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Liza Minnelli says she’s not ‘too fragile’ as her new film premieres

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NEW YORK – Liza Minnelli likes to wear sequins on stage to glamorously hide how much she sweats.

But beneath the thin eyelashes and the auburn pantsuits, there is of course a much more complicated woman. In “Liza: A Truly Terrific Absolutely True Story,” which premiered at the Tribeca Festival on Wednesday evening, director Bruce David Klein tries to find the person behind the megawatt icon. The 78-year-old Minnelli was not present at the screening.

For anyone who has closely followed Minnelli’s career — from her Oscar-winning role in “Cabaret” to her more recent work in “Sex and the City 2” — the documentary is relatively light on revelations. Yes, it touches on her friendships with Halston and Fred Ebb, her mentorship by Kay Thompson, and her four marriages and three miscarriages. But most of the insight comes from interviews with her close friends and collaborators, including John Kander, Joel Grey, Ben Vereen, Chita Rivera and Mia Farrow (a sarcastic scene-stealer).

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Liza Minnelli speaks openly about her addiction and the “devastating” death of her mother Judy Garland

Minnelli is also interviewed by Klein for the film, always with a witty line and a throaty cackle on her lips. When asked about her relationships, she jokes, “Give me a gay break, will you?” And when Klein asks her about her nights out at Studio 54, she jokingly insists, “It wasn’t that crazy!” As her friends explain, Minnelli was never one to share her private life.

But she does open up on rare occasions. The film begins with the death of her mother, Judy Garland, in 1969 from an accidental overdose at the age of 47. Minnelli was only 23 at the time. “It was devastating for me,” she tells Klein. “I didn’t stop crying for eight days and I had to go through so much.”

Later in the film, the singer speaks openly about her long-standing struggle with substance abuse. “I didn’t feel like I had a drug problem,” Minnelli tells Klein. “I drank silly drinks like rum and coke.” But whenever she drank, “it made me angry, like it always did.”

When Minnelli thinks back to the 1970s, she remembers trying to hide her alcoholism by telling reporters she couldn’t drink and claiming stomach problems. “I didn’t want people to know I was under stress. I always wanted to be the heroine.”

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She recalls Ebb once telling her to fend off reporters’ questions about Garland, who sometimes got jealous when her daughter got more attention than she did. “He kept me from talking too much about my mother because then they would think about her and not me,” Minnelli says.

When she saw her mother struggle with addiction, she told herself she would never follow the same path. But of course, she’s only human: “Being Judy Garland’s daughter isn’t exactly fun,” Minnelli tells Klein. She tearfully adds that she’s grateful for “all the bad things” she went through because “they prepared me for the rest of my life.”

Liza Minnelli criticizes “trash” tabloids that call her “too fragile” at 78

The EGOT winner is as lively and astute as ever in her conversations with Klein, frequently belting out some of her most popular songs, like “Natural Man” and “Liza With a Z.” The documentary ends with a touching recent scene in which Minnelli sits next to the piano with her boyfriend, musician Michael Feinstein, singing “But the World Goes ‘Round.” Her voice is still clear, strong and full of emotion.

During a Q&A session after the screening, Klein recalled how even the burliest crew members burst into tears when she sang. “We were all crying in the room,” he says. “She just has this power. When she did that, I knew the movie was over.”

Although Minnelli did not appear at the Tribeca Festival, she explained her absence in a lengthy message posted on Instagram on Wednesday night. “My beloved sister Lorna Luft, who makes a much too brief appearance (in the film), and I have decided that we cannot, should not, would not sit in the audience to watch a tribute to me,” Minnelli wrote. “Any hint of ‘Sunset Boulevard’? Yuck!”

The Broadway legend went on to say that this is “just the beginning” of “finding new ways to create” at her age. She also criticized the “trash” tabloids for saying she is “too fragile” to travel.

“How stupid is that?” Minnelli wrote. “Babies, I’m still traveling. I’m still enjoying life on my terms with a close circle of people I adore. I’m finally free to have fun.”

“Liza: A Truly Terrific Absolutely True Story” is looking for a distributor. The Tribeca Festival runs until June 16.

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