Ilana Bar-Din's documentary ''Legends, '' shown at Women in Film and the American Film Institute's presentation ''A Festival of Women Directors, '' could have been just another put-down of Vegas philistinism but for the misfortune that struck the participants of the celebrity look-alike show she chose to chronicle.

But because of the calamities of backstage squabbles, apparent psychosis and death, ''Legends'' has the appeal of a shock-aroo scandal sheet, an expose of the emotional squalor that lies behind showbiz glitter. (It screens Saturday at 7 p.m. at the AFI.)

The film's title is taken from producer John Stuart's stage show, a Vegas act -- apparently with Atlantic City and cruise ship satellites -- featuring three performers got up to look and sing like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland. The Elvis, Jonathon Von Brana, is an unusually good one. Susan Griffiths's Marilyn and Monica Maris' Garland are more notable for their physical resemblance than their vocal similarities.

However, the quality of the act becomes secondary when, as the film contrasts Stuart's self-puffery at his desert ranch with the vulgarity of the act and its audience reception, Von Brana and Griffiths, who are lovers, are suddenly canned by Stuart when they have the nerve to ask for title billing. This sets off a rush for replacements, a tremor that feels mild when Bar-Din begins interviewing Maris.

An emotionally shaky type who already has done her apartment over the way ''Judy'' would like it, Maris, in the middle of an interview, seems to break down into two personalities, one herself and the other ''Judy.'' She has an argument with her selves over who gets to control her life. Even if this is a bit of self-dramatization rather than a legitimate psychotic episode, it is pretty disturbing. Then we learn that Maris eventually died from lung cancer, which was apparently diagnosed late and suddenly overcame her.

Without these accidental disasters, the film would be a pointless mockery of tinselly excess; with the human toll, Bar-Din seems aware she should come up with something deeper, but isn't sure what. Under the circumstances, her decision to accompany the ego-inflated Stuart to Maris' walled-in tomb comes across as just as tacky on her part as on his.


Crosswinds Prods.

Director Ilana Bar-Din

Producers Ilana Bar-Din, Claes Thulin, Sarah Jackson

Editor Kate Amend

Cinematographer Claes Thulin

With: John Stuart, Jonathon Von Brana, Monica Maris, Susan Griffiths


Running time -- 55 minutes

No MPAA rating

(c) The Hollywood Reporter

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