Archive | Film Matters

On Fosse and Other F Words

Every year as soon as daylight saving hits, I fall back into my Bob Fosse obsession. This month, in addition to mainlining the dancer/choreographer/director’s films, interviews, clips, I’m rereading Sam Wasson’s excellent Fosse biography and feeling new empathy for his struggles. The truth is many, many people are boozers, pill poppers, cheaters, nihilists. What distinguishes Fosse is the depth and charge of his creative solution to those shadows.* It’s a solution I crave.

In Fosse’s works flowed the brass tacks of vaudeville, the flourishes of the MGM musical, the liquid grace of jazz filtered through his uniquely from-the-hip economy. All of it—from his “We Got the Pain” pop to his “All That Jazz” death drag— paved the way for the 21st century’s “irony-is-the-new-black” ethos, eros, aesthetic. Every major icon of the last 50 years owes Fosse – from Michael Jackson to Liza to Madonna to Britney to Lady Gaga and even Beyoncé. Fashion would not be fashion without his exposed garter belts and fishnet stockings – his backstage-as-front-stage ethos – and the world is still catching up with his matter-of-fact-jack on sexuality and race.

Just look at this Little Prince (1974) scene, possibly Fosse’s last dance on film. The gloves, glasses, hip and neck swivels, pelvis thrusts, flexed fingers, shoulder shimmies, heel-to-toework is all so modern—so timeless, really. It’s Michael Jackson a decade later. Bojangles 50 years before. And something delightedly self-consciously simply Fosse that will always charm us.

But while Bobby may have been a snake, an ouroboros he was not. Through space and time, he continues to feed us–not just what remains of his ego. All autumn I’ve been seeking grace everywhere–film, faces, fashion, footwork (sadly, not fucking). Only Fosse–that ultimate F word–is saving me from myself.

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*The downfall of most biopics is an overemphasis on the demons of seminal talents rather than their unique achievements.

In Shadow, Insieme

I started this day obsessing over a missing fur muffler. Then I decided the remedy for such heedless materialism was a Stephen Sondheim deep-dive. I was mainlining everything by the recently deceased lyricist/composer when I learned one former suitor had just lost everything in a fire, another had died suddenly of a heart attack. With both people, my ego needs often eclipsed my compassion. Praying for their peace, I shook my head over the big deal I’d just been making over a scarf—not to mention the raw, unmatched longing derailing both relationships. Had this intuitive learned nothing? I flashed on how being unwanted by his mother had lent that same longing to all of SS’s productions, including Marriage Story, which in its own way is also a Sondheim production—at least in this (and one other) scene.

In the rest of Noah Baumbach’s thinly disguised account of his divorce, Adam Driver channels the writer/director’s fussy, righteous narcissism. But in this rendition of “Being Alive,” the actor channels Sondheim instead—namely, the redemption he personally experienced through Sondheim’s work, through theater in general. A former Marine who found outlet for his many variations of manhood at Juilliard, Driver captures that desperate desire to transform pain and isolation into something—anything!—so there’s meaning in despair. It’s a performance that embraces each of us in our imperfections. A performance that reaches across time and space.

At heart, “compassion” simply means “suffering with.” On this first night of Hannukah, the Jewish commemoration of light in the darkness, know that you are loved, you are whole, you are held. Above all, you are not alone.

No Day But Today (‘Tick, Tick…Boom’)

I saw Tick Tick…Boom! this afternoon at the newly reopened Paris Theater and it was the first film I’ve seen in years where the audience, unprompted by the presence of cast/crew (I see a lot of press/industry screenings), burst into spontaneous applause.

Given that the musical, written by Rent composer and playwright Jonathan Larson, centers on Larson’s struggle to write and produce a musical, it easily could have devolved into a super-grating ouroboros. In the hands of anyone more narcissistic or nihilistic (Charlie Kaufman), it would have. Instead Tick Tick illuminates how creating art—creating anything—invites us to move beyond projection and self-aggrandizement into communion with each other and the love always moving through everything.

Exactly what we need in these dystopian times.

Shoulder to shoulder, ogling a big screen only blocks from Times Square, we in that hodgepodge audience reconnected with the irreplaceable joy of being part of art simply by fully experiencing it, and were briefly united as one. It underscored how grateful I felt to still be in NYC, one of the few places Trumpism could never infect (a place from which he beat a hasty retreat) because it relies on that shoulder-to-shoulder coexistence—no one more important, everyone a star of their own uniquely technicolored musical. A place where we’re all performance artists just by showing up at the plate, and grudgingly loving each other for it.

Which loops back to diehard New Yorker Larson, who delighted in making and embodying art, not just wrapping it up with a bow and delivering it somewhere slick. Who embraced the joy of trying, no matter the result, and the inevitable shock of change, even his own demise. Who built worlds celebrating that joyful, grueling praxis.

Thus his death at 35, right before Rent ever saw a real audience, was not a sad story so much as uniquely his story. The crescendos always as important as the climax. The grace notes not codas so much as bittersweet refrains. Not untimely at all, but linked into kairos, also known as soul time– what truly endures.

Utopia (noun). Perfect place. No place. A place to which we’re always striving.

More than any moment in my memory, we Americans need to thread back to each other and our best selves. And from the other side, aided by Lin-Manuel Miranda and his fabulously staged cast (a “Moonlight Diner” scene alone is worth the price of admission), Larson still is activating that American experiment. If you can, see this film on a big screen, for the full re/sourcery of real life as magic and magic as real life. Even if you’re alone as I was–especially then, maybe–it will reconnect you to the intimacy of strangers, arguably the most beautiful artwork of them all. You may know it as the social contract.

Utopian, indeed.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy