Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer Hardcover – Apr 14 2009
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I was really looking forward to reading this book, and began by glancing through the photos. When I noticed all the aforementioned mis-captioned pictures I thought, "Uh-oh, this does not bode well."
I won't repeat here the examples of factual errors that are apparent even to a casual scholar of Hollywood's Golden Age. What I find staggering is the combination of inaccuracies, repetitions, omissions, and completely fatuous observations. ("Another brother, Willie, curiously bearing the same name as the dying son in 'East Lynne,' a play in which Minnelli would later perform, died when he was an infant.")
As Dana Stevens observed in a New York Times book review, "...details pop up throughout the book in sudden, impenetrable clumps. Yet elsewhere, information that would be crucial for comprehending the significance of a story is mysteriously absent." That, combined with some truly bad writing, make this a non-starter.
Given the subject matter, I'll probably slog through some more of it (perhaps using the index in the back to jump to the areas of greatest interest to me) before I give it to the local library and take a $37.95 tax deduction.
I Remember It Well
So many factual errs-- Ones I picked up on had to do with first wife the great Judy Garland. Picture insert -- clearly a shot from "Boy Next Door" number from "Meet Me In St Louis" states that she is in position for her christmas song.... Says a sequence from, "Babes on Broadway' (1941) is from, "Strike Up The Band" (1940)--
informs the reader that her third husbands name was, "Mickey" and that Liza stayed with them in London for a time circa... 1964-- Must mean 5th husband Mickey Deans whom she married in 1969-- plus tawdry details of their sex life (Garland and Minnelli...) Book jacket says they met on the set of MMISL-- and on and on.... This talented artist deserves better!
First, the shortcomings. They begin during the acknowledgments, during which we read that Levy spent years and years on this book, aided by the kindness of Minnelli's widow, Lee Anderson. I'm assuming that he also spent some time with "Tina Nina," the wretchedly named "other daughter" of Minnelli. In all those years of work, though, did he ever stir himself to interview any living person outside of the fourth wife and second daughter? It's hard to tell; there are no notes and the critical apparatus makes it impossible to tell where Levy or his research assistants uncovered any particular bit of information. The story reads smoothly but at crucial junctures one wonders how many opportunities were squandered to interview X or Y who have since passed on. I would estimate there must be literally dozens of key personnel alive today who workd with Minnelli, and it would have been nice to hear their input.
If he had actually interviewed Zsa Zsa Gabor, for example, she might have saved him from his Gigi blooper by telling him, "No, dahlink, that was Eva in Gigi, not me."
Also, why does Denise Hale come off so badly? I can only think that the wife who succeeded her didn't care for her. Denise Hale just sounds like an ignorant, greedy user, and that's hardly a well-rounded picture.
That said, I admired the parallels Levy found in Minnelli's movies, the links between them, the way, for example, that Madame Bovary recapitulates the plot of The Pirate (though I would give higher marks to Jennifer Jones' performance than he does). His discussions of the movies he likes are often very fine; it's when he wants to dismiss a movie that his writing goes wacky, like he's just another queen in the bar at last call. I didn't know that Liz Taylor wanted Sammy Davis Jr to play her lover (the Charles Bronson part) in The Sandpiper! It sounds ludicrous when you hear about it first, but the more I think about it, the more I wish it had happened. A friend of mine and I were talking about Levy's book the other day and we agreed that, for a man who wants to put his subject into the Parnassus of the great Hollywood directors, he certainly hates a lot of Minnelli's films--and even some of the best ones!
HOLLYWOOD'S DARK DREAMER details all of Minnelli's life: his marriages, daughter LIza, troubled relationship with Judy Garland. As others have noted, the book should have been proofed better but what is a puzzlement is how Mr. Levy (obviously fascinated with Vinente Minnelli as a director and a person) seems to be reluctant to explore the man himself. Were his marriages a sham? What motivated him to be so dedicated to his profession? Continually, Levy touches on points (as an example: Minnelli's vast collection of art books which could be seen in the vivid tapestry his camera paints on screen) but, almost as if afraid of offending the man, he steps back or just drops the topic.
Still, he has written an extensive book that details Minnelli's work and life and for that he should be proud.