When the DVD came out, I was a bit reluctant to buy it because it was so inexpensive. I figured that all that had been done was to transfer the tape to DVD. But, for the money, why not? Tapes don't last forever. So I went ahead and gave it a shot.
I am both surprised and pleased, therefore, to announce that the DVD is in fact the complete broadcast, just shy of 90 minutes, not just a transfer of the tape, which is only 59 minutes, and the quality is everything you'd expect from a DVD.
Understand, though, as has been noted in other reviews, that this is called The Concert Years for a very good reason: the emphasis is on Judy's concert performances, not her movie roles. Therefore, there are very few movie clips. Likewise, this is not a biography, though there is a fairly liberal sprinkling of biographical material along with archival footage that you probably will not have seen elsewhere (such as her first appearance on film at age 7).
Unfortunately, very little was filmed of her concerts. It is amazing to me that, given the popularity of TV by the mid-fifties, it never occurred to anybody to capture some of these performaces, not just on television, but on broadway (imagine having a professional film of the Carnegie Hall performance). Therefore, the "concert" footage used is mostly from her television show which, granted, did try to recreate to a large extent the concert experience and did run during the middle of her concert years.
However, with only a couple of exceptions, whoever put this together exercised excellent judgement and chose those performances which show Judy at her best, e.g., Ol' Man River, Chicago, Smile, As Long As He Needs Me. And, yes, the DVD is worth buying just to get her "little tramp" performance of Over The Rainbow, performed in concert.
The point of the whole thing is to show how Judy performed in front of a live audience, and the DVD does just that.
This is the real deal, all almost-90 minutes of it. And there's stuff here you won't find anywhere else. Highly recommended.
Affectionately narrated by Garland's daughter Lorna Luft, and including on-screen bits with Garland's third husband Sid Luft, son Joe Luft, critic Rex Reed, colleague Tony Bennett, and Melissa Manchester. Manchester describes Garland singing as "the thrill of a lifetime" and she is fully justified. You'll see the dynamic Judy Garland belting out numbers like "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody", "Swanee" (in color!), an emotional, glorious "Ol' Man River", the heartbreaking "As Long As He Needs Me", and crooning her trademarks "The Man That Got Away" and "Smile". You can tell that Garland is putting all her heart, and all her passion into her singing, and it is never more evident than when she sings "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (as noted in the show, in memoriam of the recently assassinated JFK). To hear Garland's rich, indescribably glorious, anthemic rendition of "Battle Hymn" is enough reason to buy this tape, as is just about every number in the show.
And there are some delightful guest shots, too: there is footage of Judy singing with daughter Liza Minnelli at the London Palladium, and very rare clips of her singing at the Palace in 1967, with accompaniment of her children Lorna and Joe Luft. She sings tributes to each of her children, her warm voice caressing the lyrics of "Liza", "Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe", and "Lorna", which Luft narrates with special tenderness. And there are delightful clips of Garland's television series: She dances with Donald O'Connor, belts with Ethel Merman, and included in its entirety is her outstanding duet with a young Barbra Streisand of "Get Happy"/"Happy Days Are Here Again". Also included is an amusing solo rendition by Garland of her famous number from "Easter Parade", "A Couple of Swells".
But the greatest performance of all is the final one on the tape, and as Lorna Luft notes: "There's one song that truly belongs only to my mother..." It is, of course, "Over the Rainbow", and its emotional delivery is made all the more poignant by Garland being costumed as a dirty tramp, crying as she sings, reaching for a greater goodness through the song, to triumph over all. That performance of "Over the Rainbow" is the most moving performance of any song that I have ever heard in my life.
As Lorna says warmly: "I think what Judy Garland loved most of all was that people wanted to hear her sing... and they always will." A very true and loving tribute, to one of the most brilliant performers who ever lived. I can say "Mine eyes have seen the glory" from hearing Judy Garland sing, and I hope you will, too.
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