Matter of Time: Scandal Over Minnelli's Last Film
The first assemblage of Minnelli's “A Matter of Time” cloaked in at three hours. Fearful that the whole project would collapse, producer Arkoff took over the movie out of Minnellis hands. Minnellis vision of the movie clashed with that of Arkoff, who threw out many of the flashbacks and eliminated one character entirely.
Arkoff also tossed in some travelogue snaps of Rome that Minnelli hadn't even shot. He disfigured the structure by enclosing the story within that of Nina-as-diva, which turned it into yet another vulgar version of “A Star Is Born.”
Arkoff's butchered editing resulted in violent reaction, practically a crusade, by many of Hollywood 's most powerful celebs. Director Martin Scorsese solicited every possible director to sign a protest petition, but to no avail. Appalled with the final cut, Minnelli disavowed association with the picture.
Sadly, Ingrid took her anger on Minnelli. Deeply upset, she realized that, even if she took her name off, everyone would still see her in the movie. Liza was the most miserable, for this was the movie she had long wanted to make with her father. The picture had been conceived as a showcase for Liza, but it turned out to be her second flop in a row, following “Lucky Lady,” which opened on Christmas Day 1975, to poor reviews.
Even Vincent Canby, the usually generous N.Y. Times critic, didn't like the movie, which opened October 7, 1976 at the Radio City Music Hall. He wrote: “The film is full of glittery costumes and spectacular props. Liza Minnelli, whose appearance recalls her father and whose voice and mannerisms recall her mother, has talent of her own but it comes to us through the presence of others. Liza's eyes seem to have been widened surgically to play this part. 'A Matter of Time' has moments of real visual beauty, but because what the characters say to each other is mostly dumb, it may be a film to attend while wearing your earplugs.”
The New Yorkers Pauline Kael was outraged by how Arkoff had mangled the film. She protested: “From what is being shown, it is almost impossible to judge what the tone of the film was, or whether it would have worked at any level. But even if his own version was less than a triumph, that was the film I wanted to see, not this chopped-up shambles.”
Not surprisingly, with such production history and negative reception, the film became a financial disaster. Consensus held that Minnellis direction was dated, and that he “lost his touch.” To add salt to injury, the film was never released in Britain, France, and other European countries where Minnellis work used to be popular.
Ultimately, “A Matter of Time” had less to do with moviemaking than with father-daughter relationship. “Despite so many blunders and miscalculations,” MOMA's curator Stephen Harvey said, “for those who care about Minnelli's movie legacy, A Matter of Time is a touching last farewell to the obsessions of three decades. For some, it was Minnelli's own memory film, in which he surveys his most treasured motifs, based on his knowledge that there would be no other chance to express them.
Minnellis former wife, Georgette, held that “A Matter of Time” was Lizas gift to her father. Tina Nina, too, knew how much the project meant to her father. She recalled: Daddy had so many ideas about the movie. He had me read the book, and we talked about it. He didn't have anything else on his mind.”
Despite Scorseses petition, the film was an unmitigated disaster for both Minnelli and Liza. Rex Reed commented, “Liza should call it What I Did for Love. How else can you explain this brainless gumbo of incompetence Liza obviously did it to help out Daddy, who hasn't been getting too many jobs lately as a director.
While the failure of “A Matter of Time” was a blow to Liza, it was a real tragedy for her father. Minnellis long-held fantasy to make a film with Liza, their only collaboration, was now being ridiculed. Minnelli knew that, with or without Liza, he would never be given the opportunity to make another film.
“A Matter of Time” became the final, embarrassing epitaph for Vincente Minnelli, once one of Hollywood's most revered and highest paid directors.
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