Books: Visions Before Midnight — Hi! I'm Liza |
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Hi! I'm Liza

Bad Sight and Bad Sound of the Week were twin titles both won by Love from A to Z (BBC1), a river of drivel featuring Liza Minnelli and Charles Aznavour. Right up there beside the Tom Jones specials in the Bummer Stakes, this grotesque spectacular was fascinating for several reasons, none of them pleasant.

To begin with (and go one with and end with, since the phenomenon was continuous), there was the matter of how Charles had contrived to get himself billed above the normally omnidominant Liza. Not only was his name foremost in the opening titles, but the between-song lectures, instead of being delivered by Charles on the subject of Liza’s talent, were mainly delivered by Liza on the subject of Charles’s genius. ‘Hi!’ Liza would yell intimately, her features suffused by that racking spasm of narcissistic coyness which she fondly imagines looks like a blush, ‘I’m Liza.’ (Such a coup is supposed to stun you with its humility, but in the event it is difficult to choke back the urge to belch.) She would then impart a couple of hundred words of material — supplied by someone going under the name of Donald Ross — on the topic of Charles Aznavour, with particular reference to his creativity, magnanimity and vision.

This would be followed by a lengthy and devastating assault on ‘My Funny Valentine’ by Charles himself, in which the song’s subtlety would be translated into the standard emotional intensity of the French cabaret ballad, leaving the viewer plenty of opportunity to note how the tortured singer’s eyebrows had been wrinkled by hard times, lost loves and the decline of the franc. Or else, even worse, Liza in person would pay a tribute to Lorenz Hart by singing ‘My Romance’ as if her task were to put significance into the lyric instead of getting it out. ‘You know,’ she announced at one point, and I had a sinking sensation that I did, and didn’t agree, ‘the most that you can ever hope for an entertainer is to touch people.’

Liza, who can’t even walk up a flight of stairs sincerely (a flight of stairs was wheeled on for the specific purpose of allowing her to prove this), is more touching than she knows. She began her career with a preposterous amount of talent, the shreds of which she still retains, but like her mother she doesn’t know how to do anything small, and, like almost every other young success, she has embraced the standards of excellence proposed by Showbiz, which will agree to love you only if your heart is in the right place — where your brain should be.

Liza can’t settle for being admired for her artistry. She wants to be loved for herself. Charles, to do him the credit he’s got coming as the composer of the odd passable song in the relentlessly up-and-down-the-scale French tradition, is less innocent. In fact he’s so worn by experience he’s got bags under his head. He knows the importance of at least feigning to find his material more interesting than his own wonderful personality — a key trick for prolonged survival, which Liza will have to learn, or go to the wall. The show was recorded at the Rainbow. It was pretty nearly as bad as anything I have seen in my life, and deepened the mystery of why it is that it is always the BBC, and not ITV, which brings us these orgies of self-promotion by dud stars: package deals which consist of nothing but a wrap-up.

14 July, 1974

[ The original unedited version of this piece can be found in our Observer TV column chapter ]