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A Hundred Or More Hidden Things

by Phil Hall
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Mar 3, 2010
A Hundred Or More Hidden Things

If Mark Griffin's biography is any indication, Vincente Minnelli lived a life full of contradictions. Despite confirmations by several men that Minnelli was openly and unapologetically gay, he was married four times--and if you don't know who is first wife was, you're on the wrong web site! Many stars who worked with him complained about his supposedly atrocious communications skills, yet his films are rich in an emotional eloquence that could have only been created by someone with the ability to project a distinctive vision. And despite creating some of the most celebrated films of all time, he was repeatedly ignored by his peers and trampled over by his longtime studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

In many ways, Minnelli appears to have been a lightning rod for chaos and dissent. There was always some degree of shrill drama and fighting on his sets, with Minnelli usually in the center of the maelstrom. Whether Minnelli was the type to bring out the worst in people, or whether he was just plain incompetent in dealing with difficult personalities is never quite clear. But, as Griffin reports on his film output, it often seems that the behind-the-scenes uproar was more entertaining than the classics he put on screen.

And, truly, Minnelli's track record was extraordinary: Meet Me in St. Louis, Ziegfeld Follies, The Clock, Madame Bovary, Father of the Bride, An American in Paris, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Band Wagon, Lust for Life, Gigi, and Some Came Running are among his classics. Even Minnelli's flops had more intrigue than many hits: overcooked musicals Yolanda and the Thief and The Pirate, the badly-dated gay-bashing drama Tea and Sympathy, and his excessively butchered final efforts, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and A Matter of Time are fascinating, if only for the wrong reasons.

Yet Minnelli himself remains something of a cipher. He never spoke openly about his sexuality, so there is no way to determine what shaped his private life. His relationship with his daughter Liza is, of course, the stuff of legend, yet his relationship with a second daughter named Tina Nina appears to have been distant and non-paternal. His late-life memoir I Remember it Well was ironically titled, as he chose not to remember many key individuals in his life--including his older brother.

If Minnelli remains a work of mystery by the end of this biography, then at least Griffin deserves honor for piecing together the fascinating back stories of his many productions--including hitherto unknown information on aborted efforts, including an Alan Jay Lerner-scripted musical of Huckleberry Finn and a proposed adaptation of Green Mansions with the ill-fated Italian starlet Pier Angeli. Fans of old-time Hollywood will enjoy this visceral peek into the rather non-glamourous efforts that went into creating memorable works of glittering entertainment, even though the center of the story remains safely concealed behind smoke and mirrors.

Publisher: Da Capo Press. Publication Date: March 9, 2010. Pages: 368. Price: $15.95. Format: Trade Paperback Original. ISBN-13: 978-0-786-720-996

Phil Hall is the author of "The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time


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