Friday, September 09, 2005


Day 2 (Part 1) Few dreams can escort us right into precise moments of our past. When the lights went down in the Elgin theatre today, and Liza Minnelli burst on to a 1972 concert stage singing “Yes!”, possibly the most life-affirming song ever written, I burst into tears. Hanging in the song and the moment were a thousand emotional threads taking me back to my teenaged life, my early passion for cinema, an idol crush and the loss of a dear friend. Luckily I was in good company: everyone at today’s screening of the Bob Fosse-directed concert film Liza with a 'Z' had only the deepest gratitude for her being with us, applauding and cheering after every number with their own secret stories in their hearts.

I was 13 when I first fell in love with the long fluid gorgeous lines of Liza Minnelli. As a teenager, the group of mostly gay friends to which I belonged had the kind of cult worship of Cabaret that others devoted to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Minnelli’s youthful and energetic desire for corruption in that movie came from a place movies have not been to since, which is a well spring of duality in character that was fucked up, but resolutely and almost cheerfully so. Her Sally Bowles loved life - and that which corrupted her, and the pain of her loneliness was in the end matched only by the joy that living the life she had chosen gave. It was a strange message, but one that allowed us a certain freedom necessary at the time just to be who we were. Well into our adult years, we used the phrase, “I was out all night - bomsoming like mad..” Or “there’s only one thing to do with types like Natalya - pounce!”

Most of us saw Liza with a Z back then, and most of us were there today. Except John, who died this year. Our friend John would have loved to see Liza in person, looking fabulous in her shimmering purple, or belting out, in answer to a question, a few fabulous strains of “Yes”. He would have shrieked with us, cheered with us. He would have reminded us (so we did it for him)that it was his love of Liza that brought some of us together, that introduced us to friendships of more than 35 years. He would have had a thoughtful observation about the beautiful exuberance and happiness she showed in the post-screening Q and A, her essential generosity as a peformer, as a person. He would have said it, because he too was like that. Like Minnelli, he had a life full of challenge, but also like her, he landed squarely on the side of joy wherever possible.

Life isn’t really a Cabaret, as both of them will tell you. (In recent years, Minnelli has inserted a “not” in the famous “When I go, I’m going like Elsie” line of the song “Cabaret.”) But the desire to say “yes” instead of “no” to life’s misadventures, is definitely in the style of both. And for that reason alone, they will always be my heros.
This movie deserves its own post, for teaching me how to dream a long time ago.


The Bibliotrix said...

Oh God, how you must have been! And you were sitting fairly close to her, right?

Celebrity with *gravity* has always puzzled me -- (and not just obsessing about someone because they're hot, but deeply feeling a connection with someone who, through their work, was pivital to one's life.) I wonder; does the celebrity ever really understand how much they've effected people, how much power they hold. Liza-- she is gracious, yes. But does she "get it"? And how does the fan properly express gratitude without coming off all crazy?

Mind you, I suppose "crazy" is relative in Liza's world. ;)

Sherry Coman said...

I think Liza really does "get it" though many likely don't. She and her mother have been so closely linked to gay culture in a pivotal way -- many believe the Stonewall riots happened in 1969 as a reaction to bathhouse raids, largely because Judy Garland had just died and the community was angry and sad. Liza's endorsement and support of AIDS research long before it was fashionable and her close connections and friendships with prominent gay community icons have caused her to have a real life understanding of her impact. Her message in the 80s was one of optimism and hope, which the gay community sorely needed and no one else was providing. Now AIDS awareness feels almost trite in its celebrity consciousness, but at the time, Liza and a few others were lone front runners. She did that, I think, because she understood what her work had iconically meant to this community.