Watching this landmark concert special was simultaneously exhilarating and depressing. As a long-time Liza Minnelli fan (not just in Cabaret, I loved her so much I even saw her in Rent-a-Cop in the theater), I grew up listening to the Liza with a Z soundtrack. I'd play it over and over and over again until even our gay upstairs neighbor begged me to buy a new record. But I never actually saw it until tonight. Even as Liza has devolved into self-parody, I continue to defend her. She's one of a kind, and I'm not just talking about her iconic look or her manic talent. Liza is the living link between the Golden Age of Hollywood and the Tinseltown we know today. In this 1972 televised concert special she straddled the two eras, appealing to her parents' peers with "God Bless the Child" and "My Mammy" while courting hipsters with her flesh-baring Halston costumes and perfectly executed sexy-sleazy Bob Fosse moves. She was in perfect voice her throbbing vibrato not yet ruined by nodes on her vocal cords and her body was slim and lithe.... Her hip replacements are still years away.
She was just so adorable and so vulnerable. Her obvious nervousness backstage: Fosse was a genius to film that. The way she talked about her mama, Judy Garland, only three years gone, with palpable love and affection. The giggly way she said, "Terrific!" And her desperate need to be loved by her audience, by anyone. At age 26, this was all incredibly genuine and endearing. At 60, well, it's just sad.
Yes, this is all the stuff I thought about while watching Miss Minnelli (as she was billed in the credits, odd considering she was still married to Peter Allen at the time). The show screamed early '70s (maybe it was the mustaches). Even the font used for the credits was antiquated. The title song, which had always bugged me on the album, was really hilarious on screen. And I loved Liza's breakdown during "It Was a Good Time." Such melodrama! The Cabaret medley was fabulous, and it was interesting that she sang "Married," which actually didn't make it from the show to the movie (it played in the background of one scene). And I was gaga for that red-sequin supermini that accentuated her nipples, that black-velvet pimp jacket, and that low-cut white suit.
But as the show wore on I felt an overwhelming sadness; 1972 was the pinnacle of Liza's career although she didn't realize that at the time. Cabaret had come out earlier that year and would soon snag her an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and Liza with a Z would win her an Emmy. She didn't know the drama the future had in store: the bad movies (Lucky Lady, A Matter of Time), the crappy husbands (particularly that bitch David Gest), the myriad addictions, the feud with her sister, the tabloids. Thrilling as the concert was, I couldn't watch it in a vacuum. The Liza of the 21st century haunted the entire thing.