Monday, 18 March 2013

There is a Little Bit of Liza in All of Us

Liza photographed by Andy Warhol in 1977.
Well, perhaps not all of us. Some of you soulless bastards (by which I mean straight men) could never come close to reaching the fabulousity and adorableness of Ms. Minnelli. However, I think we could all learn a thing or two from her, both in her personal life and her career path. Has she made some mistakes? Yes, and his name was David Gest. But, like any strong, successful woman, Liza has learned from her mistakes, and her spotlight still shines bright today, 50 years since she first stepped into the spotlight.

With Judy Garland for a mother and director Vincente Minnelli for a father, it's not surprising that Liza went into the entertainment business. What is surprising, though, is how adeptly she managed to take control of her own career and be recognized on her own terms. Instead of riding on the coattails of her famous parents, she chose to forge her own path. That's not to say that Liza didn't benefit from her lineage, and neither did she shun the opportunities that were given to her because of who her mother was. It's just that she never tried to be another Judy Garland. She was just Liza Minnelli.

Her best known role is that of Sally Bowles in the 1972 film adaption of the successful Bob Fosse production Cabaret. In order to prepare for her role as Sally, Liza has stated that she studied famous dark-haired vixens of the period, such as Louise Glaum and Louise Brooks. She also did all her own hair and makeup for the film. I find this to be quite an inspired touch that adds to the realism of the character. As a struggling cabaret singer, Sally wouldn't have anyone to apply makeup for her, nor would she know how to apply it properly. In the film, she sports gaudy blue eyeshadow, exaggerated eyelashes, and bright red lipstick. She's pretty, of course, but also completely believable as a naive, overly enthusiastic amateur.
Furthermore, she instills a sense of likability and pathos in a character that is quite difficult to play. Sally, as she is written, may come off as something of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (and an untalented one at that), but Liza plays her with both vulnerability and an awkward, slapdash sexuality that makes her more than just a vessel for a man's desires and search for inspiration.

The character, and Liza' s performance, have both become incredibly iconic, inspiring several tributes over the years, including my own Halloween costume in 2011. Liza won a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in Cabaret, and in her acceptance speech she simply said, "Thank you for giving me this award".  That speech was an acknowledgement that she had received the Oscar not because she was well-connected in the business and not because the Academy wanted to pay tribute to her recently deceased mother (who died in 1969). She earned that Oscar on her own merits.

Liza's success in Cabaret was followed with another success, her live stage show, Liza With a Z, which I think should be required viewing for any aspiring young performer. Liza With a Z is remarkable because it showcases an iconic female performer at the top of her game who does everything on her own terms. The show is glitzy, glamourous, and celebrates Liza like the queen that she is, and at no time does she pander to the male gaze or engage in false modesty. She's Liza!

In the '70s she performed as Velma Kelly in the original Broadway run of Chicago, and she also appeared in and performed the title song for Martin Scorcese's 1977 film New York, New York.

Her most memorable role of recent years has been her turn as Lucille Austero on Arrested Development, a self-deprecating turn in which she plays a glamourous rich widower suffering from vertigo who still manages to seduce men more than half her age. She will be reprising this role in the upcoming renewed season of Arrested Development as well as in the feature film, to be released this year. As a fan, I look forward to seeing Liza up on the big screen again, and I know she will have something fabulous to wear to the premiere.

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