Saturday, December 11, 2010
Liza Minelli's 'Private' look back at career ~ PRIVATE SCREENINGS. SATURDAY NIGHT AT 10, TCM
Saturday, December 11th 2010
LIZA MINNELLI: PRIVATE SCREENINGS. SATURDAY NIGHT AT 10, TCM
Robert Osborne's charming "Private Screenings" session with his longtime pal Liza Minnelli doesn't tell us anything new, through no fault of either participant.
Watching this TCM special is more like sitting by a fireplace near a couch where two old friends are reminiscing.
You know they've told the stories before, but even if we've heard most of them, their enthusiasm makes the encore presentation almost as entertaining for us as it is for them.
Much of the conversation focuses on Minnelli's childhood, drawing out her memories of her mother, Judy Garland, and her father, director Vincente Minnelli.
As it happens, she remembers childhood fondly. Like all kids, she assumed the childhood she had was the norm for all.
After school or on vacations, she would visit the set where her father was directing his current film, exploring the prop and costume rooms and generally, like all cute kids, getting the run of the joint.
"MGM was my playground," she says. "I knew the whole operation."
She also met all the stars and she says nothing here that tarnishes their memories.
Fred Astaire was "amazing," she says, even though she does recall that her father had to talk him into doing his now-famous duet with Gene Kelly (from "The Ziegfeld Follies").
While her mother may have a larger popular reputation than her father, "Private Screenings" spends more time on Vincente, walking through some of his finest works and flashing clips from films like "Cabin in the Sky."
Minnelli does admit that the first time she saw her mother's early signature film, "The Wizard of Oz," she didn't like it.
"It frightened me," she says. She also didn't think of the young woman on the screen, Dorothy, as her mother. It wasn't the woman who sat down with her and her father for dinner every night.
In retrospect, she says, those dinners were surprisingly normal.
"They'd talk about everything except movies," she says. "They'd been working on a movie set all day. That was enough."
Minnelli and Osborne feel so comfortable together that at times Minnelli sometimes seems to talk in the kind of personal shorthand developed in such a friendship.
Some of her responses seem simplified, as if she has to say only a little because she knows Osborne understands the rest. Ironically, if she were talking with someone she didn't know, she might be inclined to further explanation.
That's not a big problem, and it doesn't interfere with the glimpses she offers into her own life, like how she wanted to be a dancer, not an actor.
The main reason that little of this seems startling is that Minnelli's whole life has been lived in the spotlight.
"Private Screenings" doesn't feel all that private, either. But it's a pleasant place to eavesdrop for an hour.