Mark Griffin has written a smart new biography of the film director Vincente Minnelli, “A Hundred or More Hidden Things,” that Da Capo Press is publishing March 1.
The Oscar-winning director of “Gigi” and “An American in Paris” has already been the subject of a few not-so-great biographies and monographs — and the director wrote a notoriously sketchy 1974 autobiography, “I Remember It Well” — but Griffin puts the life and the films together in a fresh manner.
Minnelli had a long and successful run in Hollywood, working on musicals, dramas and comedies, but as Griffin points out, he has never been accorded the respect and fan worship of such peers as William Wyler, George Cukor and George Stevens.
The Minnelli non-musical filmography runs a very wide gamut from “Tea & Sympathy” to “Some Came Running” to “The Sandpiper.”
Minnelli worked at MGM most of his career and was happy to take studio assignments as well as instigate projects. Along the way, the (apparently) gay man marrried Judy Garland (below) and fathered Liza Minnelli.
Griffin makes a pretty good case that the deeply closeted artist was able to express many “hidden things” in his films (even in the Vincent Van Gogh bio-pic “Lust for Life”).
Unlike many biographers who take a scholarly and/or detached approach to their subjects, Griffin shares with us the personal link between Minnelli and his own life in a fascinating introduction in which the biographer writes of his intense response to the 1970 Barbra Streisand-Minnelli collaboration, “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (above).
“I found it healing and empowering,” the author recalls of his first encounter with the musical about reincarnation when he was only 16-years-old (in the summer of 1984).
“My friends thought I had lost it. They began to look at me funny. In an era dominated by ‘Return of the Jedi’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ was I actually claiming to have achieved some sort of cosmic consciousness through repeated viewings of…a Barbra Streisand movie? It was suggested that I should try getting out more often or maybe join a rugby team…before it was too late,” he writes.
Griffin found a respected ally in critic Andrew Sarris who referred to “On a Clear Day” as “an underrated masterpiece” in The Village Voice.
Over the years, Griffin grew attached to other movies Minnelli made and he became more and more fascinated by the director’s “elusive” off-screen life.
After Griffin became a journalist and interviewed the screenwriter Gavin Lambert — who encouraged the would-be biographer — he was off and running on the three year “odyssey” of tracking down as many of the late filmmaker’s co-workers and friends as he could.
“In some ways this project is a thank-you note that’s been twenty-five years in the making,” the biographer concludes.
The book is a fine combination of scholarship and film criticism. We are all lucky Griffin happened upon “On a Clear Day” all those years ago.