BFI #LFF 2019: SID & JUDY Film Review

Judy Garland in SID & JUDY

Fusing film clips and rare concert footage with revealing excerpts from personal recordings, SID & JUDY is a poignant portrait of the late, great Judy Garland

4 out of 5 stars

Hot on the heels of the recent release of new biopic JUDY starring Renee Zewelleger, London Film Festival regular Stephen Kijak pays tribute to the late, great showbiz legend Judy Garland in his latest documentary SID & JUDY.

Inspired by the autobiography of her third husband Sid Luft, SID & JUDY takes a revealing new look at the latter half of Judy Garland’s career. Fusing film clips, photographs and rare concert footage with unpublished recollections from Luft as well as Judy’s own inimitable words, this heart-breaking, witty and vividly atmospheric account tells of a showbiz legend and quintessential gay icon, whose professional highs and private lows proved indivisible.

Much of the 95 minute documentary focuses on Garland’s turbulent relationship with Luft. Luft met Garland in 1949 following her ignominious sacking from MGM after she was physically and mentally unable to make the movie ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. Luft masterminds her return to the big screen in the Warner Brothers funded remake of A STAR IS BORN, a movie which played a huge part in late-career renaissance, but also exposed her to the industry that contributed to her ultimate downfall.

SID & JUDY Production Still

Cleverly intercutting TV and film footage with rare archive material and revealing excerpts from Judy’s personal recordings, Kijak recreates Garland’s story in such a way that you can’t help but fall in love with her all over again. Here, we’re not only treated not only to some spectacular film clips and rare concert footage – the clip of Garland singing a duet with Streisand is worth the ticket price alone – but are also given a rare glimpse into the woman herself – her stamina, her wit and her honesty – through memories of the man who was not only her husband, but also her confidant, producer and manager.

We also get a superb set of voice performances from MAD MEN’S Jon Hamm and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh who read as Sid and Judy respectively, Jason Leigh in particular bringing this brilliant, fragile, funny and complicated woman to life.

Of course, this is a sad story. The couple were together for a roller-coaster decade where Garland’s violent mood swings affected not just her career but also the precarious state of their relationship. The story continues through the highs and lows of her TV show to her untimely death in 1969.

But it is also is a poignant portrait of an extraordinary talent taken too soon, whose vulnerabilities were exploited by an industry she helped to build.

SID & JUDY screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 5 October 2019