Judy Garland gets the 'Never Say Never' treatment
Fifty years ago last month, Judy Garland gave what is regarded as one of the most memorable musical performances of all time, a standing-ovation extravaganza at Carnegie Hall. After years of a substance-abuse-induced decline, Garland came back strong that April night, wowing both the media and celebrities in attendance. The resultant double album topped the charts for more than a year.
But despite its place in the canon, little footage exists of the event, a point that's not lost on Steven "Flip" Lippman and "Howl" filmmakers Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein. The former, a director of musical shorts featuring the likes of Sam Phillips and Rosanne Cash, has set out to direct a documentary about that night, with the latter two serving as creative consultants. Called "Stay All Night," it seeks to re-create the evening in the New York concert hall a half-century ago.
"The concert is a cultural touchstone, something I remember vividly as a kid," Friedman told 24 Frames. "It's a magical moment in theatrical history. And yet there's almost no record of it."
Friedman said he and his collaborators aim to make a documentary that's less a historical document and more evocative of the experience of being in the theater, particularly focusing on the connection between the singer and her audience. "It's loomed so large that it's easy to forget that this was something that happened in a kind of immediate way," Friedman said.
In the documentary, Lippman, who has already begun conducting interviews, will blend together rare scenes from the concert with conversations with dozens of people who were in the audience. He says he and his collaborators have uncovered Super 8 footage from backstage, and will also play snippets of music from the show. [Update: Lippman says, via a representative, that there is in fact no footage from the show.] The movie, incidentally, is not the first time a modern-day artist has sought to reconstruct the evening; five years ago the singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright gave a Carnegie Hall performance that re-created, with the help of a 40-piece orchestra, the same set list that Garland sang.
Concert films are enjoying something of a resurgence. Justin Bieber had a hit this spring with "Never Say Never," and the cast of "Glee" will bring their concert tour to the multiplex this summer. Although a movie screen has sometimes been seen as a pallid re-creation of the concert-going experience, the advent of digital and 3-D technology has helped the medium catch up.
"There's an opportunity to create what it's like to be in the presence of transcendent artistry," Friedman said of both "Stay" and concert films in general. "The trick is to capture these unguarded moments and make the audience feel like they were there."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. Credit: John Fricke Collection / PBS