Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So like your mother

Sometimes when I look in the mirror I think how much I physically resemble my mother. She had a very round face. I have a round face. She had a wide set nose with a rounded tip. I have a wide set nose with a rounded tip. She wore glasses. Sometimes I wear glasses. She was beautiful. Occasionally I think I'm pretty too.

Tonight I watched Cabaret with Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in my 50 Years of Film Musicals class. The film was amazing. Though I've seen Michael York in some roles that were less than inspired (the antichrist of sorts in Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 - don't ask why I've seen it), I was in love with his performance. And obviously Joel Grey was wonderful as the Master of Ceremonies, as was Liza.

But what I noticed beyond the greatness of the casting, the story and the music in Cabaret was that every time the camera closed in on Liza's face, specifically her eyes, I couldn't help but think "woah, it's Judy."

I've written too much about my love of The Wizard of Oz. Though I guess I have not devoted an entire blog to it, I've definitely mentioned my stints as a Dorothy impersonator, complete with stuffed Toto toy, red glittering slippers and a checkerboard dress. So you can deduce that I am a loyal fan of Judy Garland.

Until watching Cabaret, the only real insight I'd had into the Minnelli family was Judy's work in Hollywood as well as some of her husband Vincent Minnelli's films. My knowledge of Liza was limited to her part as Lucille 2 in Arrested Development. So I never really got to know her, or realize what a clone she is of her mother.

Granted, Cabaret is unlike anything I've seen with Judy Garland. The performances are risque and the film as a whole deals with subjects that are not even barely breached in movies like The Wizard of Oz or Meet Me in St. Louis. Yet the emotion that Liza Minnelli had in every scene, her beautiful drooping eyes that glistened with tears and lit up with elation were so moving to me - not only because they were so emotionally powerful, but because they were exactly like Judy Garland's.

When I look in the mirror and see myself and little bits of my mom reflected back at me, it makes me feel even more emotionally stunned than seeing Judy's eyes reflected in Liza's.

So much of me is of indeterminate origin. I'm tan, which I guess could be an inheritance from my grandfather, but is not a trait present in either of my parents. I have dark eyes like my mother's, but they're not the shape of Asian eyes (they're closer to my father's, I guess). I'm so much a weird conglomeration of features that I tend to lose sight of where any of me actually comes from.

When I can latch onto those singular traits that I share with my mother - my own version of the Judy-Liza eyes - it makes me feel a connection with her in more ways than just physical.

Liza and Judy both sang and danced and acted. They were both performing pros. They were both beautiful and emotive and intriguing. They shared so much, even though they were from different generations and Liza really only spent a short part of her life with her mother.

In this way, I find a mirror between my life and Liza's. We were both the daughters of extraordinary women - though Judy obviously received more recognition for this than my mother - and we both ended up following in their footsteps in some fashion.

For me it was somewhat unconscious. After my mom passed away I learned about our mutual love for history and our similar fascination with British culture specifically. When I was young she had told me a story about when she went to the Tower of London. She found a loose stone in a wall there and decided to take it home with her. I never found a similar piece from the Tower, but it was this kind of anecdote that reminded me that even though we were years apart, sometimes we were in exactly the same place - quite literally.

Several decades after Judy Garland made her incredibly famous musicals, her daughter was following in her footsteps starring in films of her own. Her talent was shining in a different way, but there were constant bits of proof that she was in fact Judy's daughter.

I like to think that my mother and I had a relationship that has played out and will continue to be like theirs. My mother passed away, but she left me with a memory of her that I find myself mirroring (sometimes when I don't even realize it). When I'm sitting in the library relaxing and looking at books, I remember a time when my mom walked me past study carrels at a library of UCLA. She told me about how she'd spend nights there drinking coffee and doing homework.

When I was little this seemed like a lovely picture - the college stereotype of spending all hours in the library. And where Liza followed Judy onto the stage and screen, I followed my mother into a college - not the same college, no, but along the path she walked - turned slightly in my own direction.

I look in the mirror and think I see my mom sometimes. But when I do, I immediately blink and realize that with the similarities come a world of difference as well - we combine and we separate. In the end it all makes sense.

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