Film Review: Sid & Judy

On the fiftieth anniversary of Judy Garland’s death, director Stephen Kijak has created a timely and engrossing documentary with Sid & Judy.

In 1950, film producer Sid Luft met Hollywood star Judy Garland. Garland had just parted ways with MGM, the company which had made her a star, and controlled her every move…

Sid & Judy begins at a later point in Garland’s career before going back. It is a good device, welcoming the audience in at a troubled point before pulling back. The film gives viewers a history of Garland’s career up to the point she meets Sid Luft. As his memoirs continue, Luft waxes lyrical on the current as well as Garland’s past. 

The documentary combines film clips, audio recordings, interview footage, archive photographs and Luft’s memoirs to paint a picture of Garland’s life and her career in Hollywood and beyond. Director Kijak constantly mixes these elements to make Sid & Judy feel like a comprehensive portrait of the star, as well as her marriage to Luft. 

The star of Sid & Judy undoubtedly is Luft’s memoirs. These are descriptive and beautifully written, painting a evocative picture of Garland and the couple’s relationship. Narration by Jon Hamm is perfectly pitched. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also well cast voicing Garland. 

The film indicates how aspects of Garland’s childhood and family life could have influenced her later decisions and troubles. Of course, this is subjective. After all, it is Luft’s memoirs for the most part which tell the story. Nevertheless the yarn that is spun is compelling viewing. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how Luft himself dealt with Garland’s addiction. The film details the struggles that Luft faced as he attempted to get her clean, and also the toll her addiction took place on their marriage. The personal insight here is most fascinating. 

Sid & Judy effectively conveys Garland’s magnetism, and does not shy away from depicting the star’s personal struggles. A very entertaining documentary. 

Sid & Judy is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

Film Review: We Are X

Stephen Kijak’s documentary We Are X is an engaging portrait of a rock band X Japan. The film is informative and retains a good tone throughout.

X Japan are big in Japan, quite literally. X Japan are the country’s biggest rock band in history, yet are little known outside of Japan. The film looks at the history of the band, as they prepare for a huge concert…

Director Stephen Kijak’s film We Are X focuses on X Japan as they prepare for a gig at Madison Square Garden. In the days leading up to the concert, the filmmaker speaks to band members and relays the history of the group. The dominant focus is drummer and pianist Yoshiki, who delivers most of the film’s commentary. He is a fascinating character, and Kijak does not shy away from some of the realities (Yoshiki’s reliance on medical support for ongoing issues, for example).

Kijak charts X Japan’s successes, and their journey from teenagers rehearsing together after school to stadium-filling rock band. Viewers see this history, and indeed the present day activity, through the eyes of Yoshiki.  In addition to a relaying of history, there is an emphasis on how Yoshiki felt at the time of notable events. Other band members are interviewed during the course of the film, but action is viewed through the filter of the drummer. At times the film feels almost like a stream of Yoshiki’s consciousness, as he refers frequently to his feelings about key events, rather than the detail of events themselves.

We Are X offers insight into some of the tragic events that have affected the band. Despite the loss, the tone of the film remains upbeat overall. Kijak ponders the significant question of why X Japan never made it big abroad. The thoughts of musicians such as Gene Simmons add further this meditation. The intimation seems clear; had X Japan been an English-language Western band, they would have been as big as their better known contemporaries.

Kijak does not spoon feed viewers unfamiliar with the band. Instead, a history of band is offered, but this is not comprehensive. We Are X offers enough for viewers to ruminate on, without answering all their questions.

We Are X is available on exclusive Steelbook and DVD on 22nd May 2017