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Oct 18, 2019

BASED ON: 'Judy' Shows the High Price of Hollywood

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a 2016 USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.

Judy, a film written by Tom Edge and directed by Rupert Goold; based on the musical drama End of the Rainbow, by Peter Quilter. Warning: Some spoilers.

I noticed the first discrepancy between the film, Judy and the musical it’s based on before even walking into the movie theater.

The MPAA assigned a PG-13 rating to the film, surprising since the play deals more appropriately with Judy Garland’s (played in the film by Renée Zellweger) further descent into addiction with R-rated content. However, the choice of the filmmakers not to visually display the salacious details found in the play adds texture to Judy’s characterization.

Not constrained by the limited sets of a stage play, the film adds flashbacks to Judy’s early days in the movie business. Creepy executive producer Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery) lures Judy down the literal yellow brick road for her The Wizard of Oz audition. He feigns concern that she doesn’t know how much longer she can continue ingesting diet pills.

The drugs keep her awake and necessitate the brutal cycle of offsetting downers. The play and film don’t deny this dark side of Hollywood. The film, however, goes one step further and implies what has been rumored, that Judy, like other young actresses navigating the industry, was the victim of sexual advances from much older men. The PG-13 rating then spares us the visuals and leaves the unproven matter ambiguous (and I suppose shields Judy’s filmmakers from lawsuit.) So controlling was the studio industry at the time that it did not permit her to date her age peer of the era, Mickey Rooney.

The flashbacks fluidly shift us between the 1930s to the waning days of the 1960s. (Spoiler alert) Judy, a weathered 40something, sings in London’s equivalent of Carnegie Hall. The entertainment industry changed little in the intervening decades, as upping her drug dosage remains the producers’ solution to dealing with her erratic behavior.

When her final show marks the time to sing her signature tune, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” she prefaces the song by stating its lyrics are about hope. Recognizing the sordid nature of the entertainment world, she nevertheless sings to be a beacon of hope. But midway through, she can’t manage the words, slumps and stops. The silent moment that followed reminded me of the TS Eliot poem “The Hollow Men,” where the author acknowledges the brutality of the natural world. He knows, too the spiritual remedy is hope. But he can’t quite finish the Lord’s Prayer: “For Thine is/Life is/For Thine is the…”

The gathered audience knows the lyrics well and as a collective whole, sings the seminal song to its last line. They finish what Judy couldn’t. This hopeful lasting image reminded me of the Holy Hour we offer every Friday at Family Theater Productions. We begin the hour praying for the celebrities deceased within the week prior.

Where Judy and others may not have found peace in this world, our prayers hold out hope that they will find it in the next. That both song and prayer can be answered in God’s time ... for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen.

Image: David Hindley/Courtesy of LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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