I first saw You Light Up My Life on its release in 1978 and it was regarded as a ‘little’ film and something of a ‘sleeper’, in that it had no major stars in it, its production budget was not huge and you might think that it didn’t have a lot going for it. However it made 40 times its budget, it won an Oscar and Grammy for its title song which when re-recorded by Debby Boone became No1 in the US Charts for almost three months.
The writer, composer and director of You Light Up My Life was one Joseph Brooks. He first came to attention as a hugely successful writer of advertising jingles in the US until he started scoring movies such as The Lords of Flatbush (1974), co-written and co-starring the then unknown Sylvester Stallone. You Light Up My Life was Brooks’ baby and he even paid $150,000 for the film to be screened to pick up a film distributor which he achieved. There was though a very bitter afternote however. In 2009, Joseph Brooks was investigated by New York police and was indicted on 91 charges of rape and other sexual charges but before he could attend trial he committed suicide in 2011.
But for me the real star and driving force behind the movie is one Didi Conn. Who is she? She is probably better known for the role she made her own a year after making You Light Up My Life – a small film called Grease where she played Frenchie as she did in its sequel in 1982. She was also recently the oldest competitior in ITV's Dancing on Ice. In You Light Up My Life, Conn plays Laurie who is under the thumb of her comedian father (Joe Silver) who includes her in his act- but what she really wants to do is write songs and to sing. She is already engaged but falls for a director of an upcoming film (Michael Zaslow) which she is told she will be the leading actress of, but when she calls off her wedding, the director, turned dirty rat, gives her role to someone else and leaves her standing. Laurie, distraught, tells her father he has to let her go and she sets off to New York on her own with her music and her ambitions. Later on, Laurie’s song (You Light Up My Life) is released and it and she goes to No 1.
Conn as the vulnerable Laurie is terrific in what was her first major film role and the film reaches an emotional climax with her singing the extraordinary theme song. Now the song in itself has a real story behind it. Didi Conn lip-synchs the song that on the film was actually sung by Ukrainian soprano Kvitka Cisyk, but it was re-recorded by Debby Boone when it was an enormous success and in fact was the biggest seller of any single in the 1970’s in the US (including those released from the blockbusters Grease & Saturday Night Fever). I still have the soundtrack LP (that dates me) and the theme song deservedly won the Oscar for Best Original Song, beating Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me.
You Light Up My Life is still a personal favourite of mine. Didi is always worth watching and you do root for her as she aims to live her own life. Catch the theme song performed (but not sung!) by her below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlRFQbFl_kA