Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer

By EMANUEL LEVY

Revered by European cineastes, Vincente Minnelli has never received full critical approbation in the U.S., something Emanuel Levy aims to correct in Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer, the first full-scale biography of Minnelli ever published. Levy sketches in the sensibility that informed Minnelli’s work, one which sprang out of his “long-held belief that commitment to art ? should be carried out to the exclusion of all other matters.” Indeed, during personal crises, Minnelli retreated into the dreamlike world of his work, a disengagement that was frustrating to his first three wives, but never impinged upon his most enduring attachment, that to daughter Liza. Beginning in 1943, Minnelli rattled off emotional films filled with his trademark swooning camera moves and an obsessive attention to decor. His first masterpiece, Meet Me in St. Louis, led to a difficult marriage to Judy Garland and the full flowering of his passive-aggressive personality. Married four times, but homosexual by inclination, Minnelli was often inarticulate and shy but held an iron will in pursuit of his vision. At his peak in the mid-1950s, Minnelli scored with films like the biographical Lust for Life and the Oscar-winning musical An American in Paris, and the author adroitly explains how Minnelli’s own painfully felt status as outsider led to his finest achievements unfolding in the “feminine” genres of musicals and melodramas. Despite some lapses — Levy overanalyzes the negligible Tea and Sympathy, and the concluding analysis of Minnelli’s legacy merely restates earlier material — Levy successfully captures Minnelli’s status as “Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer,” allowing readers to readily understand Liza’s statement: “I got my drive from my mother — and my dreams from my father.”