#081

Judy Garland: The Signature Collection
Warner Bros. DVD box set

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Meet Me In St. Louis
Warner Bros. DVD

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Celebrity often grows around a career like a scar, disfiguring whatever talent, or charisma, or appeal made it happen. Judy Garland is a fine example, and it’s the Judy of the later TV specials and stage shows, incandescent with neuroses and barbiturates, that obscures the girl with the incredible voice, striking but never beautiful, who became a star at MGM.

The train wreck began with over a decade’s worth of films that were probably the longest run at ingénue status in the history of the movies. Warner’s has just put out two releases that distill that period of Garland’s career very nicely, beginning with a seven-disc box set of the best of Garland’s work for MGM.

Three of the films in the set have been released already – The Wizard Of Oz and A Star Is Born, the two films that bookend the best of Garland’s work, and The Harvey Girls, a good but not incredible product of the hit-making Arthur Freed musical unit at the studio. Imagine the chick-flick version of a western, and you have all you need to know.

The other four releases are new to DVD, the highlight of which is Ziegfeld Girl, an ironclad showbiz musical about three hopefuls who join the glorified chorus line of one of impresario Flo Ziegfeld’s Broadway shows. Garland is the trooper, Hedy Lamarr the European sophisticate, and Lana Turner the Brooklyn bombshell who lets it all go to her head. Jimmy Stewart plays her truck driver boyfriend, a role that’s only utterly miscast for about half the picture.

In The Good Old Summertime is a re-make of the classic The Shop Around the Corner, which would be re-made again with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as You’ve Got Mail. For Me And My Gal is another showbiz musical co-starring Gene Kelly and directed by Busby Berkeley, and Love Finds Andy Hardy is an Andy Hardy film, one of the best in the long, successful series starring Mickey Rooney, and only a bit less cloying than a cotton candy milkshake.

Also just released is a two-disc special edition of 1944’s Meet Me In St. Louis, probably the best-loved of the pictures that put Garland in corsets and crinolines and piled-up hair. Set just after the turn of the 20th century, it’s a fine example of the aching nostalgia for a “simpler time” that began with the Depression, and has today been transferred to the ‘50s. It’s a sweet nothing of a film about a family that’s being forced to move to New York before the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair puts their town on the map. There are songs and beaus and alcohol-free punch, and it would be nothing more than a quaint period period piece if it weren’t so well done.

It comes with a second disc full of bonus features, and an introduction by Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli, whose own career is so much an evolution of her mother’s needy, quivering persona, a funhouse mirror version of the girl who really was a trooper, willing to do anything to be loved.

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Onibaba
Criterion Collection DVD

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Kaneto Shindo’s 1964 film Onibaba is a nightmare. In a country destroyed by war, a mother and daughter-in-law live in a hut amidst a windswept sea of reeds, feeding themselves by robbing and killing lone samurai who stray into their stark domain.

It’s a fiercely stylized piece of filmmaking, tense and beautiful despite the grim plotline. When a neighbour returns from the war and tells the daughter that her husband is dead, the mother-in-law realizes he’s a threat to their homicidal bond and dresses up as a demon to scare the girl back to her and their gruesome work.

Bonuses include an interview with the director and rare home movie footage shot by one of the actors during filming.

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Eating Raoul
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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Paul Bartel’s 1982 black comedy about a prim couple who turn to murdering swingers to make money was once a big draw for the post-punk crowd, a cheap little film drenched in irony and a shruggingly disinterested moral ambivalence.

Looking not too different from John Waters’ early cheapo gross-outs, and with an acting style derived mostly from ‘70s porn, it was a rite of passage for young folks who wanted to prove that they couldn’t be shocked. Twenty years later, it still has moments of nudging humour, but the most interesting thing about Eating Raoul is the way its both fascinated and repulsed by sex, a nice reminder of the prurient sense of shame that saw out the end of the ‘70s. No bonus features.

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Timeline
Paramount DVD

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The scientific implausibility of Timeline, a thriller about time travel based on a Michael Crichton novel, isn’t the weakest thing about the film. There’s a script that works hard to do nothing particularly original, and performances that scream “I’m firing my agent the moment we wrap”. Billy Connolly is limited to endless shouts of “Oh muh Gawwd!”, which is more enthusiasm than lackluster lead Paul Walker can muster for the whole film. Comes with a menu of “making of” features that work hard to redeem a forgettable bit of dross.

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©2004 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.