Friday, July 23, 2010

Bob Fosse, Posterized

Today would have been Bob Fosse's 82nd birthday if he hadn't smoked and sexed himself to death while choreographing dirty musical numbers and flirting with angels of death in Nineteen-Seve... oh wait, I'm thinking of Joe Gideon, his All That Jazz altar ego. Fosse died of a heart attack at 60 in 1987. He's best remembered today as the most important choreographer of the 20th century this side of Martha Graham, totally affecting everything that came after him. But he was also a brilliant film director and in the realm of cinema he rarely gets his due. When great actors die young they often become legendary. When great directors die after just a handful of movies, not so much... especially if they made their mark in the musical genre.

Fosse acted and danced in other movies but these are the six filmed entertainments he directed. All are worth seeing and two are among the greatest films ever made.

Sweet Charity (69) | Cabaret (72) | Liza With a Z (concert telefilm, 72)

Lenny (74) | All That Jazz (79) | Star 80 (83)

How many have you seen? If the answer is less than six, do yourself a huge favor, and put them on your rental queue. Have a Fosse completist festival at home. You won't be disappointed. And maybe you'll even wonder why he's not lumped in with the biggies when people talk about the great 70s directors. I know I do.

I like Rob Marshall's Chicago (2002) just fine but it's hard not to think about what Fosse's version would have been like. And if they do remake Damn Yankees like they keep saying they will, will they keep his awesome choreography, or chuck it and go with unskilled dancers in the big roles?

God... it's so great when you can see entire bodies in dance scenes.
Almost no filmmakers understand this anymore.

If you've seen all of Fosse's films, why not a double feature of Damn Yankees! (1958) and All That Jazz. Think about it: In the former you can watch Fosse and the legendary Gwen Verdon together (like in the scene above) and then in the latter you can watch Roy Sheider and Leland Palmer pretend to be them, acting out their very difficult relationship with Oscar calibre aplomb.

As a takeaway please enjoy Bob Fosse doing a minute of Fosse-isms in 1953's Kiss Me Kate.

Incidentally, that musical was in 3D. I actually saw it in 3D the very first time I saw it at a special showing in the 80s (there was a mini 3D fad ... i think it lasted about a year and half round about 1984 or something?). I'm reading that 3D might die out again and am crossing my fingers that history repeats itself. I like my movies flat. The best performers burst out of the screen in multiple dimensions anyway. You don't need glasses to witness those miracles. Now if only they'd give me film grain back... if anyone ever tries to clear the grain from Cabaret it won't even remotely be Cabaret, you know?


Nick Duval said...

I have seen... 0. Want to see All That Jazz, though.

par3182 said...

all six

the leap forward from sweet charity to the sheer brilliance of cabaret amazes me

cabaret is not only my favourite fosse film but my favourite film, ever (and all that jazz is probably in the top 12)


par -- top 12? So you do multiples of 6 as well? You're so versatile.

now i want to hear the other ten.

Nick -- watch them in order and see the amazements build and comment on each other!

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

I'd imagine that the American musical would have never experienced a lull as a genre had Fosse not passed through life so quickly.

Glenn said...

I've seen all six. Sweet Charity being the worst and the only of them that I'd consider a bad movied, great sequences such as "Big Spender" notwithstanding.

All That Jazz is my favourite film ever, and it'll be damn hard to beat it (but with so much historical cinema to see and so much in the decades ahead I can never rule it out). It's such a perfectly condensing of everything that can be perfect about cinema. The music, the energy, the technical skills, the acting, the way even a man's death bed can be the most life-affirming thing I've ever seen.

That Cabaret is his second greatest film is astonishing since most directors don't get a film that good once in their life.

Star 80 is best for the performances of Roberts and Hemmingway, Liza with a Z for the balls out entertainment of Liza Minellii and Lenny is like Star 80 but with so much more going on.

Gah! what a man, and what a career!

D said...

I recognize the flaws in "Sweet Charity", but it still gets me every time. It's gotten to the point where I like, get sad right from the start just because I know what's coming. I'm a mess after watching that movie.

Pedro said...

Not to rain in anybody's parade, but Paul Taylor (who is still alive) is considered the best coreographer of the 20th Century.

I've seen four: Cabaret, All That Jazz, Star 80 and Liza with a Z. My favorite (and one of my favorite movies ever in an ever-changing list) is Cabaret (my favorite movie of all time is 2001: A Space Odyssey, followed closely by Psycho, E.T., Some Like It Hot and Cabaret).


Pedro -- paul taylor eh? I should investigate. The names i hear most often (and whose work i'm most familiar with is Graham & Fosse since i've seen their work performed many times --- as well as ripoffs many times ;)

Glenn -- you think Sweet Charity is bad? I mean, it's not great but it has such marvelous moments. anyway. I don't remember Lenny or Star 80 well at all so i should probably rewatch. I do remember that I was WAY too young to see Star 80 when i saw it because it totally upset me.

Trey said...

Aaaaand I've seen none of them. I suck. But I am very much interested in seeing "Cabaret" eventually.

Deborah said...

Sweet Charity is a magnificent failure. It's got great Fosse numbers but as a movie it sucks, in exactly the way so many movies of its era sucked—it tried to be old style Hollywood while adapting to 1960s sensibilities. It shoehorned the 60s in and looked foolish for doing so, like your grandparents trying to rap. For all of that, it's really worth seeing if you're a musical aficionado.

Contrast with Cabaret, which is genius largely because it doesn't try to be anything but itself. Despite the dramatic changes from the stage musical, Cabaret is fundamentally true to itself. Liza has never been better.

Lenny is the one that shows us that Fosse was a director, not a choreographer sitting in the director's chair. Awesome. Brilliant. Startling.

All That Jazz I found mediocre and overblown when I saw it sometime in the 1980s, and have been meaning to revisit it.

I keep seeing parts of Star 80 because it is so richly praised, but have never managed to see the whole thing.


Deborah -- i'd give ALL THAT JAZZ another shot. I thought it was good not great the first time. The second time I was like 'holy hell, what was i thinking! this is genius'...

and now i just love it love it.

i don't remember much about STAR 80 other than that i thought Eric Roberts was sensational (and slimy)

and good point on movies needing to be true to themselves and not trying to be all things to all people. The best movies become universal just by being so specific (like CABARET)

lylee2 said...

3D: Please go away.

Thank you for reminding me to put "All That Jazz" on my Netflix queue.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I've seen Sweet Charity, Cabaret and All That Jazz. Sometimes when I'm bored I like to revisit the Rich Man's Frug sequence on YouTube. So good!

Philip said...

I've only seen Cabaret, but in my defense, I'm only 17. Haha. But Cabaret is one of my favorite movies ever. God. I just love it. It speaks to me so well. Liza is amazing. The movie is amazing.

I remember there were rumors a while back that "Zeéeee" was going to play Sally Bowles in a remake of Cabaret and I was praying that it was false. Luckily, the plans were apparently dropped.

I also want to see All That Jazz.
And yes, please let the 3D die down again!!

James T said...

off-topic but I'm really happy you love the HBO version of Angels in America. I made my mom see it and she loved it too. She was amazed when she found out that the same person who directed it made ...Virginia Woolf, The Graduate etc.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

I've seen all of them except Lenny. Is that any good? The actors in it have scared me away all these years.

I have fond memories of Star 80 (which I saw in the theater on its release). I think I was the only one at the time.

I think Cabaret and All That Jazz are darn near perfect and I've probably seen Cabaret at least 20 times. All That Jazz maybe 10 times (though I may have worn out my VHS tape watching Airotica over and over ;-).

I didn't see Liza With A Z when it came out, but I've subsequently watched it a lot. Fosse even made Liza look like a fantastic dancer. Amazing.

Alison Flynn said...

I like Rob Marshall's Chicago (2002) just fine but it's hard not to think about what Fosse's version would have been like.

Now that would have been something else. In fact it would be fun to re-think all of the musicals made in this past decade and how they would have turned out if he'd helmed them. And I would include the ones that aren't 'dance-oriented' too, like Sweeney, as he did prove himself to be a solid director and not merely a choreographer in a director's chair.

The Film Junkie said...

When I saw the brilliant Cabaret I didn't think it could get much better, but All That Jazz just blew that film out of the water. It's a masterpiece and one of my favorite films ever. That opening scene has to be one of the best ever and "Air-otica" was You're so right about Scheider and Palmer's performances, it's great that Roy was recognized but Leland Palmer was so damn good! And I fall in love with Ann Reinking in everything I see her in. The whole cast was flawless in my opinion, my God what a movie!

They've started playing Liza With a Z on tv alot and it was on tv yesterday and I watched in awe, and yet I never seem to catch Star 80 even though it's constantly being played as well. Sweet Charity is definitely my least favorite, but the choreography is brilliant and I'm a sucker for Shirley. I've never seen Lenny either but it's definitely on my list.

cal roth said...

I've seen all his 5 movies. Liza is tv, right?

I love-love all but Star 80, and I can't really believe people think Sweet Charity is a failure? It has Fosse's 2 best sequences: Hey Big Spender and Rich Man's Frug.

MacLaine is really nice, and I love the fact that Fellini is only a distant memory (how could anyone try to fight Nights of Cabiria?), an inspiration. It's not a remake, thank God!

I've just named Fosse's 2 best sequences. Make them three: His "Steam Heat in Stanley Donen's Pajama Game is incredible.

cal roth said...

Steam Heat:


liza with a z was for television yes. but by god its wonderful. i can't even believe how magnetic Liza is circa 72.

Volvagia said...

We probably would have gotten another musical if he lived another year or two. What would he have chosen? Sweeney may have been nagging at him while he filmed All That Jazz. Who for Sweeney and Lovett, though? 37-45 year old Brits with great singing voices circa 1990. Any suggestions?

OtherRobert said...

I have had nightmares that I was cast in a show recreating Fosse choreography and managed to break every bone below my hips in one single motion. The difficulty level in what that man choreographed is mind-blowing, but the results are worth it when the right performers do it. That Gwen Verdon number is one of them.

Glenn said...

Nathaniel, Sweet Charity is two and a half hours. Since we talk so much these days about broadway shows merely being filmed and put into cinemas, I think the same concept that be applied to Sweet Charity. There's a lot in that movie that could've been axed and made a fantastic 100minute musical. "Big Spender" and "Frug" are indeed brilliant (although I wouldn't rank them as Fosse's best work necessarily).

Was it because of me that you rewatched All That Jazz that time when I wanted you to write about it as my donation gift?

Brian Z said...

I still think Lenny is one of the most underrated biopics of all time and arguably Hoffman's finest work.


Glenn -- it *was* because of you and I mean it when i say that I am in your debt. The movie is a masterpiece. How did i not see it the first time? (I was too young, I guess)

OtherRobert -- key being 'the right performers'. sadly, who can dance like that anymore... outside of Broadway i mean. and Hollywood doesn't care about actual musical talent.

Janice said...

I'm embarrassed to admit I've only seen one of these - All That Jazz, and that I haven't seen in...way too long. I saw it twice in my late teens and was completely blown away by it's brilliance. (It does sag a little in the middle section, but completely redeems any flaws in the closing number. Awesome.) That film is completely - alive is the only way I know how to put it. Alive and bursting at the seams with energy.

When I watched the movie Nine a couple of weeks ago I found myself comparing it less to Fellini's 8-1/2 than to All That Jazz - and Nine always came up wanting, except for Marion Cottilard's exceptional performance.

BTW - watching that snippet from Kiss Me Kate, I think it's easy to forget how different and "modern" that style of choreography (also on display in "An American in Paris") was from what came before it in American film. And it still seems strikingly modern, and only a very little bit dated.