as Garland plays herself, an extremely talented singer/actress who has a lonely and troubled personal life. There are even scenes that mimic Garland's real life, like a semi-wobbly performance at London's famed Palladium.  The fictional story line, about a son she left to her British lover (played by longtime real life pal Dirk Bogarde) to raise, is incredibly touching without being saccharine.

There are some wonderful moments, particularly a sequence where Garland attends a boys school production of Gilbert & Sullivan. Her young son, in British stage drag, actually resembles a young Garland as he belts out the number with gusto, delighting his mother to no end. Then there is a priceless backstage scene where Garland gathers the boys around the piano (half dressed as sailors and half in drag!) for an impromptu G&S sing-a-long. You can tell that Garland is having the time of her life, surrounding by these young talented performers.  

Later, there are more dramatic and heartbreaking scenes with her son as he realizes who his true mother is and must decide what his relationship with her is going to be. A scene of Garland on the phone with the boy is beautifully written, performed and directed, done in one continuous take. The director, Ronald Neame, does a great job with Garland (who was apparently a handful on set), and really draws out what is one of her best performances.

The film was selected for the QAF series by Heather Matarazzo, the actress formerly known as "Dawn Weiner" from the indie classic WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. There was an intensely personal Q/A afterward about how much Matarazzo was moved by the film and by Garland's raw performance in it. Matarazzo also got her start in show business quite young, at age 7, and picked the film as she related to Garland's upbringing in the biz. It was a wonderful, personal discussion about how one artist can inspire another..which is the point of this wonderful film series. Kudos to Adam and Ira for creating this unique and essential cultural conversation, now going into its 4th year.

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