I read an anecdote once about Sid Luft and Judy Garland sitting at a restaraunt bar when she said something and he belted her in reaction, knocking her off of the stool. No one reacted as she meekly got up off the floor, and crawled back onto the stool next to him. Some years after her death, an acquaintance ran into Luft tooling around in a Mercedes: he had bagged the rights to Garland's work, and was now living large. In 2002, he was ordered to pay The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences $60,000 for attempting to sell the juvenile Oscar awarded to Garland for "The Wizard of Oz" and its replacement. Yet up until his death, Luft insisted that he was the only person who ever cared truly for Garland and had her best interests at heart.
Though "Sid & Judy" tries mightily to make Luft The Knight In Shining Armor to Garland's Damsel In Distress, it ends the charade when we are introduced to the vipers who became her managers. It then wants you to see Luft as this hapless schmo whom Freddie Fields and David Begelman push out their charge's life when, in fact, the three formed an Unholy Trinity; to protect himself, Luft recorded the telephone conversations he had with Fields, Begelman, and most everyone else in Garland's orbit without their consent.
For those with even a cursory knowledge of Garland's life, nothing in "Sid & Judy" will come as a revelation, although learning that she aborted Luft's child, as both were married (she to director Vincente Minnelli; he to actress Lynn Bari), and he being a total cad about the whole thing, was a shock. It also made me wonder why she decided to not only stay with him, but marry him.
While the focus is understandably on Garland, we don't learn anything about Luft, as if he just popped up out of absolute nowhere. I had to do some research to learn that he had been a test pilot for Douglas (now McDonnell Douglas), and was in the Royal Canadian Air Force. I also learned that while married to Garland, he lost the custody battle for his son with Bari, the judge ruling that the Luft household "was an improper place in which to rear the boy." Ouch!
Not omitted is the perfunctory exploration of Garland's addictions, which I sympathize with, yet never understood. Like Garland, Mickey Rooney was the product of show business parents who found himself a cog in the MGM soul-sucking machine before he hit puberty. The demands made on him by his overlords were just as punishing as the demands they made on her. And his private life was an even-bigger train wreck than hers, if that's at all possible. Yet Rooney didn't fall into the abyss, shuffling off his mortal coil at the ripe old age of 93, 44 years after Garland died!
The last 15 minutes are rushed, as if director Stephen Kijak had grown bored with his subjects. He jettisons Garland and Luft from their own documentary, ultimately, in favor of someone who calls himself "Miss Major Griffin-Gracy". A "trans woman activist", he prattles on about Garland being an icon for people who suffer from gender and/or sexual identity issues as we watch him and his confederates descend upon her resting place like the Army storming Normandy; "cringe-worthy" doesn't begin to describe it.
Judy Garland and - dare I say it - Sid Luft deserve better.
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