Rupert Goold Directs “Judy” Over The Rainbow
Judy Garland is indeed a Hollywood icon, remembered for her striking voice and acting ability. English film director Rupert Goold set his latest biopic of the legendary performer in London where Judy Garland performed a series of sold-out shows at the Talk Of The Town in 1969. “This formed the basis of the film’s storytelling architecture,” said Goold.
Garland was an entertainer of wild contradictions – an unreliable drunk who often stumbled on stage late, but also a devoted mother desperate to reunite with her children. Was she pitiable? Was she a casualty of MGM boss Louis B. Meyer controlling every aspect of her life? Possibly. Judy had choices. She could stay or leave the thrilling heights of showbusiness and face something worse – obsolescence, irrelevance, and insignificance. Garland was both her own worst enemy as well as her own biggest cheerleader.
Whatever you make of Garland’s life, she was an inspiration to humanity. An indestructible spirit beyond the stage that bought joy to the world. Every song she sang was infused with the wretchedness of her life and the delight of elevating audiences. Every cloudy sky over Garland’s stage had at least one twinkling star. It led the audience to believe that there was something greater magic beyond the stage.
Judy is no standard biopic of a singer’s rise to fame and fall from grace after a life of excess. It is not a cradle to grave “highlights” of her life. The film is a deep character study with extraordinary sensitivity and resilience.
Every nuance, every anxiety attack, every drunken insult is both in the screenplay (penned by BAFTA nominated Tom Edge) and on the screen, through Renée Zellweger.
The film is set during the final years of her life, “somewhere over the rainbow.” In this case, it was across the Atlantic in London, England where audiences still had fond memories of her and wanted a rollicking good time.
Goold believes typical biopics often operate from a traditional story standpoint – with a beginning, middle and an end. “In the case of Judy, we were specifically looking at the end of her life. She was in London, a long way from home, ironically trying to get back home to the USA to be with her beloved children.” Despite being immersed in the ugliness of showbusiness, Garland was determined to protect her children from it. She was searching for happiness.
“The film takes a two-paradigm timeline approach to her life,” according to Goold. A real-time narrative depicting her strange encounters in London peppered with the flashback sequences illustrating her difficult childhood, most of which she was cruelly denied.
Judy Garland was notorious for her ongoing battles with mental health, drugs, and alcohol. Director Rupert Goold made a creative choice to tilt the film’s focus to the more positive aspects of Garland’s life. “I’m interested in stories about faith. What is the nature of hope and belief on a spiritual level?” He defines Judy Garland as “a secular saint,” because she touched so many people’s lives in an angelic way.
Despite Garland’s financial woes, broken marriages, and separation from her children, she drew “validation and happiness from the purity of her fans.” Audiences were her lifeblood, whether they cheered or jeered. It didn’t matter so long as they showed up. Yet, despited her voice being her only financial commodity, she relentlessly abused it.
This contradiction only not only compels the audience to withhold judgment about Garland, but to embrace it.
This film iteration of Judy was based on the stage play End Of The Rainbow by Peter Quilter and adapted into a screenplay by screenwriter Tom Edge. Curiously, Goold didn’t consult the source material in order to preserve his cinematic vision. Edge’s job was to trim and shape the emotional rollercoaster that was Judy Garland’s life into a screenplay. He made sure he captured the unvarnished essence of Garland on the page rather than the mythology. There was no stage persona. It was all her. Warts and all.
“I found Judy’s relationship with Mickey Deans to be the central one in the original screenplay and I wanted to keep it present,” said Goold. The director wanted to explore both “the public and private experience of Judy Garland in the film.” As the screenplay evolved, writer Tom Edge could add more elements “of the private and the intimate backstage moments of Garland’s life,” said Goold.
“You can never make the claim that your picture of her is definitive. All you can really do is get a sense of her and try to find a narrative that conveys your truth to the audience. The portrait of Garland that the film offers is a sincere attempt to capture the essence of her warmth, her generosity, and her spirit,” added the screenwriter.
Rupert Goold chose to add the flashback scenes of Judy’s earlier career at MGM studios and its head Louis B. Meyer. This gave us a sense of why Judy was so susceptible to anxiety, panic attacks, and low self-esteem.
“The flashbacks were structured around Judy’s initial pact with fame, a comprehension of the implications of fame, and a transgression into how she would escape that pact, the punishment that comes from that transgression, and a reconciliation with the choice that was made.” This formed the spine of the story.
The flashbacks were told in a forward narrative that still permeated her present-day life. Sure, she was decades older in London, but the brutal treatment and emotional abuse Garland received from MGM resonated as much then as when she was a teen starlet.
Rather than simply inserting flashbacks as a non-linear, expositional device, Goold opted for a Coen brothers structure – a late-life/passion play to also allow the story to incorporate fictitious elements such as the gay characters. “This allowed Tom [Edge] to flesh them out more. The gay characters were a construct of Goold’s imagination and not based on a real event. Gay people identified with Garland because she symbolized their struggles,” the director added.
Renée Zellweger captured the nuances of Judy Garland’s life. “On one hand, Judy’s deconstructed life was a universal icon so there needs to be an acceptability of that, but equally, it was impressionistic and she was incubated by the studio to create an alternate reality.” Zellweger, like Garland, alternated between these two worlds, never quite deciding which one suited her best at any given point in time.
Renée Zellweger embodied the mask that Judy wore as well as “the voice, the look, the psychology, and the totality of Garland.” Goold had to direct Judy’s emotional space out of Renée. And Renée did not disappoint. Regardless of whether Garland made another reckless decision or not, the audience was always beside her in an emotional sidecar.
Rupert Goold could have postured his vision of Judy in a number of ways. Is reality what “we dare to dream of” or is more pragmatic? Goold was more local in his intention for the audience. He wanted them to experience “what it’s like to be a single mother without support. What it’s like to be a performer. The inexplicable traumatic loneliness of genius. What it’s like to be broken, forgotten, and destitute.” He never bludgeoned the audience with a heavy directorial hand. Instead, he let us make up our own mind instead. All the while gently guiding us to a place of positivity and Judy’s final redemption.
“Love and hope can come from strange places. I hope Judy is uplifting and moving rather than depressing.” Judy is a celebration of Garland’s genius which is still enjoyed across the globe today.
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